CONWAY — Nov. 11 marks the 100th anniversary of the declaration of the cease-fire that ended World War I, with the armistice signed on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month to end “the War to End All Wars.”
As the country observes Veterans Day on Sunday (see related story on local observances), two New Hampshire historians this week reflected on local connections to the four-year conflict that was surpassed in absolute devastation only by World War II 20 years later.
Bob Cottrell of Tamworth, curator of the Henney History Room at the Conway Public Library and also curator of the Conway Historical Society; and Janice Brown of Merrimack, owner of and content provider for the New Hampshire history blog, Cow Hampshire.
Through his blog, mwvhistory.blogspot.com, Cottrell chronicles his own research on the war, using old copies of the now defunct Reporter newspaper for much of his primary research.
Cottrell noted, for example that the former Jackson Sewing Club has ties to World War I.
“The Jackson Sewing Club was formed so that members could knit socks and clothing for our boys overseas during World War I. The Sun recently had an article about how they recently disbanded after 100 years and gave $19,000 to the Jackson Public Library for their new pergola,” said Cottrell.
Although the global war originated in Europe with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria on June 28, 1914, the United States under President Woodrow Wilson had remained neutral, despite it being an important supplier to Great Britain and the other Allied powers.
On May 7, 1915, a German U-boat torpedoed and sank the RMS Lusitania, a British ocean liner en route from New York to Liverpool, England. Of the more than 1,900 passengers and crew members on board, more than 1,100 perished, including more than 120 Americans.
The sinking of the Lusitania played a significant role in turning public opinion against Germany, both in the United States and abroad. After several attacks on its shipping off the coast of England by German U-boats, Congress declared war on April 6, 1917.
Cottrell said the nation was reluctant to get involved with a European conflict, a view shared by many local residents, as reflected in the pages of the Reporter newspaper, which published from around 1890 to 1992.
“Interestingly, when the war broke out, there was no mention of it on the front page," Cottrell noted. "It took weeks for the news to get back here in those days … My research shows, however, that toward the end of the war, coverage definitely became front-page news.”
In time, The Reporter showed its patriotic spirit by offering a free subscription to anyone who signed up to serve in the war effort, carrying them all the hometown news that reminded them about what they were fighting for.
Cottrell said one war-related story said the Conway Lumber Co. was “shipping quantities of lumber to different points for use in the Army camps.”
Also, as part of the home-front effort, local residents were urged to help conserve gasoline by taking fewer car trips or catching rides with others; using less coal for heat; and using cornmeal instead of flour so the flour could go to the troops.
In addition to socks sewn by the Jackson Sewing Club, other efforts included contributing tobacco for the troops, making bandages from sheets, growing gardens for food to stave off shortages, and holding social teas and dances to raise funds for the troops.
Even after the armistice was signed, Cottrell said, there continued to be a local backlash against people of German descent. An issue of the Reporter contains a notice about a local event in 1918 that encouraged kids to bring German-made toys to burn them on a bonfire.
Like Cottrell, Brown is driven by a passion for history.
One story on her blog (cowhampshireblog.com) tells about the New Hampshire Honor Roll in Doric Hall (Hall of Flags) at the State House in Concord. It lists in alphabetical order the 697 names of Granite State residents who paid the ultimate sacrifice in World War I — including Ralph W. Shirley, 22, of East Conway.
Shirley and his North Fryeburg, Maine, friend Frank W. Shaw, 24, were killed in France by the same German military shell in July 1918. Local American Legion Posts were named after them, with Conway's the Shirley Post 46 and Fryeburg's after Shaw. And on the 100th anniversary of their deaths this summer, wreath-laying ceremonies took place at their respective graves in Fryeburg.
According to Brown, New Hampshire provided more than 20,000 men for military service for the war effort. It also supplied more than 150,000 members of the American Red Cross and contributed $935,000 to the organization’s work.
The state Legislature, working with neighboring Maine, commissioned the Memorial Bridge in Portsmouth in honor their service.
