New Haven Museum invites people to bring WWI photo, letters, medals and mementos to be digitized for future
NEW HAVEN >> When fresh-faced Hamden, Connecticut resident Robert Remington and the rest of New Haven’s 102nd Regiment arrived in Seicheprey, France, in late 1917, it was assumed that the green soldiers would slowly acclimate themselves to modern warfare.
In the predawn hours of April, 20 1918, German Stormtroopers struck. In what became known as the first U.S. engagement of World War One (WWI), Remington was bayonetted in the stomach. He died on May 1, shortly before his 19th birthday. Thanks to the Connecticut State Library’s “Remembering World War One” project, Remington’s story, and the photos and papers collected by his descendants, have been digitized and archived for future generations, and are currently on exhibition at the New Haven Museum, 114 Whitney Ave.
The preservation continues May 24 from 3 to 7 p.m., as Connecticut residents are invited to bring their WWI photos, letters, medals and mementos to the New Haven Museum (NHM) for scanning, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into the “Great War.” The digitization event has been made possible in part by the Connecticut State Library, and a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Exploring the human endeavor.
Christine Pittsley, the project manager of “Remembering World War One,” notes that the preservation of these sorts of materials is important in building awareness of the events that led to the war. She explains that with WWII following so soon afterward, many of the people and events of WWI were forgotten. She cites an example where a German private, Emil Hoffman, was captured during the war by Merritt Learned, of Meriden; the two kept in touch after the war. In a letter to Learned in the 1930s, Hoffman expressed gratitude to “our fuhrer Adolf Hitler. He has given us all jobs.” Pittsley says that the stories of WWI also help explain how the world became as it is today, noting that the decimation of the German economy in WWI laid the groundwork for Hitler, and his jobs.
The materials also tell of angst on both sides of the Atlantic. Pittsley cites writings of a New Haven soldier recounting how his mother was unable to buy sugar because of her German origin. She also tells of periodic joyful news emerging during the “Remembering World War One” digitization events, including one man’s story of how his grandparents originally met on a boat while heading home after the war.
Remington’s story became known when his niece, Bernice (Remington) McNeil, of North Haven, brought her uncle’s photos and papers to a “Remembering World War One” digitization event earlier this year. McNeil noted that her uncle, the youngest of 15 children, was one of five brothers who fought in the WWI. He was initially buried in France, and his remains were later exhumed and reinterred in Hamden’s Centerville Cemetery.
Though her uncle’s name was among those enshrined on a memorial in the Hamden Town Hall years ago, McNeil is grateful she was able to share his story, and that it is now part of the permanent record of those involved in one the deadliest conflicts in human history. Indeed, WWI led to more than 17 million deaths and 20 million wounded. Roughly 63,000 Connecticut residents served in the U.S. or Allied forces.
Connecticut is the only state doing a statewide digitization event of this scale. The Connecticut State Library “Remembering World War One” digitization project welcomes photos and keepsakes from the men and women from around the world who served. Digital images of the objects will be made available online and preserved in the Connecticut Digital Archive. The only prerequisite for inclusion in the project is that participants are Connecticut residents and that their items relate to WWI.
As word of the project spreads, interest builds, Pittsley says. From public school programs to the capstone project of Southern Connecticut State University journalism students, to assisting with promotion of the upcoming film, “Sargent Stubby: An American Hero,” by Fun Academy Motion Pictures—Connecticut is embracing, and finally fully acknowledging, the humanity of WWI.
New Haven Museum will display nine photos and two small books loaned by McNeil, “The Soldiers French Phrase Book (1918) and “Infantry Drill Regulations — United States Army, (1911), in the museum rotunda during the month of May. McNeil may eventually donate her uncle’s photos and papers to the New Haven Museum collection for safekeeping.
Anyone interested in donating their photos and mementos to the NHM archives is invited to talk with museum staff during the “Remembering World War One” event or by contacting the museum for more information.