Remembering the Great War and Its Effects on Berks County

 

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Photographs from BHC’s Research Library Photograph Collection

This week, many across the country will commemorate the 100th anniversary of the United States entering World War I. On April 6, 1917, Congress voted to declare war on Germany after it became apparent we could not avoid the conflict in Europe. Unfortunately though, “the war to end all wars” often takes a back seat in our collective memory. As the Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, writes:

“In the shadow of World War II, the deeds and sacrifices of Americans in the Great War have sometimes been overlooked. This centennial commemoration encourages us to remember and rediscover their stores through the records they left behind.”

Archival Outlook, March/April 2017, page 13

To highlight the War’s effect on Berks County, we will be sharing stories and items from our collection each month on BHC’s social media and blog. Also stay tuned over the next nineteen months as we plan special programming at the BHC Museum and Research Library leading up the the 100th Anniversary of Armistice Day in November 2018. To get things started we asked one of our Library Volunteers, Ruth Shaffer, to research the first few weeks of WWI and the effect it had on Berks County.

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Front page of the The Reading Eagle, April 6, 1917 –  Reproduced from The Reading Eagle/Reading Times Microfilm Collection at BHC’s Research Library

U.S. WAR WITH GERMANY BEGINS TODAY declared Reading Eagle headlines on Friday April 6, 1917. By the next day Reading was ablaze with red, white and blue banners and flags on street cars, automobiles, industrial plants, business houses and homes. War was the all-consuming topic of discussion. The Eagle bulletin board, outside its 6th and Penn Streets office building, which gave information on every new move, was the destination of crowds of people and hundreds called the newspaper daily. Thousands signed petitions pledging loyalty to President Wilson and the United States, and men in every walk of life expressed their willingness to serve in any capacity. Naturalized citizens stood ready to prove their love for the country of their adoption.

Even before the official declaration of war on April 6, soldiers were stationed at various points along the Reading Railroad and Pennsylvania Railroad systems. They arrived in this area on April 3 and erected their tents at Peacock’s bridge north of Tuckerton. Guards were posted at both ends of the bridge. No one was permitted to pass over except railroad employees. Another group of soldiers were taken to the Lebanon Valley bridge. Their presence excited curiosity and hundreds congregated within sight of the camps, but were not permitted to get near the soldiers. Visiting was not encouraged. Residents were warned to avoid the bridges, since the orders were to shoot to kill anyone approaching and failing to halt on the sentry’s second challenge. Nevertheless, two young women managed to get arrested in the camp, claiming that they had been summoned by one of the privates. They were fined and jailed. They might have been shot as spies.

Researched & Written by Ruth Shaffer

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