At the Museum: Clark County’s support of World War I

Published 4:18 pm Monday, May 1, 2017

By Rosemary Campbell

Bluegrass Heritage Museum

Clark County has a history of patriotism, and 100 years ago this spirit was on full display.

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April 6 marked the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entrance into World War I. In commemoration of this event, Jerry Cecil presented “America Enters the War and So Does Clark County” for the April Second Thursday Program at the Bluegrass Heritage Museum.

The war had been raging in Europe since 1914. By the time the United States entered, millions had already been slaughtered and no end seemed in sight. America brought fresh troops, equipment and energy, which turned the tide in favor of the Allies. A year and a half later, the armistice was signed.

Cecil described how local support for the war effort was all encompassing. A local Council of Defense was organized, with precincts throughout the city and county. Everybody was asked to do something. Men, women and children worked to raise money and provide goods.

And, of course, men volunteered or were drafted to serve as soldiers. One of the highest ranking soldiers from Winchester was Maj. Gen. Frank L. Winn (1864-1941). He graduated West Point in 1886 and was a classmate of General John Pershing. Winn commanded the 89th Infantry Division during the war.

Red Cross chapters formed in counties across the state and country, and Clark’s chapter was very active. Church groups were among the first to step up. The attached photo shows the First Christian Church Women’s Circle sewing for the Red Cross in 1918. Women’s groups also raised and donated money to buy ambulances.

Red Cross nurses of the Barrow Unit of Lexington served soldiers in England. They included three Clark County women — Bess Pelley, Jessie Greathouse and Tillie Greathouse.

School children were also involved in the effort. They collected many items including worn woolen clothing, which could be used to make felt for uniforms. Scrap metal, peach pits, walnut shells, grease and fat would be used in the manufacture of weapons and ammunition. A pound of grease or fat reportedly contained enough glycerin to make about a pound of explosives.

The chairman of the local Food Administration was G.L. Wainscott. (Most know of him as the creator of Ale-8.) This group encouraged farmers to produce more food for the war effort. Citizens were asked to conserve food, following such strictures as Meatless Mondays, Wheatless Wednesdays, and Fishless Fridays.

 The local Fuel Administration was chaired by David Prewitt. This group was charged with the control of fuel production, distribution and conservation. They enforced rationing, including “Gasoline-less Sundays.” Driving on this day was considered unpatriotic!

Coal was crucially important. Though it was not mined in Clark, much was transported through the county. Between 1914 and 1919, almost three billion tons were mined. This was almost one-third of the total mined in the previous 100 years.

Horses and mules were also in great demand to serve as cavalry mounts and to pull heavy and light artillery and other supplies. The U.S. had sent almost a million horses to Europe between 1914 and 1918, and another 182,000 went with American troops when we entered the war. Only 200 returned to the U.S. after the war. Some 8 million horses and mules were killed during the war, mostly before U.S. soldiers got there. There are no statistics available for how many animals came from Clark County.

In addition to all these contributions, people were asked for monetary support. Cecil said this was the first time the federal government went directly to the people to ask for money. Posters were an important tool, using creative and heart-tugging images to visually persuade people to give. One poster read: “If You Can’t Enlist — Invest. Buy a Liberty Bond. Defend Your Country with Your Dollars.”

Clark Countians gave $3,018,650 to the four Liberty Bond drives and the Victory Bond drive through 1919. In today’s dollars, that is equivalent to $62,827,474. War Savings Stamps were another money-raising venture, mostly contributed by children and workers. These raised $321,500 locally, which today would amount to $6,691,412. Locals certainly weren’t stingy with their money when it came to supporting the war effort!

By the time the war ended, 26 Clark County men had died in battle. Others perished from the deadly influenza outbreaks which also ravaged troops. All over the country, cities erected memorials to the men who served and sacrificed.

In Lexington, the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Hall was dedicated to students and faculty who died in this war; its steeple is part of the UK logo.

Here in Clark County, our Doughboy statue was dedicated in 1929. Originally it sat immediately behind the court house, but later it was moved to the side to allow for the building’s expansion a few years later. It contains a plaque with the names of the local men who died during what had been billed “the war to end all wars,” a hopeful but futile wish. Two more plaques commemorating the dead of World War II and the Korean War have since been added to the base of the statue.