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How it was on the homefront during World War I

POSTED: May 31, 2009 12:30 a.m.

Plenty of veterans of World War II remain and even more people who remember the war.

As of last count, however, very few veterans worldwide of World War I are still living. The war ended 90 years ago this year, so the number of people living during that war is dwindling.

The 9th Congressional District sent 5,736 men to the war. Of those, 438 from Hall County entered through the draft; another 176 volunteered. Every male age 18-46 became eligible for the draft. Local papers published lists of names of those drafted and when they went overseas.

What was it like on the homefront during the Great War, as it was called then? The war lasted from 1914 till Nov. 11, 1918, but the United States didn't officially enter it until 1917.

Patriotism prevailed throughout the country and in local communities like Gainesville and Hall County. There had been opposition to the war, then criticism of President Woodrow Wilson for not entering the war against the Germans sooner.

When American involvement became necessary because Germans sank U.S. ships, people pulled together at home to help those in service succeed.

The federal War Industrial Board raised money and issued rules to help the war effort. Newspapers were encouraged to save paper by limiting the number of pages in each issue. Likewise, residents and industries were urged to conserve coal, and a plea was made to use electricity instead for heating, though lights could be turned on only during certain hours.

Local and national officials placed limits on construction to conserve building supplies needed for the military. An appeal was issued to adopt children made homeless by the war in France.

Hall County raised $30,000 for the United War Work Drive, Brenau College contributing $5,272 of that. A Liberty Loan drive exceeded its goal of $357,000 by $9,500.

The local Red Cross chapter urged people to join with $1 a year memberships to finance its efforts to support the troops. Nurses volunteered for the organization, and Mrs. W.H. Slack and Mrs. E.E. Kimbrough led a committee to make small banners with stars for families whose relatives were serving in the war. They also assisted those who had lost loved ones in battle.

Mrs. E.P. Ham chaired another Red Cross effort to send Christmas boxes to soldiers overseas. Other volunteers knitted sweaters and caps, rolled gauze for bandages and delivered linens to military hospitals.

The Gainesville Chamber of Commerce held a meeting to discuss pledges to a War Savings Stamp campaign to finance the war and reconstruction afterward. More than 5,000 Hall Countians pledged $160,000 in stamps at 4 percent interest for five years.

Rosa Lee Rogers, emergency home demonstration agent for Hall County, sent out an appeal for nut shells to provide charcoal used in gas masks. Barrels set up on Gainesville's square collected peach pits, hickory nuts, coconut shells and plum kernels for the cause.

Felix Jackson, a Gainesville businessman, received praise for his work with the YMCA at home and abroad during the war.

Things didn't grind to a halt completely at home. The Northeast Georgia Fair went on as usual in Gainesville. Gov. Hugh Dorsey and other dignitaries appeared at a special Liberty Day at the fair. Thousands attended it and a parade that started on Main Street downtown. Patriotic banners decorated the streets, and war songs were played and sung.

New Holland and Gainesville Mills played prominent roles in the fair and parade and announced a $50,000 pledge for Liberty Bonds.

T.N. McIntyre of Tadmore, meanwhile, brought in the first bale of cotton for 1918. Pacolet Manufacturing, which operated the mills, bought the 460-pound bale for 35 cents a pound, a pretty good price at that time.

Mincey Manufacturing Co. announced it would open a plant that would make 1,200 pairs of underwear a week in Gainesville.

Community leaders and organizations discussed a proposal for a YMCA memorial building in Gainesville. The effort was led by Professor T.H. Robertson and involved the Daughters of the American Revolution. But apparently the building never materialized as citizens instead began concentrating on building a new Gainesville High School.

While people complained about the price of eggs at 8 cents each and milk for 40 cents a gallon, they nevertheless displayed a passionate spirit of cooperation and support for the war.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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