women in black who
went forth in pairs with quota
of six calls a day
During the Great War, the French Government realizing that sending a telegram to inform a family of the death of soldier was costing too much, they hired the Women in Black.
As recounted in the book, The Last Time I Saw Paris by Eliot Paul, 1942, Random House, Inc.:
So the gouvernement français, which had its soft as well as inept moments, in late 1916 hired tactful well-bred women who had friends in high office and needed a job to break the news in person to the nearest relatives in case a soldier was killed in action. These harbingers of sorrow were carefully chosen, and the qualifications were severe. They must present a dignified appearance, and neither be attractive enough to take men’s thoughts away from grief or ugly enough to scare the stricken children. They must have a smattering of practical nursing, in case the recipients of their tidings collapsed, and must be reasonably agile in cases of folie furieuse, or fits of grief-inspired madness. These women dressed in heavy mourning, spoke softly and always went forth in pairs.
Thus, trudging from house to house, making a quota of six calls a day.
This little story just struck me.
I was reminded of the story told by Doris Kearns Godwin in her book, No Ordinary Time.
Ms. Godwin wrote, “Two weeks after the battle at Kasserine Pass, a telegram addressed to Mrs. Mae Stifle on Corning Street arrived at the Western Union Station in the small town of Red Oak, Iowa, population six thousand. “The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your son Daniel Stifle … is missing in action.” Fifteen minutes later, a second telegram arrived, telling Mrs. Stifle that her second son, Frank, was also missing in action. A few minutes later, Mrs. Stifle’s daughter, Marie, received word that she had lost her husband, Daniel Wolfe. As the evening wore on, the telegrams kept coming until there were twenty-seven.”
And the war in Ukraine goes on.