WWI Combat Didn't Stop These Women From Frying Up Donuts For Soldiers

The legacy of World War I most notably focuses on the horrors of trench warfare, the almost unimaginable death toll, and the imperfect peace that set the stage for an even more massive war less than 20 years later. But among all the dread and bloodshed, human ingenuity can take a massive step forward when war conditions force improvisation. During the Great War, zippers were produced, the first blood banks were established, and Pilates was invented.

While all of those innovations had a direct correlation to the battlefield, a group of Salvation Army volunteers showed how creative they could get as they made donuts to provide a taste of the U.S. for homesick soldiers. The effort was led by Margaret Sheldon and Helen Purviance, two Salvation Army members serving at the camp of the 1st Ammunition Train, 1st Division in eastern France. There wasn't a fully functional bakery on site, obviously, so the women made do with what they could find.

After scraping together rations, they used artillery shells and wine bottles as makeshift rolling pins and a soldier's helmet to fry the donuts in. The donuts were a massive hit among the weary troops, prompting soldiers to write home praising the work being done by the women of the Salvation Army, who they had dubbed the "Donut Lassies." By preparing treats like donuts and hot cocoa, these hardworking women gave soldiers moments of comfort in the chaos of the notoriously brutal conflict.

National Donut Day honors the Donut Lassies

National Donut Day was created by the Salvation Army to honor the women whose donuts provided a sweet respite from the horrors of World War I. The inaugural Donut Day took place in 1938 as a fundraiser to raise money for the needy at the height of the Great Depression, and since then, the first Friday of June has been a celebration of the circular pastry. In 2024, the origins of National Donut Day and the exploits of the Donut Lassies aren't very well known, but the day is beloved for the amount of sweet deals that can be found. 

Krispy Kreme is going all out by offering a free donut (with no other purchase necessary) to customers who visit its stores on June 7, 2024. The freebies are limited to the standard donuts, so no special or limited edition flavors will apply, but who's going to complain about a free donut? Customers across the nation can visit Dunkin' for a free donut with the purchase of a drink, which is a pretty perfect deal since you were probably getting one of its Dunkin' iced coffees (which Tasting Table recently ranked) anyway. 

If you're lucky enough to live near a Tim Horton's, the Canadian-based chain will also offer a free donut with a drink purchase. Free donuts are wonderful, but why not channel the true spirit of the Donut Lassies and prepare our glazed doughnut recipe? You'll probably struggle to find an artillery shell to roll your dough, but it's acceptable to use a traditional rolling pin.