by Robert Hanaford Smith, Sr. Weirs Times Contributing Writer
There was plenty of what might be called ordinary news in the Wednesday issue of The News and Critic newspaper of March 6, 1918, including political gatherings, sports events, NH fish and game activities, the weather report, church meetings, death notices, along with information about the activities of some local citizens. Those, however, were no ordinary times because America was at war and the newspaper reflected that fact by reporting on the involvement of the people of New Hampshire in World War I.
Hundreds of New Hampshire soldiers recruited under the Selective Service Act were sent to Camp Greene in Charlotte, North Carolina, where in March of 1918 they became bogged down in the mud. That hastily built training camp to prepare men to be sent to France to join the American fighting forces proved to be unsuitable for training purposes due to snow followed by heavy rain and the mud it produced in the red clay soil.
New Hampshire Congressmen Edward Hills Wason of New Boston and Sherman Everett Burroughs of Dunbarton travelled to Camp Greene in February according to The News and Critic which stated that “The trip of the New Hampshire statesmen was eventful….
Instead of meeting Mr. Burroughs and Mr. Wason with a brass band at the camp gate, the New Hampshire military officers were there with two pair of high rubber boots.” They found that the boots were needed to get through the mud that caused many problems at the Camp, including preventing the men from engaging in training exercises and creating many unsanitary conditions. The congressmen also found that, although the Secretary of War had stated that all the men were armed with new rifles, the New Hampshire companies, for the most part, had but from six to fourteen and some “old condemned Springfield rifles that nobody would dare to shoot.”
Representative Burroughs delivered a speech in the U.S. House of Representatives on February 22, 1918 concerning the conditions at Camp Greene, describing it as “a veritable bog.” He blamed the War Department for the conditions at Camp Greene as he told his fellow representatives of the knee-deep mud that prevented garbage removal, of the fact that there was no sewerage system and that dirty water and refuse was dumped into ditches where it remained. He also informed his colleagues that “No carriage or automobile could possibly get into the camp, much less make its way through it. I was informed by an officer that a few days before he had seen three mules so badly stuck in the mud that they had broken their legs trying to get out and had to be shot.” He warned them that when warm weather came there would be enormous quantities of flies and the danger of typhoid fever and diphtheria outbreaks.
The newspaper reporter ended his story with remarks of concern for the welfare of “the New Hampshire boys”, whom he noted that the Surgeon General, Dr. Gorgas said “are dirty”. Those NH boys told the congressmen that “unless they skipped over to the Y.M.C.A. they had not had a bath since last August.” General Gorgas’s report actually read “Limited facilities for heating water for bathing over a period of several months has resulted in the men becoming dirty.”
Despite the unhealthy conditions the New Hampshire boys reported that the food was good and well-cooked, that they were clothed well, and had a sufficient number of blankets to keep warm.
The newspaper on that March day in 1918 not only reported about the hardships that the new recruits were experiencing at Camp Greene, but also reported concerning those who were already in the war zone, including the death of Lt. Harold F. Eadie of Tilton, NH who was killed in France. Lt. Eadie was 24 years old. Born in Fall River, Mass. he attended Phillips Academy in Andover and Dartmouth College, being the first from that school to enlist. He was a quarterback in football for both Phillips Academy and Dartmouth College, and was engaged to be married.
The local news included the offer to physically qualified men to apply for three positions for carpenters available through the Belknap County draft board. Those chosen would be inducted into military service as part of a group of fifty to be sent to Kelley Field in San Antonio, Texas to work for the Aviation Section Signal Corps. And on the home front the W.C.T.U. was meeting on a weekly basis to sew and make ambulance pillows for soldiers and sailors, and the Alton columnist advised the readers that Uncle Sam was looking for 250,000 workmen to build ships in the shipyards at high wages.
Citizens were also told that W S S means WAR SAVINGS STAMPS and that it was their duty to purchase them which they could do at banks and post offices. Committees and sub-committees appointed to promote W S S were urged “…to push the sale of these stamps as a patriotic duty”.
It appears that anyone who wanted to could be involved in some way to help bring an end to the war that some thought would be the war that would end war.