I was born Kathleen Helen MacCarthy-Morrogh in Ballydehob, County Cork, Ireland. I was the daughter of Donald Florence MacCarthy-Morrogh and Vera Mary MacCarthy-Morrogh (née Hutchinson). Her father descended from the MacCarthy Reagh Princes of Carbery, was originally from County Kerry and my mother was born in Wales as the fourth of five sisters to an English gentleman and Irish mother who was also descended from the Morrogh family. My father was a retired Lieutenant Colonel of the Royal Munster Fusiliers as black Irish, my mother as English. As a young woman, I moved to London where I worked as a film studio extra, dabbled in photography and eventually became a fashion model. In 1936, I married a British Army officer Gordon Thomas Summersby but divorced a while later. I retained the name of my ex-husband. Later, I was about to marry an US Army officer, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Dick Arnold, but this ended with the death of Dick while mine clearing during the North Africa campaign.
When Britain entered the Second World War in 1939, I joined the British Mechanised Transport Corps (MTC). I drove an ambulance throughout the London Blitz in 1940 and 1941, and was reportedly excellent at navigating London streets during blackouts and fog. When the United States joined the Allies after the German declaration of war in December 1941, I was one of many MTC drivers assigned as chauffeurs to high-ranking American military officers. I was assigned to drive then Major General Dwight D Eisenhower when he arrived in London in May 1942. Though there was a brief interruption of several weeks due to Eisenhower’s short return to the US, I chauffeured Eisenhower and later I became his secretary until November 1945, based at his home Telegraph Cottage in Warren Road, Coombe, Kingston upon Thames. During this time Eisenhower rose in rank to a five-star General of the Army and Supreme Commander of the European Theater. With General Eisenhower’s aid, I became a US citizen and a commissioned officer in the US Women’s Army Corps (WACs). When I left the Army in 1947, I was a Captain.
Tossed by the fortunes of war into close association with World War IPs top leaders, Miss Summersby tells the inside story of military command from a woman’s point of view. Hers is a portrait of General Dwight D. Eisenhower as few could see him, continuously, at moments of tension, making great decisions, during long hours of routine work, and while he relaxed at bridge or horseback riding. (Kay Summersby – Ike Was my Boss)
AMP-TICKET and a two-block ride changed my entire life. The place was wartime London; the time May of 1942. And I saw nothing special or miraculous about the ticket it merely noted that I as a civilian Army driver was to pick up a passenger at Paddington Station. He was listed as : Major General Eisenhower. I had never heard of the general and quite frankly I was doubly disappointed in the assignment. Half of the disappointment was natural. Five of us drivers had waited around American Army Headquarters three days to pick up a packet of Very Important Persons due in from the United States via Scotland. The first two mornings we staggered down to the motor pool at 0530 and we stayed there until dark both times only to be finally advised that the weather still held all London-bound planes at Prestwick Airport. This morning, it looked as though the Brass had abandoned their original plan. They were coming on down to London by train. Just when no one knew.
We had been jailed in the motor pool since 0530 waiting in moods as gray as the early-morning fog outside. The other half of my disappointment came from snobbery. An army driver’s prestige is based solely on the rank of the uniform in the back seat. So I had hoped to get General George C Marshall or General Henry Hap Arnold. Both were in this group, we knew. Both were known to all of us by name and reputation; either would be a bright feather in a driver’s cap. But Sheila and Betty had them. Sheila was one of those nonchalant, like able girls to whom everything seemed to come easily, without thought or effort Betty was a proud redhead who used plenty of thought and effort to make absolutely certain everything came her way. And intimating that I had nobody Betty lost no time in whispering she was picking up a three-star general. She said it in such a way I could almost feel wrinkles in my face, braces on my teeth. I turned apprehensively to Sheila : Surely you’ve heard of General Eisenhower ? As an American married to an English officer from Sandhurst, she was my only hope. Eisenhower ? Sheila thought a moment. Eisenhower ? Never heard of him !
By the time we arrived at Paddington Station everyone’s spirits were as low as mine. London was so misty that morning we couldn’t see the lead car, that of the late John G. Winant, then US Ambassador to Britain. We lined up our five cars behind his limousine then sat around griping. Instead of showing up at 0530 the train was three hours late. We smoked and fumed and shivered in the cold. Here they come ! The shout pulled us all out of our cars, and out of our gloom. All we could see was the tall figure of Ambassador Winant and beside him, General Chaney the only Yank general in London. (Colonels were real “rank” in those sparse days). Someone identified Gen Marshall; we all recognized him from newspaper photos. We also managed to pick out General Arnold and Harry Hopkins. One of those fellows must be your General Eisenhower, Sheila said pointing shamelessly. All I could see was a mass of uniforms and much handshaking. There seemed to be three major generals in the group. The six VIPs walked away from their special track moving toward the line of automobiles. We ran to our staff cars opened the doors and tried to stand at soldierly attention. They all climbed into Ambassador Winant’s car. It rumbled off in important haste leaving a procession of five empty staff cars attended by five lonely and very angry drivers. That was my first meeting with General Eisenhower.
