SOUTHINGTON - Historian Christine Pittsley took visitors at The Southington Historical Society back 100 years in time for a glimpse at “Connecticut in the Great War” Wednesday.
The presentation, which was attended by more than a dozen people, included about 100 pictures of Southington during World War I and others from throughout the state. Among them were photos of airplanes, tanks, soldiers marching and riding horses, people working in factories and picking potatoes.
There was also the only known footage of Southington native and then Connecticut Gov. Marcus Holcomb greeting soldiers returning from war.
Walter Grover, program director at the Southington Historic Center, welcomed Pittsley, who he explained was from the Connecticut State Library and the Cheshire Historical Society. She is also the director of planning for upcoming World War I Centennial celebrations throughout the year. She has spent the past 10 years digitizing images from the war.
Pittsley said many of the images in the slideshow were collected by a man named George Godard. He also collected numerous items from soldiers stepping off boats in the Boston harbor.
“According to an interview he did in the Hartford Courant he wanted his children and grandchildren to know what Connecticut had done,” she said. “He wished his forefathers had done the same. Because of his efforts the Connecticut State Library has the largest World War I collection in the country.”
Pittsley said that during the war, Connecticut factories became the “arsenal of the nation.”
“It was the society thing for girls to work in gas mask factories,” she said. “Working class people worked in munitions and ball bearing factories. In 1918 1.28 billion rounds of ammo were produced in Bridgeport alone. 50 percent of all arms used by The Allies came from Connecticut.”
Pittsley said that, due to Gov. Holcomb’s Southington connections, “everyone who was anyone in the war” came to town. The town was also heavily covered by newspapers.
Pittsley also briefly spoke of The Battle of Seicheprey, during which U.S. forces were overrun by a larger and more experienced German force.
She also briefly mentioned Sergeant Stubby, a stray dog from New Haven who was nationally recognized for his service during the war. She showed a trailer for an animated film by Fun Academy coming out in April. The Connecticut State Library provided background information and photos for the filmmakers.
Society was extremely patriotic during the war, Pittsley said. It was common for women to join The Red Cross or hold fundraisers for the Red Cross and Liberty Bonds. Women also joined as switchboard operators. Families went without certain foods on some days to send them overseas to the soldiers.
“If you weren’t patriotic then you were a suspected German sympathizer,” she said. “If you were a pacifist or a socialist or an anarchist in Connecticut it was not ok and you could be arrested. Propaganda posters were everywhere and shaped public opinion.”
Pittsley also showed a newspaper headline about a man being chased by a mob of 200 people for speaking against Liberty Bonds.
A local man, Warren Stevens, attended dressed as a German soldier from 1916. He is a re-enactor and part of the “5th Sturm Rohr Assault Battalion.”
“This uniform is a replica - if it were an original and that old it really shouldn’t be worn,” he said. “The shovel, rifle, gas mask and bayonet are all original equipment.”
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or firstname.lastname@example.org.