100 Years Ago: Memorial Day of 1917

Pre-WWI Memorial Day Postcard; from the collection of the blog editor

On May 30, 1917, almost 2 months after the United States joined in WWI and declared war against the German Empire, Memorial Day arrived. An important part of this day was teaching school children about patriotism.

There were oratory contests with speaker titles such as “What Our Flag Means,” and “Hats Off“–all intended to educate in addition to help a future public speaker to hone their skills. If you took a close look at the classes you would see a strong mix of immigrant children, first generation residents and descendants of early settlers. To some of them, these topics would have been new. A salute to the American flag was included in every class, along with the singing of the Star Spangled Banner.

Antique Memorial Day postcard; property of J.W. Brown

In Nashua, New Hampshire history teachers led the Junior and High School exercises. Grammar schools had worked on a series of presentations that they delivered to other classes in the same building.

Most towns and cities held a Memorial Day Parade. In May of 1917 there were no American Legion Posts (the first American Legion Post was not created until 2 years later, in 1919). On Memorial Day 1917 the G.A.R. Posts (Grand Army of the Republic) would have organized the order of these parade processions, along with an appointed parade marshal. The Sons of Union Veterans would also have had a presence and a role in any ceremonies.

The same complaint you sometimes hear today “Another Memorial day with its sadly thinned line of time worn veterans of the greatest struggle of our history has passed,” was noted on the front page of the Nashua Telegraph on May 31, 1917. Among the ranks of those who served during the Civil War were some of those in uniform ready for the current war and the NH National Guard as the newspaper noted “the scattered ranks of the boys in blue and the sturdy marching column of the boys in olive drab, one already received its baptism by fire and the other soon to be plunged into the greatest combat of history presented a picture never to be forgotten.”

Reportedly thousands turned out to watch them. The Nashua parade form on Franklin Street, and marched along Main Street to Woodlawn Cemetery where graves were decorated and orations spoken. There were distinguished guests. In the afternoon there were exercises held at City Hall. Songs were sung and flags were waved.  Among the songs of that day was “Where Are the Boys of the Old Brigade?

Where are the boys of the old Brigade,
Who fought with us side by side?
Shoulder to shoulder, and blade by blade,
Fought till they fell and died!
Who so ready and undismayed?
Who so merry and true?
Where are the boys of the old Brigade?
Where are the lads we knew?

[Editor’s Note: this story is part of an on-going series about heroic New Hampshire men and women of World War I.  Look here for the entire listing].

**Past Memorial Day Posts**

New Hampshire’s 2016 Memorial Day

New Hampshire’s Decoration Day (now known as Memorial Day) 2015


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3 Responses to 100 Years Ago: Memorial Day of 1917

  1. Pingback: New Hampshire World War I Military: Heroes of The Great War | Cow Hampshire

  2. Amy says:

    This surprised me because I thought Memorial Day started after WWI! I checked and now see that that was Veterans Day and that Memorial Day had started after the Civil War! Live and learn….

    • Janice Brown says:

      Amy, I wanted to get into the history of the day, but that took me down too many rabbit holes as to “who did it first,” so I decided to focus instead on how New Hampshire celebrated it, and tie it in with my WWI research. Thanks as always for being a faithful reader.

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