100 Years Ago: WWI and the New Year (January 1918)

Cold Weather Headline from Portsmouth
Herald of 31 December 1917

In most New Hampshire places newspapers were not published on New Year’s Day, however many were printed on New Year’s Eve 1917, and January 2, 1918. The following compilation is gleaned from those publications.

New England was in the grip of “the coldest weather on record” as the new year of 1918 dawned. Boston was reported 14 below zero (Fahrenheit), while Northfield Vermont shivered at 40 below and claimed to be the coldest spot in New England. Areas in New York State were reporting 69 below in some places.

New Year Advertisement in Portsmouth
Herald of 31 December 1917
by N.H. Beane & Co.

To complicate things there was a drastic coal shortage, and so the poor of all cities fled to the police and fire stations, and churches seeking warmth. There were a series of fires and explosions as people tried to thaw out their pipes with burning rags, or the water pipes common in kitchen stoves of the day exploded. Frost bite was a common case seen in the hospitals. Nearby military training camp, Camp Devens in Massachusetts, was not immune from the frigid weather. The news reported that the thermometer in front of the Quartermaster Depot registered 34 below zero. There was a great need for more knitted articles for the soldiers, especially helmets and wristers. Work animals suffered too. Police in many places were on the lookout to insure that horses were blanketed.

But life goes on–both the good and the bad. On New Year’s Eve the Y.M.C.A building on Congress Street caught on fire. In 18 degree below zero temperatures, the fire department arrived and fought the stubborn fire. In Suncook, a separate fire destroyed the Opera Block. The Associated Press circulated a press release from Washington D.C. that half a million Germans residents in the United States who had not naturalized would need to register with the government by February 4th.

Portsmouth Herald indoctrination
ad from 2 January 1918.

There were minstrel shows, and house parties planned. The Portsmouth Navy Yard draftsmen were going to “see the old year old and the new year in,” by conducting a dancing party at Pythian Hall.  The newspapers carried the story of a York Maine man who had brought a quart of wine and a pint from whiskey from Portsmouth NH to Kittery Maine in violation of the federal bone dry law.

Even as 1918 dawned, the tradition of a “white sale” in January was evident by the newspaper advertising. Everything from white linen handkerchiefs to under-muslins to gloves were being offered by Foye’s 4-8 Market Square in Portsmouth NH. On January 2nd, the barracks of Company C, 303d Infantry (a Schenectady NY outfit) stationed at Camp Devens was destroyed following an oil stove explosion. Amazingly there were no injuries, but the soldiers “lost everything except the clothes they wore. Sixty-one Enfield rifles and many of the company records were also lost.”

Josephus Daniels Secretary of the Navy offered an optimistic message for 1918: “The year 1918 makes the supreme call upon the courage and efficiency of the American people. Victory for the American ideal of free Government cannot fail, but early and permanent peace will be secured only by the full mobilization of men and resources. There must be but one industry in 1918, and that is the winning of the war. There must be, there will be, no thought of self, no desire for profit, no holding back of all we have in money and men. It is only by such complete conservation of all we have and all we are that we can hasten the coming day of lasting peace with lasting self-government by all the people of the earth.”

[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].

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6 Responses to 100 Years Ago: WWI and the New Year (January 1918)

  1. Amy says:

    Hmmm, looks like 2018 is following in the footsteps of 1918. Bitter cold, a deadly fire (in the Bronx, but still), people hungry and in need of shelter. But we can hope there’s no world war going on and no Spanish flu epidemic.

    Let’s hope 2018 is better than 1918! Happy New Year!

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  3. June Saxon says:

    Very interesting Janice about how it was 100 years ago up there. Especially interesting about my home town of Portsmouth and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the burning of the YMCA where I learned how to ballroom dance in 1952!

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