I followed the others back to headquarters hardly impressed by the name of Eisenhower. At our motor pool office the briefing was as bad as earlier. In fact it was worse : we had orders to wait around for further instructions. That was at 0900. By 1300, I was starved. No one else would risk it so I went out alone to have tea and a sandwich. Coming back to Grosvenor Square I noticed with alarm that things were happening. The other cars were pulling out. Mine was the last in line; the one just ahead already was halfway down the street. Two officers were walking toward my khaki-colored Packard. They were nondescript although one was taller than the other. Both wore two stars on each shoulder. The smaller general I noticed had nice broad shoulders. I rushed up completely confused. Finally I looked from one to the other and puffed : I’m General Eisenhower’s driver. Are you looking for me ? The shorter general nodded, his full face breaking into a grin destined to spread across half the world’s newspapers. I’m General Dwight D Eisenhower. This is General Mark Wayne Clark. We would like to go to Claridge’s, please.
I drove them there without incident. As they got out, General Eisenhower remarked : Thank you. Tomorrow at 0900 please. I had driven them exactly two blocks. After waiting three days for that trip. Then I had no feeling one way or the other about General Eisenhower or General Clark. If there was any reaction it wasn’t exactly cordial. After all I had crawled out of bed at 0530 three mornings in a row to drive these Yanks exactly two city blocks. Yet that quickie trip was to start me on travels through England, Ireland, Scotland, North Africa, Egypt, Sicily, Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Palestine, Iceland, Denmark, Hungary, America, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, even Russia. The square where that almost anonymous general stood as I walked up that afternoon was to change from the quiet heart of Mayfair to the crowded nerve-center of an invasion army. And that same Grosvenor Square was to become known unofficially as Eisenhower Platz. But in that May of 1942 there was no hint that the smiling general would become our Supreme Commander, that his quiet companion would lead a bizarre submarine mission to the enemy soil of North Africa.
To me they were only temporary passengers, in London for a ten-day visit. As the days flew by I began to like both my generals. Their working hours were staggering, after the gay and easy life of other Americans I hauled around London. They had come over to work and they had little time. From the nature of high offices we visited I sensed that something very top-level was going on. Yet both took time to treat me as a human being, not as a uniformed machine, I liked that. It was a complete turnabout from the chill dignity of British staff officers, not as tiring as the dirty wisecracks, wandering hands, and childish chatter of many American and Canadian officers. When we journeyed over to Dover Castle, headquarters of Bomb Alley, both generals talked easily throughout the long, pleasant trip. There was no stiff reserve between them or with me. We were three People, not two generals and a driver. Because of General Clark’s natural reticence, General Eisenhower did most of the talking. And he had an unassuming curiosity that I can only describe as charming. If he didn’t know something, he asked questions. There was no pretense at the Godlike knowledge many generals seem to believe their rank demands. He asked questions about everything from Canterbury Cathedral to bomb damage; he asked them as a friendly curious man not as a general patronizing his driver. Later, I was to see that blessed gift directed at chiefs of state and chiefs of staff with phenomenal but natural success. It is one of General Eisenhower’s greatest assets.
The next few days were long and very official. We hit every important war building in London, plus a few elsewhere in the British Isles. Both my passengers grew weary and taciturn. Instead of bouncing in and out of the car as before they climbed out slowly and returned to that rear seat with heavy sighs. Time seemed to evaporate; there was a distinct air that hours were much too scarce. There was no relaxation in their crowded schedule. One noontime they collapsed on the seat and then General Eisenhower said : Kay, I think the war can get along without us for a while. Let’s take the afternoon off. And as a starter where’s a good place to have lunch ? I blushed like a ten-year-old schoolgirl. It was the first time he had bowed to the universal custom of calling me Kay. I suggested the Connaught.
