A circa-1920 photo shows Ryan’s Market on Brown Street in Wickford, RI. The market added pleas and reminders in its advertising during World War I to save peach pits and nut shells for Allied soldiers’ gas masks.
Peach pits, nut shells, and how they helped us win the Great War
By G. Timothy Cranston
via the Independent Newspapers (RI) web site
A month or so ago, we took a look at something as innocuous and unassuming as the lowly bootscraper and tried to see what it might tell us about history on both a local and larger scale. This week, we tell the tale of the seemingly inconsequential peach pit and its equally unimportant companion – the discarded nut shell – to see what historic part they played in World War I.
“Peach pits and nut shells?” you say. “This Swamptown guy is going to prattle on about peach pits and nut shells. Maybe he’s a few peaches short of a bushel himself.” Scoff if you will, but these common bits of food waste saved many an American Doughboy during the Big War.
You see, the first great global conflict caused certain unexpected problems. One of the most demanding was dealing with shortages of critical raw materials. If your enemy had control of the territories where certain crucial raw materials were found or produced, well, you were soon going to either be in trouble, or get creative and come up with an alternate source of material. The rubber shortage of World War II is a classic example. The Axis powers controlled virtually the entire rubber growing world, and the Allies had to get creative. After a lot of recycling, a short period of head scratching and pondering, and a little American ingenuity…Voila! Plastics are born and the rest is history.
World War I’s problems included dealing with the fairly new and very potent threat of German gas attacks. Gas masks were the answer and the problem was their main component: activated carbon and its limited availability. Again, after some heady pondering and some serious head scratching, American and British scientists and engineers found the solution right under their noses. Fruit stones and nuts shells, burned slowing in a controlled fashion, were the perfect source for activated carbon. Now the problem was getting enough of these common everyday items together to do the job. After all, it took 200 peach pits or 2 pounds of nut shells to produce enough carbon to outfit one gas mask.
This is where smalltown America and Britain came in. All across these two nations, the call went out to save and stockpile these items. The lead was taken by none other than the International Red Cross and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Schools, churches, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts all got involved. Post offices such as the ones in Wickford, Hamilton, Davisville, Lafayette and the like were used as collection points. The big “Do Your Bit – Save the Pit” campaign was off and running.
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Digging Into History: WWI Trench Restoration in Seicheprey, France has just returned from three weeks in Seicheprey, France. This innovative experiential learning program brought 15 Connecticut high school students entering grades 11 and 12 this fall to the site of the first German offensive against American troops. Above, Torrington student Lucas Rodriguez sits in St. Mihiel American Cemetery.
Torrington, CT student returns from WW I archaeological dig in France
via the Torrington Register Citizen newspaper (CT) web site
HARTFORD, CT — The expedition, “Digging Into History: WWI Trench Restoration” recently returned from three weeks in Seicheprey, France. This innovative experiential learning program brought fifteen Connecticut high school students entering grades 11 and 12 this fall to the site of the first German offensive against American troops to restore a section of trench once occupied by Connecticut’s 102d Infantry Regiment.
Lucas RodriguezAmong the participating students was Lucas Rodriguez of Torrington, who researched a Torrington soldier with the historical society to prepare for the trip. He attends the Connecticut River Academy in East Hartford.
This program, the only one of its kind in the United States, was a spectacular success and resulted in a life changing experience for students and chaperones alike.The group stayed in a nearby village during the dig, and were in France from July 6-27.
The trench restoration work, led by local military historians Phillipe Dourthe and Denis Meyer, resulted in more than 100 meters of trench restored; two wattle walls built and a shelter rebuilt. A number of artifacts were found, including an American boot, a French spoon with a bullet hole and even a Napoleon III coin dating to the 1850s.
Students cataloged the finds and documented their work through photos and video that will become part of the Connecticut State Library’s permanent archives. The Connecticut students lived and work side by side with sixteen French students from villages within the Communauté de Communes Mad et Moselle, the French administrative organization that funded this portion of the journey. Just as the Doughboys formed bonds with the village 100 years ago, the students formed lifelong friendships with their French peers as they worked to clear rubble from the trenches, relaxed at Lake Madine or performed in a talent show at the lodge in Beaumont where the group stayed.
In preparation for the trip to France, Rodriguez researched Torrington soldier John Ryan, who served in WW I, with the help of the Torrington Historical Society. A 1918 newspaper article reported Ryan to be the first Torrington soldier to be killed with the U.S. Army in France.
Rodriguez said his interest in military history stemmed in part by stories he heard about family members who served in the military, including his grandfathers, who served in the army and navy, respectively, and his father, who served in the U.S. Marines Corps.
Read more: Torrington, CT student returns from WW I archaeological dig in France