December 22, 2012

A Wartime Christmas

Portraits of New London's service members in 
the grocery store window during World War II.
“We want you to know we are thinking of you, and that the home folks are keeping things going on about as you left them. Of course, some changes are bound to come along, like the arrival of a few faces in our midst and the loss of a few.”

The 5-page inaugural issue of Happenings at Home, from December 1, 1943, was produced by Rev. Harold Buker and others from New London’s First Baptist Church. (It replaced the earlier Flashes from the Hill-Top, first printed in October, 1942, by the local chapter of the American Red Cross.) The monthly newsletters included the latest stories from the town, schools, and organizations — along with updates on the sale of war bonds, blood drives, and the whereabouts of service members. For a little humor, the first issue of Happenings also listed some of the signs observed in buildings along Main Street:
  • We see all, read all, and know all. —Post Office
  • Closed for the duration. —New school
  • Retired – no pension. —Old school
  • Jitterbugging three nights a week. —Hospital
  • Admission 10 cents. —Funeral Parlor
  • Tires FREE – Sunday only. —Garage
  • Red light district. —Smith’s rooms

A year later, the 12-page December issue (No. 13) carried a large “Season’s Greetings” banner, drawn by Miss Doris Phillips, and it described efforts to aid the “boys” during the holidays:
The New London Church and the New London Red Cross have once again joined together in a 50-50 arrangement to send you your Christmas gift box. ...It is truly a community gift.
Because of their early postal deadline, those stationed overseas received fruit cake, while those in the U.S. got homemade cookies; both received other unspecified items. Elsewhere in this issue we find that four "girls" from New London had joined the Army, and one had joined the Navy.

A summary of election results provides another glimpse of the town’s participation in the war. “Of a possible 63 ballots from voters in the armed services, 32 arrived. One was from England, one from Egypt, one from Puerto Rico, one from the Aleutians, two from Belgium, several from all over the Pacific front.” The article reported that New London voters chose Dewey over Roosevelt by a 4 to 1 margin.

When the service men and women returned after the war, they would bring experiences from all over the globe.  Meanwhile, Rev. Buker offered a concluding prayer for the New Year of 1945:

Staunch courage in the present,
Abiding faith in the future,
Happiness today and always.

These homespun newsletters chronicled the town’s everyday life more intimately than any source before or since, and they represent a valuable resource for anyone interested in the wartime history of New London.