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Remembering Wartime Life in North Carolina

In honor of Veterans Day—previously called Armistice Day to commemorate the end of World War I on November 11, 1918—DocSouth highlights the "North Carolinians and the Great War" collection. This collection explores how World War I shaped the lives of different North Carolinians on the battlefield and on the home front as well how the state and federal government responded to war-time demands. This group of materials dates primarily from the years of American involvement in the war between 1917 and 1919, but documents from the 1920s demonstrate the legacies of the war as well.

This collection is divided into three major topics: propaganda posters, the soldier's experience, and the home front. The poster section features one hundred war posters from a variety of group and agencies, such as The Red Cross and YWCA, as well as from the U.S. government. A Department of Agriculture poster, for example, begins, "Farmers! Housewives! Children!: The President of the United States Appeals to You Personally" and reprints selections from Woodrow Wilson's speeches. These selections assert that work on the farm and in the factory is just as important to the war effort as fighting on the battlefield. Wilson asks these workers to do whatever they can to maximize productivity and produce more supplies for the United States' soldiers and allies.

Materials from "the soldier's experience" section offer a more direct account of the war, including diaries, letters, and common items U.S. soldiers carried or wore. Robert M. Hanes, a North Carolina banker, legislator, and civic leader, grew up in Winston-Salem and graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1912. He studied business administration at Harvard University from 1912 to 1913, and during the war Hanes served as Captain of Battery A, 113th Field Artillery, 30th Division. In a short diary as well as in letters to his wife, he recorded details of his journey across the Atlantic, training for combat in France, and fighting conditions along the front. Together, these documents give a full account of a soldier's life during World War I.

After the war, North Carolina faced overwhelming casualties: 629 Tar Heels were killed in action, another 204 perished from battle wounds, and 1,542 succumbed to disease. Over 3,600 men had been wounded and others carried the mental scars of combat trauma. Local communities welcomed their returning veterans with relatively little fanfare at first, but by the early 1920s the state began holding memorial events and celebrations. In 1921, The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction declared November 11 of that year the first North Carolina Day and provided educators with historical materials for lessons that would "tell the story of how all the people cooperated to destroy the forces of evil and to make this world a better place in which to live."

Many of the items in "North Carolinas in the Great War" are also part of "The North Carolina Experience: Beginnings to 1940" Collection, which includes books, letters, reports, posters, artifacts, songs, and oral histories about North Carolina, its people, and its history. Readers interested in military history and wartime life will also enjoy "The Southern Homefront: 1861-1865" collection, which offers documents related to all aspects of southern life during the Civil War.

Jennifer L. Larson