When we got there I let them out at the door then drove around the block to park. Finishing that chore I looked up to find both of them standing there : You’ll join us of course ? asked General Clark. I nodded dumbly as we strolled past the astonished doorman. (I say ‘astonished’ doorman because most London attendants are old British soldiers; they’ll never quite recover from the easy discipline of American military men). Lunch over we went on a little trip up country around Oxford. General Eisenhower displayed an amazing grasp of English history, as he did consistently throughout his visit. It was a warm afternoon. I was dying for a drink. On impulse, I pulled up in Beacons field and said : You must see an English pub before you leave ! They were out of the car and inside before I realized just how bold I had been to two major generals. At the bar they couldn’t make up their minds what to have : You tell us Kay, General Clark said. I considered : You wouldn’t like whiskey without ice, I know. It’s too hot gin and tonic, that’s the thing ! A real summer drink and a real English drink. They seemed to enjoy it almost as much as I did.
I gave Sheila a ring as soon as I got home. She didn’t believe a word of my story about the lunch, let alone the drinks. Still, I knew she would pass it along to the other girls.
The day our VIP’s were scheduled to leave for Prestwick and the United States, British weather closed in again. Their trip was postponed until the following morning. By now I was brazen, almost drunk on the friendliness of these two American generals. So I called up General Eisenhower. But when he answered, I apologized in a rush of embarrassment : haltingly, I suggested that he and General Clark might like to do some sightseeing now that they had an afternoon of leisure because of the canceled departure. To my relief he was intrigued by the idea and overlooked my brashness. Just the thing he said, wonderful idea. This is the first day we haven’t had any conferences and were completely free. In half an hour please.
Our tour ranged from the Tower of London to Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. My passengers showed such interest in bomb damage at the House of Commons that I took them on down to the East End and a section I knew as well as my own mind : Lambeth. Kay, General Eisenhower remarked as we cruised around the skeletoned and blasted tenements of Lambeth, you seem to know a lot about this section. I should, I replied solemnly. With little encouragement, I found myself telling the story of my life to these two Yank generals. Nothing in childhood had prepared me for wartime London. My father was a retired army officer and I, as Kathleen McCarthy-Morrogh, led what is commonly known as The Sheltered Life. Our home, Inish Beg, was a somewhat run-down estate on a small but lovely emerald island in a river in County Cork. Our favorite pastime (I had a brother and three sisters) was to sail down that river four miles, to the Atlantic. There was a succession of governesses, hunts, spatting parents, riding in the fields and along the long avenue fringed with old trees – the usual pattern of that obsolete world.
The only tragedy which could becloud life in those days was a sudden Irish thundershower because it might spoil my lovely tennis party. But London drew me away from Ireland. There was some traveling on the Continent with Mother, who stayed in London most of the time and rarely went back to Inish Beg. Eventually I was on my own, utterly unprepared to do much more than sit a horse properly and pour tea correctly. Someone suggested photography; I drifted into that. There was a period of “extra” work at the film studios just outside London. Inevitably, there was marriage, a dismal failure. By 1939 I was a mannequin at Worth’s of Paris, near Grosvenor Square. As war clouds grew blacker I felt more and more ridiculous modeling exquisite clothes pretending that everything was the same. In late August I gave notice of my intention to leave. And on September 4 the day after hearing Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain broadcast the declaration of war I walked out of that life forever. The nearest service was the Motor Transport Corps. I joined up immediately.
I soon learned, however, the MTC was looked upon as a sort of social sorority. A newspaper writer had noted that the qualifications for admission seemed to be ability to drive a motorcar and ability to drape oneself in chic fashion at the Ritz or Dorchester bars. One joined the MTC because it was The Thing One Must Do, if one had the money. With disappointment, I discovered there was no pay. (When we finally received a pittance, the girls at headquarters looked down upon us for accepting it.) The smart uniform a skirted version of that worn by British officers, complete with Sam Browne consumed almost fifty pounds of my thin savings. I was assigned to Post Number 1 which area took in the docks and Lambeth. Our uniforms there drew only pure hate from the class-conscious Cockney. There was no war in Lambeth or anywhere else that autumn or that winter. We endured the disgust of our neighbors, the snide remarks of our friends, and – played war – in our headquarters, an old schoolhouse.
