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Over there in France and over here in Norwell (1914-1918)

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BerichtGeplaatst: 24 Feb 2008 9:52    Onderwerp: Over there in France and over here in Norwell (1914-1918) Reageer met quote

Column: Over there in France and over here in Norwell (1914-1918)
By Sam Olson/Special to the Mariner
Wed Jan 23, 2008, 08:59 PM EST

Part one

Norwell - Citizens of Norwell would eagerly await the Boston papers picked up by Dyer’s Express from the late afternoon Greenbush train and distributed around the town.

Undoubtedly, the headline of June 28, 1914, announcing the assassination of the Austrian archduke and his wife by a Serbian nationalist would have created little concern. Of far greater interest would have been the baseball scores being chalked on the blackboard at the entrances of various neighborhood stores.

Little did most in our small community realize that this tragedy in a far-off land would result in the United States’ abandoning a century and a quarter tradition of staying clear of European entanglements.

The murders at Sarajevo triggered the Great War, or the World War of 1914-1918. The United States would fight on the side of the Allies from April 6, 1917, to the armistice of Nov. 11, 1918.

The struggle would eventually cost 8 million lives, including the lives of 116,000 Americans. In the war, 55 Norwell men and two women would serve with 17 experiencing the horrors of the western front and two others being part of the occupation army in Germany.

Unlike the Civil War, which claimed the lives of 24 South Scituate men, no local doughboy lost his life in the 1917-1918 war. One young man though, William Leslie of Central Street, suffered severe wounds and the loss of an arm.

The American participation would be unique in that our homeland was never directly threatened. Also, for the first time in any American war, all citizens, young and old, would be called upon to help defeat the enemy by performing war work and making various kinds of sacrifice,

some of which involved some loss of personal liberty. A shared sense of sacrifice in time of war defined the era of 1917-1918 in Norwell and throughout the land.

Unlike other recurring crises that had characterized European politics for centuries, the assassination at Sarajevo set off negative forces of nationalism, militarism, and imperialism and put into play the alliance system that resulted in most of the

major European nations and their colonel dependencies to line up with either the Allies (Britain, France, Italy) or the Central Power led by Imperial Germany. Americans were shocked to read in the daily papers of Germany’s Wilhelm II, “Kaiser Bill,” completely ignoring Belgian neutrality as German armies invaded Belgium as the easiest route to Paris and ending the war quickly before the British Expeditionary Force could arrive in France.

With Allied propagandists effectively portraying the “savage Hun,” hands dripping with blood and bayoneting Belgian children, it was almost impossible to honor President Wilson’s plea to be “neutral in thought, word and action.”

Among well-known Norwell residents caught in the war zone that summer were former high school principal and Mrs. Cox. Also visiting Paris as a fashion buyer was Henry Farrar of West Norwell, soon to become the fashion editor of the Ladies Home Journal. Future president Herbert Hoover, a recently retired mining engineer of 40, was also traveling in Europe that summer.

He volunteered his administrative skills and private funds to help fellow citizens, with their assets frozen in European banks with means to get home.

By 1915, American merchant ships bearing food and material to British ports open to them were being attacked by German submarines defying all the rules of naval warfare. In May 1915, a German U-boat sank the British Cunard liner, the Lusitania, with the loss of 1,200 lives including those of 128 Americans.

Germany claimed the passenger ship was also carrying munitions. Wilson mustered all his diplomatic skills to maintain the peace despite the outrage. Former president Teddy Roosevelt denounced him as “that sissy in the White House afraid to fight.” Wilson vowed that he would continue to maintain peace as long as it could be done with honor.

As the debate went on, Norwell observed that September what came to be called one of the most important days in Norwell history.

An 80-foot high flagpole was placed on the Common with Senator Henry Cabot Lodge a close friend of Horace Fogg, as the main speaker. The festivities and the flag waving of that day continued with a baseball game between Kingston and Norwell played at Cushing Field. The memorable day concluded with a concert by Milo Burke's band.
Germany’s Lusitania pledge to honor the rules of naval warfare was broken with the sinking of American merchant ships, many carrying munitions. The manufacture of munitions did bring jobs to Norwell residents with George Clark of National Fireworks of West Hanover getting a seven million dollar contract from the Allies.

The presidential election of 1916 featured Democrat Wilson using the slogan, “Re-elect Woodrow Wilson. He kept us out of war.”

Republican Charles Evans Hughes lost one of the closest elections in American history. Wilson did better in Norwell than previous Democratic presidential candidates. Local voters gave Wilson 107 votes with Hughes receiving 179. Republican Henry Cabot Lodge easily won re-election. Norwell gave him three times the vote accorded “Honey Fitz” Fitzgerald, President Kennedy’s grandfather.

On Jan. 30, 1917, The United States broke off diplomatic relations with Germany because of continued sinking of our ships, a neutral nation.

The interception of the Zimmerman Telegram which revealed Germany’s conspiring with Mexico and promising return of California and other territories taken from Mexico by the United States was another factor.

On April 2, 1917, Wilson appeared before Congress with a war message highlighted by the words, “We must make the world safe for democracy.” Four days later, Congress declared war with few dissenting votes. Even before that date, Miss Maisie Dyer of River Street had enlisted at the Massachusetts Recruiting Station for service as a telephone operator in event of war.

On April 20, 1917, a local public safety committee was formed to coordinate with the Food Administration,

The Fuel Administration, and other federal agencies. Herbert Hoover, Food Administrator, urged Americans to “Hooverize” to observe wheat less, meat less, and heat less days.

To drink beer or whiskey was to take bread from the mouths of war orphans. Beer drinking diminished also with scorn for beer companies bearing German names such as Pabst and Budweiser. All of this was done voluntarily unlike during World War II when rationing was instituted.

