Remembering Local Service Men and Women at Christmas
Mercersburg Area’s Remembering Local Service Men and Women at Christmas 1917 and at Christmas 1942
By Joan C. McCulloh
During the Christmas season in both World War I and World War II people in the Mercersburg area in a spirit of community remembered local service men and women at home and abroad.
In April 1917 the United States entered World War I on the side of the Entente comprised of the United Kingdom, France, and Russia. As the Entente and the Central Powers consisting of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire had been at war since 1914, Europe and much of the Middle East had already been ravaged by war by the time the United States entered.
In May 1917 the local Woman’s Club, now the Women’s Club, passed a resolution to “solicit the assistance and cooperation of citizens of this community for the purpose of organizing a branch of the Emergency Aid of Pennsylvania.” Within a month the local branch of the Emergency Aid was active. By 1917 the need for medical supplies, bandages, and clothing was great so that throughout the summer and fall the local branch sent hundreds of supplies both for use by United States service men and women stationed in the United States and in Europe and for use by people in war-torn countries, France, Romania, but especially Belgium whose neutrality Germany had violated.
During the two years of its existence those working in the Emergency Aid Headquarters in Town Hall two days a week, Wednesdays and Thursdays, sent to both United States soldiers and European allies the following new items with the note that the list did not include used items: 1,176 bed shirts, 162 woolen chest protectors, 112 day shirts, 30 night gowns for women, 500 dresses for girls, 260 chemises and drawers, 51 pairs of stockings, 389 pillows, 200 comforts, 50 housewives (sewing kits), 75 puzzles, 61,500 surgical dressings including binders, pads, slings bandages, compresses, shell dressings, 480 piece goods, 818 pajamas, 50 nightingales, 71 bathrobes, 137 wash cloths and towels, 245 skirts for girls, 77 caps and mittens, 234 bed side bags, 778 pillow cases, 5 afghans, 225 scrapbooks, 25 layettes, hundreds of handkerchiefs, 76 pounds of absorbent cotton, Victrola records, and the following knitted items: 137 sweaters, 122 pairs of socks, 36 scarves, 14 pairs of mittens, 171 pairs of wristlets, 32 helmets, 20 caps, and 4 trench caps.
In the fall of 1917 the local Emergency Aid placed this paragraph in the Mercersburg Journal: “YOUR CHRISTMAS GIVING! Let us, each one, refrain this year from useless Christmas giving, and donate the money usually spent in this way, to our Christmas fund which shall be used to furnish a measure of holiday cheer to our Soldiers and Sailors. Those responding to this suggestion may send or give your money at our Headquarters, and to your friends send a card running - ‘Your Christmas Gift, my friend, had gone to the front for a soldier or sailor. This card, however, carries to you, my best wishes and the Season’s greetings.’”
In November 1917 the local Emergency Aid made a special, concerted effort to remember local men and women serving in the armed forces. As the Christmas season approached, the committee encouraged people to send boxes to loved ones and acquaintances. It suggested a khaki handkerchief, writing tablet, pencil, hard candy, a box of stuffed dates, fruit cake, sweet chocolate, cocoa, condensed coffee, loaf sugar, Steero cubes, trench candles, chewing gum, mints, tobacco, cigarettes, a pipe, flashlight, and air pillow and reminded people not to send perishable foods. The committee also stated that the box must be made of wood, not weigh more than seven pounds, must have a hinge on top to permit inspection, and should be marked “Christmas Box.” The committee further instructed people to have the name and address of the sender in the corner and have the name of the soldier in the American Expeditionary Forces. Further instructions stated that the box should be sent ”Care of the Commanding General, Port of Embarkation, Hoboken, N.J. Pier No. 1” with the price of shipment 12c per pound.
