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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Dark Days of 1942




BA DEFENSE CLASSES: Bradford Academy students were offered courses in welding, lathe operation and pre-flight aeronautics in order to prepare to participate in the war efforts.  Additionally, the students were involved in war stamp sales, salvage collection, first  aid courses and the building of model airplanes to be use for plane identification.  Photo was taken by Philip Hastings, Class of 1942.  Hastings went on to become one of the nation's foremost railroad photographers. (Bradford Historical Society)
This ad first appeared in the United Opinion on July 24, 1942.  It is an example of how businesses from cigarette companies to tire manufacturers tied the war effort to their company sales.  An accompanying ad called for "slapping" the Japanese.


THROW YOUR SCRAP INTO THE FIGHT. By October 1942, the scrap metal salvage campaign was in full swing.  The United Opinion featured a large front-page ad for a "Junk Rally for Bradford & Vicinity." This part of the ad illustrated how junk could be made into military materials, with tires becoming gas masks and shoves made into grenades.  
Journal Opinion, March 8, 2017


All the war news seems to be bad for the Allies. It is so bad one dares hardly think what the next batch of news may bring forth.”  The United Opinion, Feb. 20, 1942

The year following the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor was a year of uncertainty for America as the nation “paid the price for lack of preparedness.” It was also a year of patriotic dedication and sacrifice. This column describes the local impact of the evolving war 75 years ago.

 

 It includes information taken from The United Opinion, local town histories and research by Orford historian Art Pease as well as on-line sources and interviews with elders who lived locally during the period.

 

In a radio fireside chat, President Franklin Roosevelt said “There is one front and one battle where everyone in the United States, every man, woman and child, is in action, and will be privileged to remain in action throughout this war.  That front is right here at home, in our daily lives and in our daily tasks.”

 

In anticipation of involvement in an ever-spreading conflict in Europe and Asia, the United States took action in 1940 to mobilize. Construction of military hardware, ships and combat gear was expanded and the first peace-time draft was instituted. 

 

These actions had an impact on locals residents. Hundreds of men volunteered or were drafted for military service. Many more took defense jobs to help meet the President’s goal of “out-producing and overwhelming the enemy.” 

 

The newspaper’s front page listed draft and induction status for local men. Town correspondents submitted columns full of the news of military assignments, furloughs, promotions and citations. Added to these were newsy reports of men and women home for a break from war plants such as Pratt & Whitney in Connecticut.

 

This departure of men from the area created a shortage of workers for mills, mines and farms locally. As in earlier wars, area women took up the additional burden of work. 

 

At one point in 1942, several towns listed the number of men in uniform as follows: Ryegate 34, Fairlee 25, Orford 43 and Piermont 15. These numbers increase significantly by war’s end with Bradford having 209 in service and Ryegate and Newbury about 120 and 175 respectively. Each town also had women in service.     

 

Occasionally, the paper would print excerpts from letters sent to families by service personnel. Unable to reveal their stationing or give details of actual combat, writers would hint at living conditions, give thanks for gifts and ask for prayers and support for their efforts. Some of those letters include ones from Fairlee’s Layton Blake and Lois Ackerman, Bradford’s Allen Hutchinson and Orford’s Francis Bean.

 

The paper listed the mailing addresses of local service personnel and families and friends sent letters and items such as knitted items, toiletries and even maple sugar. Layton Blake mentioned that he had received a package and 51 letters all at once, with the package having been sent six months earlier.  

 

An article described a postcard sent to a St. Johnsbury family from their son Michael Economou taken prisoner by the Japanese after the fall of Wake Island in Dec. 1941. He told them he was being held in the Shanghai War Prisoners Camp and assured them that he was “well and healthy.”  He was later removed to a camp in Japan and held for a total of 1361 days before being liberated. Charles Pierce of Orford was not so fortunate. He was  reported missing in action after the fall of Bataan in 1942 and died of malaria in a prisoner camp in 1943. We now know that Japanese camps were hellholes with prisoners far from being well and healthy.    

 

As American industries began to turn out massive numbers of tanks, planes and other weapons of war, substantial amounts of metal were required. Knowing that “junk makes fighting weapons,” scrap drives were held throughout the nation. 

 

It was reported that locally “attics, cellars, garages and barns have yielded unexpected treasures.”  Scrap piles were located near the library in Orford and the railroad station in Fairlee and in school yards in Topsham. Everything from old cars, farm equipment and household appliances to a cannon and a century-old iron coffin joined the pile. In October, it was reported that Orange County residents had collected 160 lbs of scrap per person, with Bradford among the leaders with 214 lbs.

 

In the fear that village lights along the Connecticut River might guide invading planes toward possible targets, trial blackouts were held locally. Woodsville held one in December 1941.

In early April 1942 Bradford held its first blackout. There were warning blasts from the whistles at the several mills along with the continuous ringing of a church bell. In August, both New Hampshire and Vermont held state-wide drills, with area towns participating. In November, Bradford had its first day-time mock raid with three planes buzzing the village creating simulated casualties and damage.

 

While few really expected an actual attack, they were determined to be prepared for “whatever may come.” That preparation also helped to create a sense of participation by the civilian population. The paper encouraged volunteers to be trained and ready in the case of emergency.  One front page article read “American is calling! Take your place in the local defense effort.”

 

Additional articles gave details for dimming headlights, creating blackout curtains for homes and businesses and foregoing traditional outdoor holiday lights. They encouraged resident to know the rules, take simple precautions for the safety of family and property, and, above all, in the case of an actual attack, “Don’t lose your head. Panic hurts more people than bombs.”