The Rockland Standard reported on a huge patriotic rally held at First Parish that May with Thomas Lawson of Dreamwold the main speaker. The church was decorated with many flags including a 150 by 75 feet owned by Lawson. John Gutterson, the new owner of the Delano Mansion and a talented musician, conducted a patriotic sing-along.

A Norwell auxiliary of the American Red Cross was chartered to better organize blood drives, making bandages, and canteen work.

The American Boy Scouts, formed nationally in 1910, acquired a Norwell patrol designed to involve young people in war work.

A less positive action in the final analysis was Congress’ passage of the Espionage and Sedition Acts. The former allowed suspected enemy collaborators to be deported without due process.

The latter made it unlawful to criticize the government in any way. Many people of German ancestry, relatively few in Norwell at that time, anglicized their names in order to ward off hostility. German measles became “liberty measles” and sauerkraut became “liberty cabbage.”

The teaching of German was outlawed in many schools and symphony orchestras were forbidden to play the music of German composers.

There were five Liberty Loan Drives with rallying posters drawn by illustrators such as Norman Rockwell and James Montgomery Flagg, urging patriots to “give until it hurts,” and also using a term from trench warfare, “Go over the top.” Norwell residents bought bonds usually exceeding established quotas. Harry Fogg, treasurer of South Scituate Savings Bank,

headed many of these drives emphasizing that every hundred dollar bond purchased represented one soldier’s equipment.
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BerichtGeplaatst: 24 Feb 2008 9:53    Onderwerp: Reageer met quote

Column: Over there in France and over here in Norwell, Part II
By Sam Olson/Special to the Mariner
Thu Feb 21, 2008, 05:50 PM EST

Norwell -

(Editor’s note: This is the second part of a column that was published in the Mariner on Jan. 24.)

In 1917, Congress enacted a draft act called selective service using the lottery method unlike the inequitable method of the Civil War inwhich conscripts could pay $300 to hire a substitute. District #38 Draft Board consisted of Norwell, Hanover, Hanson and other nearby towns.

An exemption panel was also set up. Many Norwell young men engaged in farm work and vital defense jobs were able to secure exemption. The vanguard of American troops under General Pershing, commander of the AEF (American Expeditionary Force), arrived in France in the summer of 1917.

A staff officer of General Pershing visited the grave of Lafayette shortly after arriving in France and saluted his memory with the words, “Lafayette, we are here.” A graduate of Norwell High School in the Class of 1918 titled his honor essay with the same words.

Large numbers of doughboys did not arrive over there in France, the war’s principal theater, until the spring of 1918 with the war on the western front stalemated. The opposing armies sat opposite one another intrenches on a front that stretched from the Swiss border to the North Sea.

The land between the trenches was covered with barbed wire, shell holes, and poison gas drifting over all was referred to as “no man's land.”

The infusion of American troops was credited with eventually turning the tide for the allies. Norwell men participated in such battles as the Second Marne, Cantigny, Belleau Wood,

and the decisive Meuse-Argonne offensive. Families in Norwell received letters postmarked “Somewhere in France” for security reasons. Mrs. John Osborne, for one, received word from her son Billy who was fighting with the French army.

In the meantime, a big change came on the home front with the adoption of daylight saving time, effective from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in October, permitting more daylight for farmers and war workers.

The war dampened the always-active Norwell social scene, but the traditional masque ball on Washington’s Birthday was held in 1918 at Fogg’s Hall for the benefit of the American Red Cross. With the permission of the Fuel Administration, the ball was to be open until 2 a.m.

The increased demand for food brought prosperity to Norwell farms. There was virtually full employment with jobs in munitions and in the shipyards at Quincy and Hingham, which were launching battleships and destroyers in record time. Norwell shoe workers worked overtime in the shoe factories in neighboring times.

For instance, E.T. Wright in Rockland received a government order for 175,000 pairs of shoes.

The guns were finally silenced at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918 when the Germans and the other Central Powers agreed to a negotiated peace based upon President Wilson’s 14 Points.

There was pandemonium of joy all over the world on that first Armistice Day. They were celebrating not only the end of this war but also, because of its sheer horror, the “war that would end all wars.”

Norwell celebrated with the ringing of church bells and with a special service held at First Parish with surviving members of the Grand Army of the Republic receiving special recognition.

But an unfortunate epilogue to the war was not yet fully played out. In the fall of 1918, the first case of Spanish influenza in the United States was diagnosed at Camp Devens. Before this pandemic was over, 10 million deaths were recorded worldwide —more than the total of all the combatants’ deaths in the war.

Norwell was not as badly affected as badly affected some area communities, but schools and churches were closed and social activities curtailed in the waning months of 1918 and the early part of the following year. Norwell recorded a total of 21 deaths in 1918; 10 of these were listed as pneumonia induced by the flu.

Between January and early February of 1919, four more pneumonia deaths were recorded.

A more uplifting epilogue to the war was the “Welcome Home” event for Norwell service men and women held on Aug. 21, 1919. Included in the festivities were a band concert which was conducted by Milo Burke, a fireworks display, and a dance held at Fogg’s Hall.

Prior to the dance, a supper was served for the returnees and their guests on the grounds of the Seth Foster estate followed by the presentation of medals to all who had served. Undoubtedly,

few could have imagined on that joyous day that in less than a generation there would be another world war necessitating the affixing of Roman numeral I when referring to the World War of 1914-1918.
A Norwell resident, Sam Olson is retired from a teaching career where he worked in the Abington, Needham and Milton Public Schools. He’s a member of the Norwell Historical Society and a lifelong student of history.
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