For the duration… World War II Home Front (Lawrence, MA)

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The first Independence Day parade of the war, 1942.

This year, 2020, is the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II. The Lawrence Public Library had intended to display posters, images, and ephemera that had been collected over the decades in memory of the period both here in the City and with Lawrencians in service.

The archivist writing this post is a “boomer”, and born after the war was over. But I still felt the weight of the war in my childhood. My contemporaries were still fighting WWII battles in the playground. My mother still collected fat in the kitchen. My sister, some years older than I am, remembers:

“Every Saturday mother gave me $1.00 to buy 10 savings stamps.

I pasted them in a book that promised $25.00. Only after a few 

years did the $25.00 appear due to accrued interest. The money

from these books helped me with college. 

We conducted WAR each recess on the playground. My family 

went to the movies every Saturday evening. The newsreels at 

the movies is how we saw the war”.

I did not grow up in Lawrence, but the country was sharing the burden down to the oldest and the youngest.  I will be displaying a number of Lawrence Public Library resources as I bring this story together. My hope is that all of those who have memories of the war at home and abroad that we can add to our story.  Due to the Covid-19 virus, I have not had the opportunity to go through the local newspaper to enhance the story.

  • Being at war
Lawrence Post Office responding to the war, 1943

The citizens of Lawrence enthusiastically contributed to a variety of volunteer programs. They submitted to government-managed rationing and price controls. The feeling was these programs contributed to the general good and was “for the duration…”

  • The draft and enlistment
A page from the Cronin Postoffice scrapbook

The first peacetime draft was enacted in 1940 by Congress. Local Draft Boards of community leaders determined how to fill them. There was little resistance. By 1943 there was severe labor shortage. Within weeks public library staff were clipping articles from newspapers about men and women who were serving. Years later the completed files (8,000 of them) were found in 17 boxes in the library stacks. The names in those files plus a list of gold star (deceased) military can be accessed here.

One of the more than 8,000 files the library has concerning WWII veterans
This dog tag comes from a collection donated to the Library by the Essick family
  • Civil Defense
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State guards replaced the National Guards. The Civilian Air Patrol enrolled civilian spotters in air reconnaissance, search-and-rescue, and transport.     Blackouts were enforced. Blackout curtains were placed over windows.

  • Labor

Local industries were in great need of labor to keep the war effort on track.

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From the outset of the war, it was clear that enormous quantities of airplanes, tanks, warships, rifles and other armaments would be essential to beating America’s aggressors. U.S. workers played a vital role in the production of such war-related materials. Many of these workers were women. Indeed, with tens of thousands of American men joining the armed forces and heading into training and into battle, women began securing jobs as welders, electricians and riveters in defense plants. Until that time, such positions had been strictly for men only.

  • Women
Women’s Air Force pilot paper doll

Women joined the workforce. United Service Organization (USO) provided morale and entertainment to uniformed military personnel. Women Air Force service Pilots (WASP) flew war plans from factories to air bases. Recently the Lawrence Public Library Special Collections acquired a remarkable collection of paper dolls, owned and played with, during World War II by Phyllis Tyler. The pilot doll above is a part of this collection and documents the change of the roll of women in the work force during World War II.

USO Girls: Jean Kochman in the middle back
  • Victory Gardens
“George Carter, Jr., son of George “Jud”Carter of the Solvent Plant, is helping to take care of Daddy’s Victory Garden”. (from Arlington Mills: News and Views)

Victory gardens were set up all over Lawrence.

During World War II, as an alternative to rationing, Americans planted “victory gardens,” in which they grew their own food. By 1945, some 20 million such gardens were in use and accounted for about 40 percent of all vegetables consumed in the U.S.

“Make carrot plantings once a month up to the middle of July and sufficient carrots will be available for fresh eating and storing for the winter. Carrots may be kept just by burying them in the sand in your cellar.” (from Arlington Mills: News and Views)

  • Recycling

Fat drippings were collected to make soap. Aluminum foil from gum wrappers and rubber bands were formed into balls by children and then contributed to the war effort.

  • Keeping spirits up

War bond drives, entertaining the troops, parades, preparing packages for soldiers, music, etc

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  • Propaganda: posters, film, rallies

Posters were displayed in many locations including public libraries. Lawrence is very lucky to have librarians who saved the ones displayed in the building. If allowed the archivist will return to put a number of these posters on display again. Topics included: war bond drives, victory gardens, loose lips, rationing, conservation, and the goals of the war.

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Movies were shown in local theaters with very patriotic themes: A walk in the sun,

  • Volunteer activities:

Red Cross USO, MCA, YWCA, YMHA, National Catholic Community Service, and the National Jewish Welfare Board were extremely active across the United States and very much in Lawrence.

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This is a page from a USO scrapbook.  You can see names and addresses of local organizations that contributed to the war effort.
Lawrence Jr USO entertaining the Troops
  • Rationing

Local ration boards were run by volunteers who were issuing ration books. Items like sugar were distributed evenly based on the number of people in the family. Fuel oil and gasoline were rationed to those who could show a need.

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When the troops return home when the war is over the City begins to remember.

Independence Day Parade 1916 (Lawrence, MA)

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This collection includes a check book with the canceled checks still attached dating from August 12, 1916 to December 15, 1916, balance sheets, bills, and two sheets of paper: one is a statement to the mayor and the other “Received payments from the following firms for flags”.  The bank was the Merchants Trust Company.

Heavy rain postponed the parade to Thursday evening, July 5 starting at 7:50 PM.  The parade was made up of 10,000 men, women, and children “signifying their advocacy of Preparedness”.   $3,000 was spent on the event.  The Chinese of the City provided three floats depicting oriental splendor at a cost of $500.  Their countrymen came from New York and Boston to participate.  The route started at Broadway and wended its way through the City ending at the Lawrence Common.  The reviewing stand was at City Hall.  A Patriotic Fund had been set up and young women from any walks of life had volunteered to sell buttonhole flags during the parade.  The parade was led by Mayor Hurley and reviewed by the mayors of Haverhill, Lowell, and Manchester, NH.  The prizes for the floats were awarded to Betsy Ross Chapter DAR first, Lawrence Gas Co. second, and the Red Cross third.  Honorable mentions went to a Chinese float, Ladies Aux. BPOE, and Monomac Spinning Co.

  • 1st Division The two GAR posts with assorted semi-military organizations – Marshal Peter F. Graham
  • 2nd Division Lawrence lodges – Marshal Frank E. Harding
  • 3rd Division Irish societies, German societies, YMHA, and the Gas Company – Marshal Bartholomew Cahil
  • 4th Division School children – Marshal Lawrence J. O’Leary
  • 5th Division French societies – Joseph H. Couture
  • 6th Division the English, the moose, neighborhood women, Chinese carpenters, and Firemen – Marshal James F. Connors
  • 7th Division Italian societies – Marshal Geremia Campopiano
  • 8th Division Foreign societies – Marshal Bernard A. O’Donnell
  • 9th Division Pacific Mills and Pilgrims – Marshal A. L. Dow.
  • 10th Division Employees of mills with floats of business houses – Marshal John J. Cronin
  • 11th Division All citizens not affiliated with any organization are invited to participate with this division
  • J. J. Gilday was the pastor.

The significance of preparedness is because the National Guard (Lawrence Militia units F and L of the Ninth and Eighth Infantry, respectively, and Battery C of the Field Artillery) were engaged in the hostilities at the Mexican border – and there was a war raging in Europe.