Staff writer Anne Ewbank trying on replica WWI garb at the Knights of Columbus Museum

The Scene They Left Behind

August is Summer Reading Month in Daily Nutmeg. Please enjoy this excerpt from historian Laura A. Macaluso’s New Haven in World War I (2017).

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New Haveners were encouraged to enlist before the draft made the decision for them. The New Haven Green and other public parks and buildings around the city became sites for “big patriotic meetings” that were intended to stir up new enlistees and rouse the community at large. Across the state, seventy-one new recruits per day were needed. At one event in Wooster Square in June 1917, the Reverend Harris Elwood Starr, chaplain of the Home Guard and pastor of Pilgrim Church, and Sergeant Charles M. Bakewell of the Yale Faculty Battery told a crowd of two hundred that “now is the opportunity for men with aspirations to enlist in the Second Regiment. While it will be no disgrace to be drafted, the men who are will be cheating themselves of an opportunity to get in out of the draft by joining the Second Regiment. The men who are drafted won’t be congratulated on the street by friends; to the contrary they will be considered somewhat shaky and uncertain.” Starr, who became one of several “fighting parsons” from the Elm City, reiterated the message by saying he wished he could be chaplain of the regiment, in light of the fact that, according to one newspaper, it “has often been tried and never found wanting.” The Second Regiment was the pride of New Haven.

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The recruitment events around the city for the 2nd Regiment—at the Bijou, Orpheum, Olympia and Shubert Theaters, at post offices and in parks—were successful to some degree. According to one source, sixteen men enlisted, thereby gaining the “opportunity of securing a special position”—everyone from that time on would enter as a private. Men were also promised that if groups enlisted together from factories or neighborhoods, they would stay together in the same regiments and perhaps even in the same companies. … At another event on the green, Sergeant Bakewell aimed his remarks at the young women in the crowd, shouting, “You young women, what are you going to bid your sweethearts to be at this time, cowards or brave men?” The speakers promised that the 2nd Regiment would be among the first to go to France, which turned out to be true. But it was not going to be enough. Europeans had been fighting a vicious war for two years already, and newsprint and short news films made everyone aware of how awful the carnage was. Men did enlist, some after hearing rousing speeches on the green or in city parks and some after being called “yellow,” as one member of the 2nd Regiment, Joe Hall, yelled at a “sturdy male passer-by.” It was not enough. Soon, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, instituting a draft. The 2nd Regiment, which operated a small recruiting station next to Poli’s Theater in an empty storefront—a volunteer organization for its whole history—now needed the draft.

… Manufacturers and other businesses were asked by the city to send in the names of their male employees of conscription age so that names could be checked and cross-referenced. The city wanted to ensure that all men of selected service eligibility were identified. A list of all names was posted in city hall by chief registrar and city clerk A. Oswald Pallman. There was a second day to register provided to men who missed the first call. This last day was an “opportunity given them by the government to retrieve themselves from the punishment to be meted out to those who fail to obey the provisions of the draft law.” Another 100 men appeared. New Haven and surrounding towns described registration day as “orderly and heavy .” The final number for New Haven registrants for Selective Service was 20,654. Out of this number, 8,450 claimed exemption from service, mostly due to having dependents, although there were also some with “occupational diseases” and a few more with “physical unfitness.” Another man living on View Street refused to register—seemingly because of a technicality. One man, Bartholomew Sevarty of 23 Downs Street, was married with a dependent, but he did not file his claim correctly and was therefore included in the first draft and “duly certified.” He was quoted in the newspaper, saying, “I’m as game as the next one…and I am going up there. I wouldn’t care if it wasn’t for the wife and kid. I served as a member of D Company in the Second Regiment, but what is the use of talking now? I am going and never mind what I have to leave behind me, you can write it down that I am not going to quit.” In other cities, men who refused to register were often registered by city government, “in spite of themselves.” In New Haven, it was noted that city government would not “go out of their paths to round up delinquents.” …

Drafted men began leaving the Elm City in the first few days of September 1917 and continued leaving in waves through the rest of the month and into October, November and December. One newspaper reported that the city’s first brothers to enlist were Patrick and Barnard McGovern of 281 Ashmun Street—the same street on which Charles Henry Barclay lived. The following year would bring more quotas to fill: between two hundred and three hundred men in the early months of 1918 and then more than three hundred men in each of the summer months. Each time groups of men gathered to leave, people turned out, often in the hundreds. At the beginning, crowds gathered first on the green, from which the soldiers marched to Union Station from Elm Street, College Street, Chapel Street and State Street. One of the early trains carrying men headed to Camp Greenleaf in Georgia, and the scene they left behind—of “mothers, sisters and sweethearts”—was described in one paper as “most pathetic.” Police and guards were used to keep the women back from the train so that it could depart on time.

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New Haven in World War I by Laura A. Macaluso
Where to buy: Arcadia Publishing | Amazon

Image, photographed by Dan Mims, depicts DN staff writer Anne Ewbank wearing a replica WWI soldier’s coat and helmet at the Knights of Columbus Museum, where you can do the same as part of the exhibit World War I: Beyond the Front Lines.

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