The Robert C. Carter Collection consists of material related to his time with the American Field Service (AFS) in Burma during World War II, including one Geneva identification card, twenty-seven letters (most with corresponding envelopes), and one black and white 2.25” x 1.5” photograph that was enclosed with a letter dated April 5, 1945.
The Geneva card, dated November 11, 1944, includes a passport photograph. The letters wwere written between January 10 and September 22, 1945. The majority of the letters are handwritten and addressed to Carter’s sister Gladys, although there is a letter from March 10, 1945 addressed to his brother-in-law Ray, as well as a letter dated April 16, 1945 addressed to his father. Although Carter often describes the enclosure of Japanese rupees, Japanese postcards, and photographs in many of his letters to his sister, only one letter from April 5, 1945 still includes an enclosure- a photograph of a captured Japanese soldier.
Many of the letters describe Carter’s feelings of homesickness, need for supplies, and the activities he occupies himself with during his service in Burma, including reading books, reading his mail, and listening to music. In his letters he often mentions his interest in a girl back home named Helene and his interest in attending college -- more specifically Cornell -- upon his return. Carter frequently writes about his living conditions in Burma, including the food he is eats, the abundance of mail he receives, as well as the discomfort he experiences due to the heat, mosquitoes, dust, and approaching monsoon season.
Carter’s decision not to write in great detail about the geographic areas where he was stationed and the specific day-to-day AFS duties he performs is described in an undated, typed letter within the collection, which mentions censorship regulations. Due to the relaxation of censorship as his service continues, within the same letter he describes receiving his ambulance in Sinthe, being posted to the R.A.F. (Royal Air Force), and experiencing his first aid raid. Carter continues the letter by recounting traveling south with the British 17th Division to Meiktila before continuing to Pegu.
Carter also describes his AFS responsibilities, including transporting the wounded from the A.D.S. (Advanced Dressing Station) to the M.D.S. (Main Dressing Station). In some of his letters he describes the alterations he makes to his ambulance, which he refers to as the “Anabelle Lee.” In addition to his AFS activities, he describes encounters with other troops he meets in Burma. In a letter from May 1, 1945, Carter, while parked in front of a paddy field watching Indian troops traveling by elephant, writes about encountering nearly three hundred British and American prisoners who were left in a village once the Japanese retreated. He describes using his PX (Post Exchange) to celebrate with American prisoners originally from New York City.
A few of Carter’s letters recall particularly significant events during his service, including threats to his safety and major turning points in the war. In a letter from April 5, 1945, Carter writes about taking a wrong road while driving at night and encountering a group of Indian troops ready to ambush the Japanese. The letter describes how the troops held their fire long enough to further investigate, and how he stayed with them, transporting a wounded Burmese family and witnessing Japanese planes flying overhead the next day. Carter also mentions Germany’s surrender in a letter from May 15, 1945.
Following Japan’s surrender, Carter’s letters to his sister become less frequent. Rather than returning to the United States right away, Carter decided to travel to various parts of India and Burma, including Kalaw, Meiktila, Calcutta, Bombay, and Imphal. He outlines his course of travel for Gladys in a handwritten letter on Red Cross stationery, which is dated September 22, 1945. Within the letter, he also mentions signing up with the A.R.C. (American Red Cross) to work in China, although he says he still looks forward to attending college upon his return to the United States.