Sunday, October 1, 2017

Comrades in Arms: Claire Russell and George Curran

Detail from WWI-era postcard.
NLM D05910

Amidst the long hours and grueling work in France, romance blossomed between at least one couple who served with Base Hospital 50 and became 'comrades in arms.'

After their service to Uncle Sam ended Claire Russell, RN, and George Curran, MD, were married in Chicago, the culmination of a friendship begun in France. They served several months together with Base Hospital 50 and continued corresponding after both were reassigned to other hospital units.

Claire Elizabeth Russell was the second child born to Charles Edward Russell and his wife Ella Mundhenke. Charles was a native of Centerville, Ohio, and Ella of Palmer, Illinois. Their paths crossed out west and they were married on August 23, 1888, in The Dalles, Oregon. Their oldest child, Florence, was born in Seattle, Washington, before the young family settled in Port Angeles where Claire was born on February 15, 1892.1 Sisters Elsie, Nigel, and Avonelle followed before a brother, Henry, rounded out the family in 1908.

Claire Russell Curran, RN (1892-1980)
Used with permission, Jane Curran-Meuli. 

The Russell family relocated across Puget Sound to Everett about 1908. At the time of the 1910 census, the Russell family is living there at 2026 Colby Avenue. Claire's entry in the 1915 Everett City Directory indicates she is working as a nurse, having graduated from Everett General Hospital, a program administered by the Sisters of Providence.2, 3

Claire answered the call for graduate nurses to serve with Base Hospital 50. Like Claire, most of the unit's nurses were from the Pacific Northwest. After taking the oath as an Army Nurse in Everett on May 23, 1918, Claire reported for duty at Fort Riley, Kansas, just a few days later, on May 28th. Two months later, on July 23th, she was transferred to the Nurses Mobilization Station in New York, where she received four weeks of military training.13

Together with another Everett girl, Hazel Gourley, she left New York on August 24, 1918, with the nurses of Base Hospital 50 aboard the La France, arriving at the French port of Brest on September 3. Claire served six months with Base Hospital 50 before being transferred to Evac Hospital No. 31, at Nantes, for four months.

Claire departed from France on the Cap Finisterre on April 25, 1919, arriving in New York on May 5th, where she was discharged. After a visit of several months with her family in Seattle, Claire was reunited with George in Chicago where they were married at St. Ambrose Catholic Church in the Hyde Park neighborhood on July 20, 1919.4 The young couple returned to George's hometown of North Adams, Massachusetts, to begin their life together, after a brief honeymoon.

George Lally Curran, MD (1887-1938)
Used with permission, Jane Curran-Meuli.
Across the country from Claire's home on the west coast, her future husband, George Lally Curran, was growing up in the colonial mill town of North Adams, Massachusetts, where he was born on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1887.8 The third of seven children, George had four brothers; Charles, Arthur, William and Edward, and two sisters, Mary and Mabel.5, 6 His parents Charles James Curran and Catherine Agnes Lally – both children of Irish immigrants – were married on May 28,1883, in nearby Williamstown. Charles Curran attended Holy Cross College and then studied medicine at New York University's Bellevue Hospital, before setting up his practice in North Adams.

George attended St. Joseph's School in North Adams, before moving onto Northside Preparatory School in Williamstown. George Curran attended Amherst College for a year, where he was a member of Phi Gamma Delta. Following in his father's footsteps, George then entered medical school at New York University, graduating in 1910.7 He joined his father's busy general practice at 63 Eagle Street in North Adams just months before his father's untimely death at the age of 49.

Despite his bustling practice, George quietly applied for admission in the Army Medical Corps when the U.S. entered the war. He was commissioned as a First Lieutenant on February 13, 1918, and five weeks later, on March 29, to the surprise of his many patients and the community, he was called to active duty. Initially, he was assigned to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC, treating influenza cases and returning wounded. In early August he was dispatched to Base Hospital 50. After several months he was then transferred to Base Hospital 103 near Dijon. In the spring of 1919, he was awarded the French Medal of Honor for his service. After being promoted to Captain, George received his orders to return home in late June. He arrived at Camp Dix, New Jersey, on July 6, 1919, aboard the Great Northern.

Main Street, North Adams, Massachusetts, 1906 Postcard.
Having secured leave before his return to the U.S., George quickly made his way to Chicago where he was finally reunited with Claire. After George was officially mustered out of the service on July 28, the couple took up residence on Eagle Street and George immediately resumed the practice he had vacated 17 months prior. George's brothers Arthur and William also followed their father into medicine and the three brothers worked together for several years. George and Claire soon welcomed two sons, George Lally, Jr., in 1920, and Charles Edward in 1923.9, 10 Both sons served their country during wartime – World War II, in their case – as their parents had before them.

Separated during the war, Claire and George were destined to be separated in death, as well. Like his father before him, George died unexpectedly of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 50. An outpouring of grief in North Adams was extensively chronicled in the local newspaper, the North Adams Transcript.11 George was laid to rest at St. Joseph's Cemetery in North Adams. Claire raised their two sons to adulthood alone and eventually moved to Missouri, to be closer to her son, Charles.12 She died at the age of 87 and is buried at Forest Hill Cemetery in Kansas City, thus ending the romantic and patriotic story of a doctor and nurse who met in the wards of a wartime hospital in France.

The North Adams Transcript,
Monday, 21 Jul 1919, page 5.
  1. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. Port Angeles City, Ward 5, Clallam, Washington; NARA T623-1742; Enumeration District: 20, Page: 7B, Line: 58; Chas. Russell.
  2. Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910. Everett City, Ward 7, Snohomish, Washington; NARA T624-1688; Enumeration District: 288, Page: 10B, Line: 83; Charles E. Russell.
  3. R.L. Polk and Company's Everett City Directory, 1915, p. 585. Digital image:, (Accessed 1 October 2017). Claire E. Russell. 1611 Grand Ave.
  4. "Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871-1920," database, FamilySearch, (Accessed 1 October 2017). George L. Curran and Claire E. Russell, 20 Jul 1919.
  5. Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900. North Adams, Ward 6, Berkshire, Massachusetts; NARA T623-632; Enumeration District: 56, Page: 8B, Line: 87; Charles Curran.
  6. Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910. North Adams, Ward 6, Berkshire, Massachusetts; NARA T624-572; Enumeration District: 59, Page: 7A, Line: 12; Charles J. Curran.
  7. Amherst Graduates' Quarterly. 1920, Vol, 9, page 56.
  8. United States, Selective Service System. World War I Selective Service System Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. Draft Board 1, Berkshire County, Massachusetts; George Lally Curran, June 5, 1917.
  9. Fourteenth Census of the United States, 1920. North Adams Ward 6, Berkshire, Massachusetts; NARA T625-681; Enumeration District: 44, Page: 3B, Line: 69; George L. Curran.
  10. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930. North Adams, Berkshire, Massachusetts; NARA T626-884; Enumeration District: 38; Page: 5A; Line: 6. George L. Curran. 
  11. "Dr. Geo. L. Curran Dies Suddenly; Community Shocked and Saddened." The North Adams Transcript. [North Adams, Massachusetts] Thursday, June 30, 1938, pages 1 and 3.
  12. Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940. North Adams, Berkshire, Massachusetts; 1940. T627-1568; Enumeration District: 2-65; Page: 11A; Line: 2. Claire R. Curran.
  13. Mason, William H. Snohomish County in the war; the part played in the Great War by the soldiers, sailors, marines and patriotic civilians of Snohomish County, Washington, U.S.A. Everett, Wash.: Mason Publishing Company, 1926. Claire E. Russell.