Through her eyes: Exhibit offers glimpse of WWI through diaries of Hatfield woman
By Luis Fieldman
via the Daily Hampshire Gazette (MA) newspaper web site
HATFIELD — Around a century ago, Marian C. Billings left her family’s tobacco farm on Main Street at the age of 37 to join the Red Cross as a canteen worker during World War I. Of the 103 people from Hatfield who enlisted to serve in “the war to end all wars,” she was the only woman.
Hatfield native Marian Billings, pictured in 1918, served as a Red Cross canteen worker in World War I. An exhibit at the Hatfield Historical Museum gives a glimpse into her service in France through diaries and photographs. A new exhibit curated by the Hatfield Historical Society shares stories of Billings’ time nursing and feeding soldiers from 1918-1919 in France, as well as presents stories pieced together about the town’s WWI soldiers.
“Through Marian’s Eyes: A Red Cross Canteen Worker Recounts World War I” opens on Sunday at the Historical Society Museum at 39 Main St., which is directly across the street from Billings’ old farmhouse, and runs until next spring.
Also on display are wartime photographs and the flapper-style dress Billings wore to a Victory Dance in France. Descendants of Billings donated the collection to the town’s historical society, and now the public can learn from her firsthand account of the Great War.
“She not only tells about what it was like to be a canteen worker — what they ate, what they served and when the guys came through — but she tells lots of stories about the soldiers, ‘the boys,’ as she calls them,” Kathie Gow, curator of the exhibit, said on Saturday.
“You get the war through her eyes. She had some maturity and a thoughtfulness, and her journals are quite moving.”
A stark picture of the war emerges from the selected passages of Billings’ journal that Gow has printed on small cards for the public to read.
“Last night a group of shell shocked patients came in,” Billings wrote in an entry dated September 11, 1918. “It was pitiful to see them, some of them unable to keep from throwing their arms, and heads and legs.”
A passage from October 12, 1918 reads: “Always here one does the best one can and forget that things were ever different. It’s a great game to play. Granted you haven’t knitting needles — how are you going to mend a boy’s sweater? Wire hairpins did the work splendidly.”
One hundred years after the formal end to the Great War, Gow said that curating the exhibit served as an impetus to rediscover the history of those who served in WWI from Hatfield.
Read more: Through her eyes: Exhibit offers glimpse of WWI through diaries of Hatfield woman
Father's memory of WWI hero Alvin C. York is poignant
By Lynn Walker Gendusa
via the Tennessean newspaper web site
It is doubtful anyone loved their country more than the fallen soldier.
Lynn Walker GendusaSergeant Alvin YorkThe warrior who one day walked onto a battlefield with fierce determination to protect and defend his beloved America only to never return to its shores. Not including the Civil War, we have lost almost 700,000 service members on battlegrounds because of such courageous love.
These soldiers were born into families of different religions and different ethnicities. They were Republicans or Democrats or neither. However, where they were, it mattered little because they were all in the same mud, the same trenches, experiencing the same horror and fighting together to save their country.
They gave their lives for all Americans to be treated equally, all religions to be freely worshipped and for all to have the freedom to speak and vote.
My daddy always said, “When our country starts losing its way and folks no longer take pride in America is the day war will begin, or a tragedy will occur to wake up the spirits of the fallen soldiers. It is the day we become unified and one. Our backyard debates and political party arguments are silenced. We all realize at that critical time what matters most is saving our land of the free.”
When my father was around 13, his widowed mother ran a boarding house near Jamestown, Tennessee. He was the youngest of four children who regularly helped his mama with the chores and duties of running the inn.
"Ray, you need to go to the train depot in the car to pick up Sergeant York and take him to his home," she yelled from the kitchen.
Yes, the same Sgt. Alvin C. York, World War I hero and recipient of the Medal of Honor and numerous other awards.
Read more: Father's memory of WWI hero Alvin C. York is poignant