Connecticut owes its enormous World War I archive to George Godard, the state librarian during World War I.
Godard had hoarding tendencies. He also had a desire for future generations to understand what the people of Connecticut did during the war. “If only our forefathers had saved the records of the Civil War, imagine what we’d know,” he said, according to Christine Pittsley, director of the Library’s “Remembering World War I” project.
The Connecticut State Library doubles as the state’s Department of War Records, and has millions of pages of documents about World War I. It’s probably the largest state-based World War I archive in the country.
World War I Archive
Godard sent out a four-page questionnaire to everyone who served – not just in the military, but in YMCA canteens, as nurses, ambulance drivers and Gold Star Mothers.
Pittsley said about 14,000 questionnaires came back. The last question was, “If you took part in the fighting, what impressions did you have?” One soldier replied he didn’t fear death, but he feared how the news of his death would be received back home.
The overarching theme of the questionnaire, said Pittsley: “War is hell.”
“I don’t think most historians understand how much we have here,” Pittsley said. “I can think of 100 dissertations that could be done.”
The Library has the complete records of the 26th Infantry Regiment, all the records of Colt’s Manufacturing, contracts between the Russian and British government with Connecticut companies dating from 1914.
Pittsley said the Library’s records explain how the demographics of Bridgeport changed dramatically during the war. Government officials evicted anyone who came from an enemy country and lived within a half-mile of Connecticut’s munitions plants. That created a labor shortage, which attracted African-Americans from the South.
Gov. Marcus Holcomb undertook a survey of Connecticut’s manpower, and within two months identified about 500,000 men. “He wanted to protect them from the draft, figure out where the enemy aliens were, who could be spared for war service, who could be shipped out,” said Pittsley. “It was an unbelievable amount of work.”
The New Haven Museum also has a collection of World War I material, such as the diary and scrapbook of Philip H. English. He left his job at the New Haven Clock Co., and became a dispatch rider, relaying orders through the front. His diary and other memorabilia will be on exhibit in November.
The Connecticut State Library has 13 events scheduled for 2017 during which Connecticut residents can bring their families’ stories to be digitized.
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.