It was mid-July in 1944. The war news from Europe was encouraging, but American servicemen had been fighting on battlefields around the world for nearly three years. For war-weary servicemen on leave in New England, it’s possible that they were among many who enjoyed good company and a taste of home on Park Street in Lewiston.

That’s where a few dozen trained young women from Lewiston and Auburn’s Catholic parishes greeted men in uniform at the Catholic Community Service Club. It was a supervised gathering place in the Knights of Columbus building on Park Street. The local group held dances for servicemen, and the club rooms offered card-playing or other table games. A team of junior and senior hostesses were on duty every night, preparing snacks, talking or cooking up one of the two special parties a month planned for gala occasions in honor of the men away from home.

It was all described in the Lewiston Evening Journal magazine section story of July 14, 1944, by Dorothy Foster Kern. It may not have had the glitz and glamor that the public saw in “Hollywood Canteen” or “Stage Door Canteen,” a couple of popular films from that era. Nevertheless, it played a small but respectable role in boosting military morale.

The Rev. Monsignor George G. Johnson was organizer with the Rev. James Keegan, along with a board of directors from parishes of L-A.

A serviceman in Lewiston or Auburn, stranger or not, was sure to be welcomed to the club, where he could take a shower, shave, work out in the gym, play cards or pool, read or write and talk to the Rev. Keegan or members of the Knights of Columbus. For the evening program, there was dancing to a radio and Victrola, and occasionally a live band.

“Hostesses are required to be 18 years old and over, unmarried, and before becoming affiliated with the club and its work, are interviewed by Father Keegan,” the story said. “No hostess is allowed to leave the building in company with a serviceman, and no smoking, no ankle socks and no sweaters are allowed.”

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A senior hostess was on duty nightly to serve as guide for the younger girls in order to keep everything running smoothly and offer tactful advice or suggestions — or more often, to be ready to listen and talk with a sailor or soldier. Each of the 12 or so junior hostesses on duty signed in and out.

“The girls plan refreshments for the nights they are on, and Sunday evenings have been special affairs, with lunches served from 6:30 until about 8:30 o’clock,” the story said. “Between 20 to 30 men drop in for these Sunday night snacks.”

Servicemen who came to the club were predominantly sailors, both American and British. Dancing was the most the popular pastime.

The dances usually included a grand march, conga, Paul Jones and seven in and seven out, and there were always waltzes. Orchestras were hired for the formals and the Victrola was used for the smaller dances.

Kern’s story noted that many of the visiting servicemen were talented pianists, with the result that some parties became informal concerts or sing-alongs around the piano.

Clara Harnden, a well-known Auburn dancing teacher, provided entertainment at many of the gatherings, presenting pupils and doing specialty numbers from her own repertoire.

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The club operated year-round, and at Christmastime, there would be a tree. There were presents for the servicemen and hostesses, and Anthony Cormier, who served as master of ceremonies at club parties, was Santa Claus for the group.

The story described several holiday events, including a St. Patrick’s formal in March; an Easter formal, at which orchid and yellow decorations and Easter bunnies were used; a stardust formal, with a flower dance feature; and a Gay Nineties party, with the hostesses kiddie-style clothes. There were twilight picnics, jam sessions, danger parties (a term not explained in the article), blackout parties and jamborees.

One of the most enjoyable and impromptu evenings enjoyed by servicemen and hostesses alike occurred when the recruiting show of the national WAC Caravan visited the Twin Cities in the spring of 1943. After the show at Lewiston City Hall, the swing band stopped at the club and presented a jam session for all who entered.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]


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