A pioneer in service recounts WWII
SIRKKA HOLM: Longtime Francestown veteran details role in London, Paris in new DVD
Holm’s mother Fanny Tuomi, left, Two year old Sirkka Holm, and her father Werner Tuomi. Picture taken in 1922 in Virginia, Minnesota. Photo courtesy of Sirkka Holm.
Stationed in Paris during the latter half of World War II, Francestown resident Sirkka Holm donned a pair of gloves and began secretly typing copy upon copy of military supply lists. It was a hard time for the woman in her early 20s, who was suffering from pneumonia and pleurisy. But she forged ahead as one of the many women who quietly served overseas in vital roles that helped shape the outcome of the global conflict.
And though Holm never saw combat, the experience overseas as a staff sergeant for the Women’s Army Corps. provided her with countless war stories and a frontline view of the feelings people had about women serving their country.
Holm, now 93, and living in Francestown is bringing her stories to life in a new era.
In May, she shared her war stories with a packed, standing room only crowd at the George Holmes Bixby Library in Francestown. And now, those stories are available to all. Because of the strong interest in her stories and detailed war memories, Holm had a follow up conversation of her experiences that was recorded in her home on July 31. According to Elizabeth Lavallee, a Bixby Library Trustee and a good friend of Holm, the recording will be sold as a fund raiser for the library in honor of its 90th birthday this year. A Francestown resident since the early 1980s and a frequent Bixby Library volunteer, Holm elaborated on her war stories with a special focus on the perspective of a woman veteran. Lavallee said that Holm has been unable to comment about the DVD in recent weeks as she recovers from surgery.
On the DVD, Holm recounts a trip to the theater when she was back home in Baltimore on furlough — where her traveling family finally settled.
“She was home on leave so she was in uniform, and some women at the theater pursed their lips in disapproval at her,” Lavallee said. Lavallee also said that Holm explained in her talks that many civilians were not pleased by women serving in the war because they felt that the women belonged at home with their families. However, Holm said in the movie that she encountered mostly highly favorable feelings toward women veterans who went overseas.
With patriotic feelings running high in the 1940s, Lavallee said Holm signed up voluntarily for the Army at the age of 22. In the DVD, Holm said the main reason she went to war was to help end fascism. When asked why she would voluntarily sign up for the war, Lavallee said that Holm told her, “I wanted to make the world safe again.”
When Holm was brought to London, she remembered how she felt when she was first exposed to the war.
“The first time I saw these bombed-out buildings it just hit me in my stomach because I thought about what these people had endured for five years, it was horrendous,” Holm said on the DVD. Her arrival in London wasn’t a warm welcome either. She recalled in the DVD how someone from the upstairs of a building threw a tomato at her with a rock in it that barely missed hitting her head.
In a clip of the movie, available online on the Town of Francestown’s website, Holm discussed how top secret and specific the supply typing was during the war.
“One master sergeant, he was a genius, he knew every piece of Signal Corps. equipment by number. So to make it difficult for the enemy to know what’s what, we typed nothing but numbers,” Holm said on the DVD. She said even supplies as small as screws and wires had to be identified by numbers.
If typing in numbers wasn’t top secret enough, Holm said in the DVD that two G.I.s guarded the door to where she typed for days on end. Even at night, she slept in a room with only a few of her commanding officers, and no one else for fear she would talk about what she was typing in her sleep.
“Keeping track of supplies going to troops for crucial battles became top secret,” Lavallee added about Holm’s work, which started in London. “She did lots of prep work for D-Day that was top secret.”
Lavallee described Holm as an enticing public speaker. When the DVD was filmed, Lavallee said the videographer, Hilary Weisman Graham and she barely needed to guide Holm at all. Holm was very descriptive in recalling her war stories and goes into great detail about the lifestyle of a woman soldier, what she ate and how they survived. In the DVD she would start speaking and go smoothly from one topic to the next in chronological order. Some other scary situations Holm discussed include trying to get to the hospital in Paris when she was sick, sleeping through a buzz bomb evacuation and a time when the women soldiers were struck by a dysentery outbreak.
When her company suffered from dysentery, Holm said in the DVD that the girls were outside going to the bathroom when a flare was dropped close by, and the girls had to stay very still for fear that the Germans were recording information from where the flare was dropped.
Throughout Holm’s two and a half years serving in the Army, she was stationed in London, Normandy and finally Paris. Although the Army never equipped her with a firearm, Holm did experience many dangerous situations and evacuations like black outs and buzz bombs. In the movie, Holm told a story of a time when her company heard a buzz bomb coming, they had no time to evacuate and the bomb crashed across the street from their camp.
Strong interest in this movie is already apparent. The Bixby Library has raised a little under $600 dollars in DVD orders as of Monday, Lavallee said. Originally expected to be available by the end of October, Lavallee said Thursday that the DVD is now available for sale at the Bixby Library.
Lindsey Arceci can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 232, or firstname.lastname@example.org.