World War I (called simply ‘The World War’ at the time) officially ended on Armistice Day, 11 November 1918. In the ensuing months military that had been deployed in war time would return home to the United States. Draft boards were disbanded, and the focus shifted on how best to celebrate the returning veterans. In New Hampshire each city and town had their own welcome home plans, but at the state level it was decided to provide a certificate and a service medal to all those who had honorably served.
On Friday, March 28, 1919 the Journal of the Senate, State of New Hampshire, page 341-2 shows: “Section 5. A sum not exceeding fifteen thousand dollars is hereby appropriated for the purpose of providing for each resident of New Hampshire who served in the war against the Imperial Government of Germany, and was honorably discharged therefrom, or who remains in the military naval service of the United States, a certificate of such honorable service, to be signed by the governor and to bear the seal of the state; and also a medal of honor, which shall be a badge of such honorable service. The governor and council shall select and secure such certificates and medals. The governor is authorized to draw his warrant to cover the cost and expenses of the foregoing out of any money in the treasury not otherwise appropriated.”
The Governor (John Henry Bartlett) and council turned to a familiar, reliable, and local company — William B. Durgin of Concord, New Hampshire. In 1919 Durgin created the dye and cast these distinctive medals.
The Daughters of the American Revolution magazine, Vol. LVII, No. 5, published May 1923 contained an article about WWI service medals. New England only issued two state-level medals, one each from New Hampshire and Rhode Island. The Middle Atlantic Region medals were awarded by New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware. The South offered medals by North Carolina only. The Middle West was represented by Missouri. and in the Far West, medals were only minted in Wyoming and Oregon. A bronze cross was awarded by the District of Columbia.
In the above cited DAR publication the New Hampshire medal is described as follows: “The New Hampshire medal is in the form of a heavy armed cross with the central portion extended to form a square upon which appears in bold relief a side view of a large boulder representing, in general shape, a human profile, surrounded by a scroll, inscribed “New Hampshire’s award for service in World War.” At the lower right hand corner of the profile are two tall fir trees, and immediately below, an anchor, flanked by rifles, and intertwined with two scrolls inscribed respectively, “1917,” and “1919.” The whole is superimposed upon an eagle displayed. The reverse of the cross bears the arms of New Hampshire within a laurel wreath surrounded by the insignia of the following branches of the United States Army and Navy; the Marine Corps, Cavalry, Infantry, Aviation, Ordnance, Artillery, Medical, Signal, and Engineer Corps. The cross is suspended from a ribbon of three equal red, white, and blue stripes, with a plain bar above. ”
The human profile on the medal is of course is well known to New Hampshire residents. Though the rock formation fell and disappeared in May of 2003, the familiar visage of the Old Man of the Mountains, was an iconic symbol during and following WWI, symbolizing the enduring strength of its citizens.
In some cases the New Hampshire service medal was distributed through the newly formed local American Legion posts. Such was the case in Portsmouth, where the Frank Booma Post held an event on 14 May 1920 awarding each man or woman with a certificate “handsomely engraved and bearing the signature of the Governor, Adjutant General and the name of the person entitled to the certificate,” along with the corresponding state service medal of bronze, as shown in this story.
[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].