In addition, the committee as a group representing the Mercersburg area especially wanted to remember local area service men and women in France. On Thanksgiving Day of that year local women met in the Headquarters and prepared “50 Christmas packets, valued at $1.15 each” to be sent to those serving overseas. The Mercersburg Journal stated: “The effort toward Christmas packets for our boys in France met with great success. Considerable material was contributed, also considerable money, and on Thanksgiving afternoon the women met at Headquarters and put up and wrapped [the packets]. Each packet was wrapped in a khaki handkerchief tied with red and contained a book, 6 bouillon cubes, loaf sugar, cocoa, cigarettes, chocolate, fruit cake, chewing gum, and postal card. The packets were most attractive and cannot fail to carry Mercersburg’s cheery Christmas message ‘over there.’ The postal amounted to $14.00, and it is not too late for you to contribute ‘now and again’ toward the expenses.”
Those expressing appreciation for the Emergency Aid’s Christmas packets, according to George Fleming, editor of the Mercersburg Journal, included his son Leo Fleming, who was serving in France.
World War II had raged in Europe and the Middle East from 1939, but the United States did not enter the war until after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Although war was not declared against Japan until Monday, December 8, one day after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, or upon German and Italy after those two countries on December 11 declared war upon the United States, war had been on the minds of many people, including residents of Mercersburg and the area around it. Local people, like many others throughout the nation, had begun to be a part of the war effort. On July 1, 1941, the local Women’s Home Defense Unit was created. Its missions were to provide necessities for people in war-torn nations, to support our troops and those of our allies, and to ensure that the local community was well prepared for emergencies. This group that was active until the end of the war accomplished much. In September 1942 the Unit in addition to its many other responsibilities sent to one hundred and ten service men and women from the local area packages containing candy, cigarettes, razor blades, tooth powder, shaving cream, writing paper, envelopes, and chewing gum and sent also postal money orders to those overseas.
Before Christmas 1942 those serving the country were much upon the minds of the community. The Women’s Home Defense Unit sent to each service man and woman a special Christmas card with Greetings Mercersburg - Penna - at the top and photographs of the fountain, Mt. Parnell , the Academy chapel, and the Honor Roll then outside Town Hall that had been dedicated on Memorial day earlier that year. In addition, a special edition of the Mercersburg Journal was sent to all who were in the armed services. In the center at the top was a small cartoon featuring the fountain with a Christmas tree on each side and two small children looking at the star on top of the fountain with the caption “Christmas Greetings Till We Meet Again.” Also this issue under the heading “Mercersburg’s Roll of Honor” listed the names on the Honor Roll of the local men with their branch of service. This special issue also contained letters, written at the behest of the Women’s Home Defense Unit, from the following: Dr. James G. Rose, minister emeritus of the Presbyterian Church, the Reverend James Moyer of the Trinity Reformed Church, the Reverend Robert Gibson of the First Methodist Church, the Reverend J.D.E. Turner of the Presbyterian Church, Mrs. Grey Wyman, chair of the local Red Cross, and one signed your old Palsy Walsy, who wrote in a humorous vein and gave local news. All the letters were thought-provoking, encouraging, kind, and extremely supportive of the work of the service men and women. Also in this issue was a long article entitled “Mercersburg’s War Machine,” which detailed the work of local people in the war effort, the Red Cross classes and work, the Civilian Defense classes, the Aircraft Warning Service Post on the tower of ’88 dormitory, the Marine Aviation Cadets at the Academy, and the many people working at Fairchild Aircraft. Also in this newspaper was a poem written by one of the Applelettes, a group of local women who had picked apples the preceding autumn for a local apple-grower.
The response to the packages the Women’s Home Defense Unit had sent earlier in the year and the Christmas card and copy of the Mercersburg Journal sent at Christmas was gratitude expressed in many letters of the recipients. All of the letters, whether long or short or written with ease or with labor, expressed the deepest appreciation at having been remembered.
The generosity and concern shown by the local citizens during World War I and World War II serve as silent reminders of what a community with a spirit of cooperation can accomplish.