By SARA ARTHURS
World War I, which started 100 years ago this summer, isn’t talked about as much as World War II, said Joy Bennett, curator at the Hancock Historical Museum. But it, too, altered the lives of people in Hancock County and around the world.
Thousands of area men served, and 45 died in the war. On the home front, northwestern Ohio residents raised money for the war effort and sewed and knitted items for soldiers.
World War I was “the world’s first global conflict,” pitting the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire against the Allied forces of Great Britain, the United States, France, Russia, Italy and Japan, according to History.com. Worldwide, more than 9 million soldiers were killed by the end of the war in November 1918.
The catalyst for the war was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, who was killed by Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip on June 28, 1914, in Sarajevo, Bosnia.
A month later, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Allies of both countries soon joined in and much of Europe was at war.
However, it wasn’t until 1917 that the United States got involved, after Germany launched submarine attacks against U.S. merchant ships, and it was learned that the Germans had proposed an alliance with Mexico and an attack on the U.S.
President Woodrow Wilson asked Congress to declare war on Germany on April 2, 1917.
In Hancock County, according to the book “Hancock County in the World War” by Irvin Geffs, 2,811 men enrolled with the first registration for manpower on June 5, 1917, which called for all men between the ages of 21 and 31. Another 4,649 would respond in subsequent drafts.
A “vast array of volunteers” helped with the draft registration, the book says, including teachers and others performing clerical work. More than 1,000 area men were inducted into the service. At the municipal building “the Red Cross gave each select a comfy bag and cheery words of goodbye,” Geffs wrote.
Once in Europe, the soldiers experienced some awful conditions.
“It was a lot of fighting in the trenches,” Bennett said.
It would rain, so the trenches were muddy. Mice and lice were also prevalent, she said. Soldiers would often get gangrene.
She said an officer would blow his whistle and the soldiers would come up from the trench, often to get shot. Mustard gas had recently been invented and would be shot into the trenches, and soldiers did not have gas masks at first, she said. Tanks were also a new invention.
“They still actually used horses,” Bennett said. “They still had a cavalry.”
Trenchcoats were invented at the time as soldiers were issued coats that were supposed to be waterproof, Bennett said.
What would now be considered post-traumatic stress disorder was common, but it wasn’t recognized as such, Bennett said.
“They called it shell shock and cowardice,” she said.
Bennett said the most common role for women during World War I was as nurses. They would serve overseas, often caring for wounded soldiers at mansions that had been turned into convalescent homes.
“Very few would have been anywhere close to the front lines,” Bennett said.
In Hancock County, Geffs wrote, many area women trained as nurses, and there were many community groups engaged in endeavors such as knitting sweaters or socks to send to soldiers.
The Findlay Chapter, American Red Cross, inspired by the Hancock County Medical Society, shipped dozens of packages overseas with supplies.
Women in Findlay sewed, knitted and made packages of surgical dressings which were sent overseas. They shipped hundreds of items including pajamas, operating gowns and masks, pillow cases, sweaters, wash cloths, socks and gauze compresses and wipes.
Women in Findlay found that the war relief effort “has brought the women of the town and country together as they have never been before,” Geffs wrote. “Friendships are formed and worth of others recognized. The cause has been one which appeals to all alike and differences are forgotten.”
Also on the home front, community leaders, led by J.C. Donnell, president of the Ohio Oil Company, worked to raise funds for “Liberty Loans” to pay for the war effort.
Area fraternities included “no slackers”, Geffs wrote, and Findlay raised “vast sums of money for war purposes.” Hancock County, with four loans, exceeded its total quota by $569,200. Area Boy Scouts were involved in the effort to raise funds.
Schools, churches, shops and factories all also joined in support of the war, according to Geffs.
Before the war began, Findlay was an affluent community, the gas and oil boom having ended only a few years earlier, Bennett said.
“The war was what everyone was talking about,” she said.
Before the United States entered the war, it was a common topic of discussion but most Americans didn’t want to get involved, at least early on.
“They said it was a European war and it didn’t affect us,” Bennett said.
Once the war started, just as during World War II, there was rationing. Residents raised vegetables in victory gardens although they were not called by that name, Bennett said.
Bennett said in many communities, after a high school graduation all the men from the graduating class would go together to sign up. At the time it was the norm to keep men from the same community in the same unit so “you joined up with everyone you grew up with.” For some soldiers, this meant they were in the position of seeing many of their friends die, she said.
Area men who joined the military would go to Camp Perry to train, then overseas by ship. Bennett said most travel was still done by ship although airplanes did exist, and were just starting to be used in warfare.
Some soldiers were drafted but it was largely a volunteer military, Bennett said.
Bennett said as a historian she always feels World War I is largely ignored and isn’t talked about as much as World War II. She said one reason is that World War II was fought on such a “massive scale” in comparison. But another factor is that technology made it easier for civilians to stay abreast of what was happening during World War II by listening to the radio. In World War I there were newspapers and news correspondents filed stories, but much of the communication those back home got from the front lines was through letters which traveled by ship, she said.
Bennett said when there was a lull between battles, men might play cards or listen to one another play music, if someone had a harmonica or another item small enough to carry with them.
“They would have liked to read,” she said, adding that Red Cross packages would include newspapers.
Geffs’ book includes anecdotes of several individual soldiers, such as Harvey F. Bair, “well known repair man for Rummell’s and the Buick garage” who served in the Third Division of the U.S. Army, “which made a brilliant showing through all the great drives, Chateau Thierry, St. Mihiel and the Forest of Argonne.”
Then there was the Priddy family including Edith, secretary of the Associated Charities and of the Civilian Relief of the Red Cross, and her brothers Capt. Vern Priddy and John Emerson Priddy, both of whom served in the war.
The ranking officer of Hancock County when war was declared was Col. Morton C. Mumma, a captain at the beginning of the war. Mumma, born in Benton Ridge in 1879, graduated from Findlay High School in 1895, briefly teaching school before entering West Point Military Academy. Prior to World War I he served in the Army in Cuba, the Philippines and on the Mexican border. The winner of 80 rifle and revolver medals, he also taught military science and tactics at Iowa State University.
Another area military leader was Major Arthur D. Patterson, a 1907 graduate of Findlay High School. A recruiting officer for Hancock County, he also commanded and trained a company of 169 men for the Army in Indiana. Receiving his commission as major at age 28, he was the youngest field officer in his division. After the end of the war he “has been located in the historic city of Verdun, where he has had charge of the salvaging of an area 8 miles wide and 40 miles long,” Geffs wrote. “This area is one of the most famous of the war, having been fought over by both armies since 1914.”
One man from Hancock County, Lt. William Gordon, was among a group of Americans taken prisoner by the Germans. Captured while assisting the wounded on the firing line, he was confined in the prison camp at Villigen, Baden, where he remained nine months.
Geffs’ book lists 45 men from Hancock County who were killed in the war.
World War I veterans were shown more respect in their communities after World War II started than they were immediately, Bennett said. She said there were World War I veterans who spoke strongly both for and against World War II.
Bennett said the consequences of World War I led up to World War II. For example, Germany was supposed to pay war reparations after the war which it could not afford. Germany borrowed money from the United States, but the United States asked to be repaid once the Great Depression started, and this led to Germany having its own major problems with a depression and inflation, which created a sense of discontent among Germans that made it easier for Adolf Hitler to rise to power, Bennett said.
Bennett will be creating a World War I display at the Hancock Historical Museum around Veterans Day this year. She said the museum has a few uniforms, signal flags and items such as a canteen and a helmet, as well as photographs.
Arthurs: 419-427-8494 Send an E-mail to Sara Arthurs
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