 

Hundreds of local residents manned local observation posts watching for enemy aircraft, trained as civil defense and Red Cross workers and participated in the local unit of the State Guard. Under the command of Major Irwin Worthley of East Corinth, this military unit included area men who were exempt from regular military service.  

 

Mass media became an important component of the war effort. Radio news broadcasts and newsreels that accompanied film showings gave the public some of the details of the war effort. The Office of War Information carefully censored the details of battles and war strategies to keep the information from the enemy. 

 

During 1942, most of the military action involving American forces was in the Pacific. News of the fall of the Philippines and the continued retreat of Allied Forces in the Pacific was widely covered. The United Opinion joined other magazines and newspapers with regular columns reporting news of the war.

 

Sometimes there was a delay of several weeks before specific details of battles were made available to the public, perhaps more so when defeats were experienced. The editor talked about the problems of “scant information about our Pacific fleet” but went on to say that secrecy was essential.  In late 1942, news of actions in Europe and North Africa was included, especially as Allied forces began to have victories over German troops.      

 

Bradford’s Colonial Theatre, Woodsville’ Orpheum and the Fairlee Theatre showed motion pictures during 1942, with the Colonial Theatre increasing to two nights per week to provide  additional local entertainment.  For the relatively small price of admission, viewers could escape the realities of the war through screwball comedies and trips of fantasy and adventure. Films took on the added tasks of raising morale and patriotism and informing the public about the reasons for the conflict.

 

Three of the most popular movies of 1942 had a war message. “Mrs. Miniver,” the story of an English family dealing with war-time struggles, joined “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “Holiday Inn” to present strong messages of patriotism. 

 

As with the films and articles, popular songs helped Americans express the many emotions of war: willingness to sacrifice, the pangs of separation, the urge to participate, the sense of peril, hatred for the enemy, the desire for revenge and hope for victory. The only emotion missing was an anti-war sentiment.

 

 Three songs that topped the charts in 1942 were “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree (With Anyone Else But Me)” and “White Christmas.” These songs could be heard on radio stations and records or played from sheet music.   

 

In 1942, availability of consumer products were impacted by the needs of the military and our allies as well reduced availability of supplies from abroad.  These resulting scarcities led to civilian rationing by the War Productions Board. Nonessential items such as automobiles, refrigerators and other products requiring large amounts of metal were banned. There were shortages of rubber products, oil, sugar, butter, meat and coffee. 

 

Each individual was given a ration book with stamps to use when purchasing rationed items.  Even when a family had the necessary coupons, the commodities were not always available. My mom recalled going early and standing in line at a Fairlee market hoping to get a cut of meat for supper and coming away with none. 

 

Gasoline rationing had a major impact on families, with pleasure cars allowed only three gallons of gasoline a week. A 35-mile per hour speed limit was implemented nation-wide.  Since “stay-at-home” was encouraged, some events were cancelled or downsized. This also had a negative impact on the tourist industry in both states.

 

Walking or biking became more popular and train travel became a necessity. By August, Vermont had decreased the number of cars by 14,000. Recapping of tires was encouraged.

 

For the homemaker, the paper offered recipes to conserve or preserve food and tips on the planting of Victory gardens. As there was a shortage of fabric, “patriotic chic” offered patterns for shorter skirts. For all, the effort was “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”       

 

To meet the increased costs of military operations and other government services, the War Finance Committee was created. The sale of war bonds tapped into personal savings and financed over 50 percent of the increased cost of operating the federal government. Local businesses, schools and organizations joined in the efforts to sell victory stamps and bonds and local towns often exceeded their assigned quotas for both bonds and Red Cross drives.  

 

The Victory Tax of 1942 raised income tax rates. It also authorized payroll withholding of taxes

for the first time. Both of these had the added benefit of fighting inflation by taking money out of circulation in a time when consumer items were in short supply.  

 

Added to the above are other items covered by the local paper. Those include daylight savings or war time, oleomargarine, opening of the Elizabeth Copper Mine in S. Strafford, business advertisements that mentioned war conditions, shortage of candy for Valentine’s Day,  parties for departing servicemen and rumors of spy rings and saboteurs.     

 

Changes in the conflict had a major impact on the emotions of the public toward the war and their own individual parts in it. The following excerpts from The United Opinion reflect those evolving emotions.  Right after Pearl Harbor the editor wrote “It may be a big war, it will be a difficult war, but we believe we have what it takes to win”

 

In Jan.1942 the editor warned against “too deep gloom” and went on to prophesied: “In the end Japan can’t win, but there is going to be a lot of china broken before we get this bad boy of the Rising Son properly spanked”

 

As news of the first air attacks on the Japanese homeland were revealed in May, there was concern that the public was “being too optimistic.” At the same time, the editor wrote “We know we’re not to have an easy victory but there seem to be a definite feeling that things are getting better.”

 

Later that year the “apprehensive” fear of something less than total victory still prevailed for many. There was hope that the “dark days of the summer” would “stiffen the determination to win.” But at same time, articles began to appear about hopes for a lasting post-war peace and the threats of possible economic downturns.

 

As the year drew to a close, war news still “shoved other stories out of the headline.”  It was reported that “the number of American dead, wounded, missing, interned and captured” in the first year of the war had reached 58,307. One of those dead was 1st Lt Raymond S. Wood of Woodsville who died on Dec. 30 in the battle for Guadalcanal.  His remains were missing until early 2008.

 

The newspaper printed British Prime Minister Churchill’s prediction that 1943 would be a “stern and terrible year” and that the war was by “no means approaching its end.”  In fact, it would take almost three more years before the Allies achieved unconditional surrender from Germany and Japan.  Those were three years of struggle on all fronts, military and home. But from the dark days of ‘42, the gloom was lifted and there was, increasingly, a victorious light at the end of the tunnel. 

 

 

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