VT Digger CoMatStationApril2 1918 BellowFalls 610x474Soldiers stand at the train station in Bellows Falls, VT on April 2, 1918. Draftees caught a train that day to Fort Devens in Massachusetts. (Vermont Historical Society) 

Then Again: World War I brought challenges to home front — in the state, and U.S. 

By Mark Bushnell
via the VT DIgger (VT) web site

When 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip fired two shots from a pistol in the streets of Sarajevo on a late June morning in 1914, Vermonters had no idea what troubles the incident would trigger for the people of their state.

The point-blank shots killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie, and set off a series of events that led to World War I.

For the next few years, Vermonters remained unscathed by the horrors enveloping so much of the world, but their good fortune didn’t last. Events finally dragged Vermont men off to war, sparked the deadliest epidemic of the last century, and led to a crackdown on civil liberties in the state.

The United States finally entered the war in April 1917, on the side of the Allies, which included France, Britain, Russia and Italy. But Vermont had already beaten the United States to the punch. A week before President Woodrow Wilson called on Congress to declare war, Gov. Horace Graham called on the Legislature to respond to the conflict. Days later, the Legislature approved $1 million to supply the Vermont National Guard and authorized borrowing an additional $3 million to support the war if needed.

Farming to win

Enough Vermont men enlisted that a draft was hardly needed. More than 14,000 Vermonters served during the war.

The enlistment raised concerns of labor shortages in Vermont, as roughly 15 percent of men ages 19 to 50 served. Vermonters at home joined the war effort. Many offered financial support by buying war bonds. An estimated 30,000 Vermont schoolchildren worked to increase the state’s food production, as did thousands of women.

Another response was the creation of Camp Vail in Lyndonville during the summer of 1917. The camp trained young men, ages 16 to 20, to work on farms. The trainees were drawn mainly from larger communities, where young men were unfamiliar with farm labor. The camp was run in a quasi-military style, with a bugler sounding reveille, the young men marching to and from the fields and sometimes singing songs mocking Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm: “Camp Vail’s awake tonight, Camp Vail’s awake! It holds a lively bunch, that’s no mistake. We’re out to lick the Hun, William to break. As our row we hoe, Kaiser Bill will know Camp Vail’s awake.”

The state and towns worked to protect strategic resources, including Vermont’s utilities. Armed private citizens guarded bridges into the state, on the lookout for German saboteurs. The Legislature approved Gov. Graham’s call for warrantless arrests and authorized the death penalty for anyone convicted of a war-related attack on people or property.

Patriotic enough?

Vermont’s war fervor landed a Baptist minister in Windsor in serious trouble. President Wilson declared Oct. 21, 1917, “Liberty Loan Sunday,” and he expected the nation’s clergy to decorate their churches in red, white and blue, and to lead their congregations in singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The idea was to encourage congregants to buy Liberty Bonds to fund the war. 

Read the entire article on the VT DIgger web site here:


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