The Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine is embarking on a year-long project focusing on personal correspondence from WWI with the opening of an exhibit, “World War One: Letters Home” at the Michael Klahr Center on the campus of the University of Maine at Augusta. The exhibit is open through Oct. 13, with a special program planned for 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 5.

The exhiit was created from a desire to find a more intimate and personal way to consider the centennial of “The Great War.” Personal letters written home are a wonderful way to reflect on the human cost of conflict, whether it’s Bates College student Fred Creelman in the trenches in France while he’s under fire, “I am writing this letter with the roar of the guns about;” or Kilburn O. Sherman of Boothbay Harbor sharing his shock: “I never wish to remember things I have seen in the last month,” according to a news relase from the center.

The exhibit features letters, photographs and artifacts from many sources throughout Maine. In addition, the works of two contemporary artists are included. Visual artists Brenda Bettinson, of Trevett, has created several abstract works in honor of the centennial of the war, and photographer Mark Wentland contributed photographs of contemporary World War One reenactors.

Two of the featured stories in the exhibit focus on Mainers. Kilburn O. Sherman, of Boothbay Harbor, was a Bates student when he enlisted in the Marines. A prolific writer, Sherman described his experiences to friends and family. Sherman was a decorated war hero who survived capture and a stint in the prison camp at Ratstatt, a small town on the Rhine River. He was also honored with the French military honor, the Croix de Guerre, for his efforts in battle that saved the lives of French soldiers. Following the war he moved to Los Angeles and had a career in law enforcement, but never stopped writing about his war experiences, according to the release.

Murray Alexander Morgan was a Millinocket native who was a student in Colby College when war broke out in 1914. He was one of the Mainers who chose not to wait for the U.S. to enter the war. He left school just after Easter, 2015 and enlisted in the Canadian Light Infantry. He wrote frequently to one of his Colby professors during his combat mission. His letters are interesting and full of fight and optimism. Morgan was one of the first Mainers killed in action. He died sometime between June 2nd and 4th, 1916 at the Battle of Verdun, according to the release.

More than 65 million men from 30 countries fought in WWI. Nearly 10 million died. An additional 5 million civilians were killed, and during the war over 20 million soldiers and civilians were injured. The Spanish flu caused about a third of all military deaths.

The war began in the summer of 1914, and the U.S. worked hard to stay out of the war. In fact, President Woodrow Wilson narrowly won his second term in 1916 with the slogan “He Kept Us Out Of War,” according to the release.

The U.S. joined the war on April 6, 1917. To increase the size of the U.S. Army during WWI, Congress passed the Selective Service Act, which was also known as the “conscription” or “draft,” a month later. By the end of the war, 2.7 million men were drafted. Another 1.3 million volunteered.

The exhibit will be followed by a year-long project of encouraging reading and reflection of the growing collection of World War One letters. The center continues to collect letters to incorporate in the project. Letters are scanned and transcribed. If you have family letters to share, contact us. If you are a teacher or a member of a community organization and would like to discuss the incorporation of the letters into your work during 2018, email Program Director David Greenham at [email protected].

The center is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and by appointment on weekends and evening. Exhibits and most programs are free and open to the public.

For more information call 621-3530, or visit hhrcmaine.org.


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