Looking Back1

Vegetables from local “war gardens” displayed at the “Manchester War Endeavor” exhibit in September 1918.

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Looking Back with Aurore Eaton

In 1918 the United States was fully engaged in the war in Europe, which would become known as The Great War, and later as World War I. All aspects of daily life were affected by the conflict. The Manchester Union newspaper soldiered on in its own way by reporting the alarming news from Europe, alongside business matters, sports, and other regular news of the day. With full-page ads promoting the sale of Liberty Bonds, and with nearly every display ad for local goods and services mentioning the need to conserve resources, the message was clear that everyone must do his or her part for the war effort.

On Tuesday, Sept. 10, 1918 the paper reported that a special “Manchester War Endeavor” exhibit would be open to the public on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday that week. The show would be held at the Manchester Institute of Arts and Sciences (now the Emma B. French Hall of the New Hampshire Institute of Art on Concord Street). The exhibit was organized by a local committee, to be a “great reflection of the way Manchester men, women and children feel about the war and about supporting their sons, brothers, husbands, and sweethearts in uniforms.” The newspaper indicated that soldiers from the First Battalion of the New Hampshire State Guard “will report in true military fashion” to provide guard duty during exhibit hours.

All three floors of the elegant Institute building were filled with splendid displays set up by local businesses, clubs, and war relief organizations. Hundreds of citizens showed off vegetables and fruits grown in their “war gardens.” Ribbons were awarded for the best examples in the various categories. Messages supporting the homefront efforts were sprinkled throughout the displays. For example, the J.F. McElwain Shoe Co. presentation included a poster advising visitors to “Save Coal–Close Parlor and Guest Room; Save Food–Make Fewer Pies and Cakes; Save Cloth–Simplify Dresses; Spend Hours Saved in War Industries.”

That same newspaper of Sept. 10, 1918 brought the war into vivid reality with several bits of news from Manchester soldiers. The paper published selections from letters home written by Lt. Harold E. Fife. He had endured several harrowing episodes, and was happy to report that “I am now in a big forest where it is peaceful and quiet; that is, there is no boom of artillery, no whine of shells or crack of machine gun.”

In other news, brothers Harold and Francis Kenney, both privates, had been injured in the same battle, though they fought with different units. Harold had sustained a shrapnel wound in his knee when a shell exploded near him, while Frank had been shot in the leg. They were both recuperating well in separate field hospitals in France. Frank wrote in a letter home, quoted in the paper, “My leg is healing in great style, and it will not be very long before I will be able to walk as well as ever. At present I have to use a pair of crutches, but that is better than lying in bed all day.” He wrote that his friend and fellow soldier Earl McGrath had been killed, and expressed, “I feel pretty blue, as Earl and I had been bunkmates for quite a while.”

During this worst year of the War, 1918, the United States was also facing the horrifying influenza pandemic that had started in Europe in 1917. Between the spring of 1918 and the summer of 1919, the U.S. would suffer through three deadly waves of the disease that would result in a total of 675,000 deaths. The second, and worst, of these outbreaks occurred in September, October and November 1918. By the end of September an estimated 2,000 people in Manchester were sick. On Sept. 27 and 28 alone 19 local residents died from the virus or resulting pneumonia.

Pariseau’s, a fine clothing store on Elm Street, dealt with this dire situation in an entrepreneurial manner, by advertising in The Manchester Union that it had a complete assortment of appropriate mourning apparel available for the bereaved at special low prices, and with free delivery. Pariseau’s would even send items to a home for consideration—no need to visit the store.

Note: The special exhibition on World War I, “Manchester and the Great War,” is on display in the Millyard Museum until Dec. 31.

Next week: Peace at last—the Armistice of November 11, 1918.Auore Eaton is a historian and writer in Manchester; contact her at auroreeaton@aol.com or at www.facebook.com/AuroreEatonWriter.