Notable World War I-era ties to the area include North Conway-raised Harvey D. Gibson — New York bank president-turned-1930s developer of Cranmore Mountain in North Conway — who served as the head of the American Red Cross in Europe during the war.
After the war, Gibson (1882-1950) served on Germany’s board of creditors — a role that proved to be influential in obtaining Austrian skimeister Hannes Schneider’s release from Nazi custody to come to Cranmore in February 1939.
Schneider (1890-1955) taught skiing to the Austrian mountain troops in World War I. That experience helped him to start his world-renowned ski school in St. Anton am Arlberg, Austria, prior to his arrest after the Anschluss of Austria by Nazi Germany in March 1938.
Those New Hampshire connections and more are what led the Conway Historical Society to host a well-received World War I exhibit in summer of 2017 at the society’s Salyards Center for the Arts.
Cottrell said the idea of mounting an exhibit on the 100th anniversary of the United States’ getting into World War I came about through a library user.
“A person stopped by the library (in 2016) and gave me a map from the MWV Chamber that showed the names of local war monuments. Ironically, it didn’t include the World War I monument that stands outside our library!” laughed Cottrell. “But that got me going.”
Part of the subsequent work was to do an inventory of the names of those listed on the memorials and to compile a database, showing those who had served.
More than 50 local people from the 27 towns served by the Henney History Room contributed items or shared stories about relatives for the exhibit, Cottrell said.
A book on the history of Company F, for example, was loaned for the exhibit by Anna Peare, whose father, Ernest Peare of Conway, served with the company, the same company with which Ralph Shirley and Frank Shaw served.
Other photos and items were loaned by Ted Sares of North Conway, whose father John Sares served; CHS President Ken Rancourt, whose grandfather Albert and great uncle George, both of Redstone, also served; and Diane McLellan, contributing photos of the restored Redstone Park sundial war monument.
Nurses with World War I ties included Edna Ricker of Kearsarge Hall, now the site of TD Bank in North Conway. Then there was Cecil Aline Bixler, mother of Virginia Tinker of Conway. Originally from Illinois, Bixler served as a nurse in France during the war and met her eventual husband (Virginia's father, John Buchanan) there.
Another nurse who served was Teresa Blanche Duffy, the lone woman's name to appear on the list of 49 names on the World War I monument in front of the Conway Public Library. Brown was able to track down Duffy’s marriage and death certificate information and to determine that she was a nurse with the Army Nurses Corps stationed at Base Hospital No. 44 in France. She married Phillip St. Clair after the war in 1920 at St. Charles Church — ironically, in what is now the Salyards Museum.
Another name appearing on the monument by the library, incidentally, is William Booth Hounsell, grandfather of Carroll County Commissioner Mark Hounsell of Conway.
"He was a young man when the war started," Hounsell said Thursday. His grandfather, he said, was "born in 1898. Served in the Army. He became an educator, principal of high schools and he was a superintendent of schools in Concord. He started the Bartlett High School in the 1920s."
Others whose relatives served are Tess and Tom Mulkern, owners of the Shannon Door Pub in Jackson. They loaned a helmet for display in the Salyards exhibit that once belonged to Tom’s mother’s cousin, Michael J. Perkins of South Boston, Mass. Perkins wasn't as lucky as Mark Hounsell's grandfather: He was killed at age 18 while fighting in France and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
The exhibit is gone, but the effort to gather information continues, said Cottrell.
“Very definitely that effort continues — and we encourage people to provide us with information, to use our data research resources, and to interview their relatives about all things related to our history,” said Cottrell.
The library also continues to honor our troops. Patrons last Saturday and today from 11 a.m-4 p.m. are addressing thank you letters to service people, as part of a nationwide program, Operation Gratitude.
It comes on the centennial of what many called "the Forgotten War."
As Brown noted, “Names listed on a memorial aren’t just names engraved on a rock — they are supposed to honor people, those who gave their lives in service to their country or served."