Archives for July 2018

WWI Remembrance Planned in Lexington

During the fall of 2018, Lexington will be celebrating the end of World War I with expert panel discussions, carefully curated exhibits, the ringing of church bells, parades, youth essay contests, and even a gala dinner focusing on the music of World War I.

Text on photo: “Welcome Home to the Service Men from The World War … Battle Green … Lexington, Mass … June 14th, 1919” COURTESY PHOTO

By E. Ashley Rooney

Once the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, public debate about the country’s role in the conflict died down.  Patriotic loyalty now pervaded the country.  Here in Lexington, 305 residents served; five were women. The eight men who died are commemorated in Cary Hall. Under the plaque (see photo below) in a locked drawer is a time capsule with a scroll bearing the names of the 305 Lexingtonians who served and another scroll with names of those Minutemen who protected us here at home.

Over 189,000 Massachusetts men and women served in the US Armed Forces with some serving in other Allied forces. Many died during the conflict: 5,775. Others died soon after the war from their wounds or exposure to poisonous gas or disease.

During the fall of 2018, Lexington will be celebrating the end of World War I with expert panel discussions, carefully curated exhibits, the ringing of church bells, parades, youth essay contests, and even a gala dinner focusing on the music of World War I. (See the Schedule of Events on page 25.)

In Lexington the soldiers were welcomed home on the Common, greeted by a sign that read “Welcome home to the Service Men from the World War, Battle Green Lexington, Mass. June 14th 1919.” In all, 305 Lexington residents served with eight not returning. COURTESY PHOTO

Many of these events will take place during  October and the Veterans’ Day weekend of November 10 -11.

THE GREAT WAR

With the outbreak of war in Europe in 1915, the United States adopted a policy of strict neutrality. President Woodrow Wilson declared that the country should remain “neutral in fact, as well as in name.” Nevertheless, by 1915, tales of atrocities in Belgium along with the sinking of the Lusitania, which resulted in the deaths of 128 Americans, began to turn the tide of public opinion against Germany and her allies.

On April 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson requested a joint session of Congress to declare war against Germany to “make the world safe for democracy.” In declaring war on Germany, he cited German submarine attacks on merchant and passenger ships in the North Atlantic as well as the so-called “Zimmerman telegram,” in which German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmerman promised Mexico the return of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona as a reward for allying with Germany if the U.S. entered the war.

The war was nearly three years old and mired in a bloody stalemate when the United States joined its French, Italian, Russian and British allies. Locked in trench warfare across much of Western Europe, the opposing forces suffered huge casualties for minimal territorial gains. To overcome the challenges of trench warfare and gain an advantage over the enemy, new and deadlier weapons such as poison gas, tanks, airplanes, submarines, and flamethrowers were introduced although their efficiency was often far from that desired.

The impact of the United States joining the war was significant. The additional firepower, material resources, and U. S. soldiers helped to tip the balance of the war in favor of the Allies.

The 26th Infantry, nicknamed the Yankee Division, was the first full U.S. unit to deploy overseas after the United States entered the war. Almost entirely composed of guardsmen from Massachusetts and the other New England states, the unit was sent to Europe as part of the American Expeditionary Forces. It saw extensive combat in France and fought in six campaigns. In the History of the Yankee Division, General Edwards wrote, “No division had harder service, no division was longer in the line or gained more distance or fought off more attacks than the Yankee Division.”

Thousands of Army recruits were processed and trained at Camp Devens in central Massachusetts, while recruits for the Navy were processed through the Boston Naval Shipyard.

Six destroyers left Boston on April 24, 1917, and arrived at the British naval base at Queenstown (Cobh), Ireland on May 4. The second group of destroyers left on May 7 to join in escort duties and patrol for German U-boats. From then on, the port of Boston and its navy yard would become one of the principal points of departure for troops, arms, and supplies to Britain and France.

Several dozen military installations and activities were established in Massachusetts. The Massachusetts National Guard also mobilized Company L, 372nd Infantry Regiment composed of African American soldiers from Boston and Cambridge.

THE HALIFAX CHRISTMAS TREE FOR BOSTON

The Massachusetts State Guard, the state militia that replaced the National Guard serving in France, recruited women to serve as nurses, marking the first time women served in the militia. State Guard medical personnel were among the first to reach Halifax Nova Scotia to aid survivors and the overall relief effort after a devastating explosion killed and injured thousands on December 6, 1917. In December 1918 the city of Halifax shipped a large Christmas tree to Boston as a token of thanks for their help in recovery from the disaster. In 1971 the tradition was revived to celebrate the special bond between cities, and each year since the official Christmas tree on Boston Common has been gifted by the people of Nova Scotia. The tree is lit in the Boston Common throughout the Christmas season.

When the Massachusetts National Guardsmen landed in France, they faced brutal fighting conditions and horrific new weapons of war “It was the Guard’s finest hour,” said Brigadier Gen. Leonid Kondratiuk, chairman of the Massachusetts World War I Centennial Commission and official historian for the Massachusetts National Guard. “They were available, organized quickly and went over there quickly.”

HERE IN MASSACHUSETTS

Back home, hundreds of factories in the state manufactured weapons, clothing, shoes, and equipment for both American and Allied armies. Many women entered the workforce, and, for the first time, women were allowed to enlist in the US Armed Forces. Individual citizens and patriotic groups joined the war effort purchasing war bonds, collecting metal for reuse, planting Victory Gardens, and sending letters and parcels to troops overseas. And everyone knew about the Battle of Verdun, Somme, Belleau Wood, the Gallipoli Campaign, and the Spring Offensive.

The American government wanted Americans not just to enlist, but also to buy war bonds, grow food, and eat less meat, wheat, and sugar. The Wilson administration embarked on a propaganda campaign to get Americans to make sacrifices and join in the war effort. With radio in its early stages and Twitter decades away, artists provided colorful posters to spur a reluctant population to not only support the war effort but to make sacrifices. Here in Lexington, we grew Victory Gardens, saved fats for the manufacturing of explosives, observed Meatless Mondays and Wheatless Wednesdays and purchased Liberty Bonds and war stamps.

World War I changed Massachusetts, the nation, and the world. Rapid wartime social change brought political transformations such as the 18th Amendment (ratified 1919) to the Constitution prohibiting alcohol, the 19th Amendment (1920) giving women the right to vote, and Daylight Savings time. The United States emerged from the war as the world industrial leader.

One hundred years later, The Lexington Historical Society, Lexington Minutemen, Veterans Association, and Lexington Field and Garden Club have joined with the Town Celebrations Committee, Cary Library, Colonial Singers and the Tourism Committee to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I.

 

Schedule of Special Events to Celebrate WWI in Lexington:

 

 

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