The Luftwaffe arrived in August of 1940 in full, terrifying, horrifying strength. Our little social set became the busiest rescue squad in all of London. Lambeth and the dock areas rocked under the Nazis bombs. We had twenty-four hours on duty, twenty-four off, rarely got even a wink of sleep on the broken cots. Now, it’s difficult to try to re-create that life. I was an ambulance driver. The only concession granted me as a woman was unofficial permission to stuff cosmetics in my gas-mask bag. It was sheer Hell, living and driving and working in a bomb-made Hell. Blood and death became as commonplace as a cigarette. I remember houses razed to the ground, yet alive with cries of the wounded and buried. Careening through gutted streets with only bomb-light and huge fires to light the way. A Bobby who threw himself atop me as shelter from a blast. Our old Cockney enemies, now friends, pulling us in off the buckled sidewalks, for a welcome shot of gin or whiskey. A motion picture house with the lights still on but the front stalls filled with bodies, all headless. Bodies bodies bodies each with a tragic tag on one foot if there was a foot. Driving ambulances loaded with bodies. Sick with the stench of burnt flesh. Being turned away by morgue after morgue : Sorry, we’re full, and that’s why I know Lambeth so well, I concluded.
The two generals were grim. Poor Kay, General Clark said. Poor people, poor London, General Eisenhower added. After their ten-day visit they realized what the new war was an about it was impossible for people from the never bombed United States to visualize exactly what the Blitz meant. General Eisenhower hurled dozens of questions at me about women ambulance drivers : how we got along with our male colleagues, how we managed in the rough spots. Then he asked about women who acted as air-raid officials. He went into the subject of our auxiliary forces in the army, navy, and air force. His large forehead crinkled in long lines of concentration as he bombarded me with questions about British women’s role in the war. Later, that intense interest was to grow into a near-obsession that women could safely and efficiently replace fighting men a conviction which he helped translate into actual practice long before Normandy and still supported vigorously after the war. His curiosity about people, and the individual, eventually overwhelmed his broader interest in women at war. Tell me, he said, how did you ever wind up with the Americans ?
I explained that the big Blitz, the steady Blitz, was over by the summer of 1941. About that time, I ran into an American Colonel at a cocktail party. He mentioned that his little group of seventeen officer “observers” (then in civilian clothes as America wasn’t in the war) needed drivers who knew London. I told him about our work and how life at Post Number 1 had turned dull. Several days later a few MTC girls were transferred to US Army headquarters. Sheila and I were among them. And I’ve been with the Yanks ever since, I ended. General Eisenhower suddenly winked at General Clark and seemed to shake off his serious mood. Do you enjoy driving us around London ? I answered that it must be obvious. Well, one of your girls wouldn’t ! He laughed. Remember that first afternoon when we got here ? I walked up to the girl at the head of the line of cars and asked if she were our driver. She looked me straight in the eye and said : Oh, no ! I’m driving a three-star general ! I howled, wondering if any other general could laugh at such a story on himself, if any other would mention it to someone not a major general also. That’s Betty, General. Red hair, snooty ! That’s enough, he said. That’s the one. At the time I was only amused that Betty had snubbed her way out of a wonderful ten days. I didn’t know then that she also had missed a chance at serving three years with the Supreme Commander.
The next day I drove my two generals out to Northholt. The weather was lifting. They were heading for Scotland and then the United States. We all got out and shook hands. Be sure and let me know if you ever come back to London, I said. It would be a pleasure to drive you both again. It had been better than most jobs; still, I was just saying the usual goodbyes, wartime goodbyes. General Clark mumbled something about my – efficient driving. General Eisenhower went back into the car. When he stepped out there was a precious, priceless box of sweets in his hand. Here you are, Kay. We want you to accept this little box of candy as some sort of appreciation. And if we’re ever back this way, we want you to drive us. Right then I wasn’t a bit impressed that General Dwight D. Eisenhower had given me a box of candy. All I wanted to do was get away and dig into that lovely box of unrationed sweets. But I did stay at the airport long enough to see my two generals off. As their plane left the ground, I waved and thought : They’re both nice but I’ll never see either of them again. Then I started on that candy.
Within a fortnight I was driving a new general, Carl (Tooey) Spaatz. The now-famous and retired Tooey Spaatz was, in early 1942, a grimly silent major general. As chief of the new Eighth Air Force, he had a gigantic job. And he spent every waking moment pondering over problems involved in the daring principle of daylight bombing. A rather unspectacular, balding man who would hardly stand out in a crowd, he called to mind that pensive statue : The Thinker. He concentrated so intensively that I often thought he was asleep. Naturally, he had no time for the ordinary little details of everyday life. He was, in fact, coldly impatient with them. That’s how I came to drive for General Spaatz. His temper had finally boiled over because his sergeant was late again in arriving at a conference. The Yank chauffeur was naturally bewildered like many other Americans by the maze of tangled little streets which history had forced upon London. When the General heard of my MTC experience, he requested that I be loaned out to his headquarters immediately.