Keeping Our Soldiers Informed: An Act of Service During WWII

During WWII, The Reading Eagle published weekly newspapers and sent them to Berks Countians serving overseas. Did you know that another group of local residents created their own publication to send to Berks natives during the war? The Berks History Center is fortunate to have many of these monthly newsletters in our Research Library collection!

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The Writers’ Service To The Armed Forces, October 1943. (AC 80 “Letters from the Homefront Collection” in the BHC Research Library)

When the United States entered World War II in December 1941, a non-profit organization called the The United Service Organizations (U.S.O.) was founded at the request of President Franklin Roosevelt. The organization’s purpose was to boost morale of troops fighting in World War II.  Shortly after the war began, a group of citizens from Berks County decided to enclose a note to servicemen along with the stationary provided by the U.S.O. The group invited local servicemen to write to them in order to keep up with news from home.

The response was overwhelming, so D.R. Shenton and Claire Henry decided to start a newsletter that could be mass produced, instead of writing to each soldier individually. They called it “The Writers’ Service To The Armed Forces.” Shenton acted as editor and Henry kept up with correspondence as secretary. Their first official newsletter went out on September 1, 1942. Each newsletter included news about local events, the merits of local soldiers (Lt. General Carl Spaatz’s name appeared often) and a special sports section.

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A V-Mail Letter thanking Claire Henry for The Writers’ Service (AC 80 “Letters from the Homefront Collection” in the BHC Research Library)

 

Local organizations, like churches, clubs, and unions could sponsor copies of the newsletter to send out to their members. Henry wrote to a friend in England that the newsletters and other correspondence were constant work, however the men seemed to enjoy them and appreciate their work. Letters steadily came in from Berks County natives expressing their thanks—most of their correspondence also included change of address information so they would continue to receive the latest news. The Writers’ Service continued sending newsletters, at least until V-J Day in August 1945. There is no record of The Writers’ Service in any local publication, including the Reading Eagle or The Historical Review of Berks County.

Claire Henry, secretary of The Writers’ Service, was an antique collector and antiques dealer. She corresponded with friends in England, often about the latest piece they found in London, and if she wanted them to send it to her in Pennsylvania. One of her shipments in 1942, was sunk by enemy fire while sailing across the Atlantic. Claire noted how disappointed she was that good antiques ended up on the ocean floor. Henry lived in West Lawn, a suburb of Reading. Her sister, Margaret Henry Moeller, stayed with Henry while her husband, A.R. Moeller, served in the war. It is likely their mother and sister lived there as well. Henry died at the age of 101, in 1995. According to her obituary, she lived in Indiana for many years, where she ran a ceramics shop, before returning to Berks County.

D.R. Shenton went on to act as co-editor for The Historical Review for over ten years. He never wrote an article about his work on the newsletters. He died on May 9, 1962.

AC 80 “Letters from the Homefront Collection, which contains these materials, is available to use for research at The Berks History Center Research Library.

Article Written & Researched by Archivist Stephanie Mihalik.

Among the Greats: Victor Nehlig Painting in the BHC Museum Collection

 

Daniel Boone by Nehlig 2.jpgVictor Nehlig (1830-1909) was a French-born painter renowned during his lifetime for historical paintings.  While no longer a household name, Nehlig’s works are preserved in institutions like the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and even the Berks History Center.

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Berks History Center’s Nehlig painting, shown above, depicts Berks County native Daniel Boone in a frontier scene. This was one of several studies which Nehlig completed while he lived in Frankfurt, Kentucky in the 1870s.  Nehlig hoped to earn a commission painting scenes of the iconic frontiersman for display in the Kentucky State Capitol, but the commission never materialized.

Researched & Written by Bradley K. Smith

Please Welcome Guest Blogger…Joshua Blay

I receive many emails and letters of inquiry from individuals and institutions looking for museum objects to study or loan for exhibit. One of our more popular inquiries regard the USS Reading, the only ship of the United States Navy to be named after Reading, PA.  One of eight identical ships, she was christened and launched on August 28, 1943 in Sturgeon Bay, WI, by Mrs. John C. Butterweck.  Her son Russell M. was among the first killed at the Battle of Guadalcanal, a decisive and successful campaign in the Pacific theater of World War II.  The ship reported for fast convoy escort duty between the United States and European and North 818African ports.  A silver service, consisting of a coffee urn, a teapot, a creamer, a sugar bowl, a tray, and a waste bowl was presented to the officers and crew of the ship at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel on January 25, 1945 on behalf of the city’s business and civic leaders.  She made only two round trips across the Atlantic before the end of the war.  In May 1945 she was converted into a weather ship.  Six months later, the Reading was decommissioned and was later sold to Argentina and renamed Heronia.  Deemed obsolete, she was scrapped in 1966.

We have many artifacts in t5521110bhe museum collection directly related to this ship.  These include the original champagne christening bottle, donated by Mrs. Butterweck in 1983.  The silver service was returned to the area in December 1947.  All the items except for the tray and christening bottle are currently on exhibit.  In the archives of the library are many pieces of original paperwork including newspaper articles and the original programs from the presentation made in January 1945. Incidentally, the silver service remains the property of the United States Navy and the records between the HSBC and the Navy are in the process of being updated.  For more on her history please see Vol. 50, Issue 3 of The Historical Review of Berks County.

In the midst of my research on the USS Reading, I happened to stumble a54515cross a record for object #54-5-15.  What is this object you might ask?  Well, it happens to be a ship’s badge from another naval vessel called Reading, the HMS Reading.   Formerly the naval destroyer USS Bailey, it was one of fifty obsolete destroyers, inactive since the conclusion of World War I, which was transferred to the English Royal Navy through the lend-lease program of World War II.  The USS Bailey had been named after Rear Admiral Theodorus Bailey, a naval officer during the Civil War, who was instrumental in developing thruster systems that many ships use today.  Upon delivery to England, all fifty ships were renamed after both British and United S
tates towns, and because of this, they came to be known as the Town class.

Commissioned on November 26, 1940 the HMS Reading was assigned to escort duty for two years.  From 1942 until the end of the war in 1945, this ship was used for target practice.  Sold for scrap in July 1945, the ship’s badge and a book on the Town class destroyers passed from The Lord Commissioners of the Admiralty to the citizens of Reading, England, to Reading, PA, and finally to the HSBC.  According to the Royal Naval Museum, there was never an official directive as to where on a ship its badge should be mounted. The most common location would be somewhere on the centerline of the bridge, though some classes of ship had the badge mounted on the funnel. A copy of the badge would also be mounted on the ship’s “honors board” (a plaque listing the battles in which the vessel had served), which would have been displayed next to the gangway when the ship was in harbor.  The book may easily be found in the library and archive collection.  The badge is currently mounted above the entrance to the director’s office on the first floor of our main building at 940 Centre Avenue.

Joshua K. Blay is an Associate Director and Museum Curator for the Berks History Center.  Volunteering in museums since he was thirteen, Joshua is most interested in industrial and transportation history.