Thursday, November 20, 2014

World War II in the Geneva Daily Times

John Marks, Curator of Collections and Exhibits

When we did our World War II project in the early 1990s, Kathryn Grover was hired to research, write, and lay out the exhibit and book, Close to the Heart of the War. As part of her contract, we received all her research notes for our archives. I recently pulled out one of the large boxes to look at her source material. Any project, i.e. an exhibit, book, or documentary, reflects the creator’s selection of what to include or leave out; it’s good to look at the research with fresh eyes.

In addition to newspapers and records from our collection, Kathryn used scrapbooks that were kept during World War II. She photocopied them so she could more easily flip through pages and make notes on the copies. Scrapbooks show the creator’s interests and are assembled in a unique way, which gives them historical value. In the case of these albums, the creator(s) kept a chronological collection of Geneva Daily Times articles that only pertained to Geneva and surrounding towns. These could be recreated from microfilm, but one would have to wade through all the national news, advertising, and sports to do it – work already done by the scrapbooker.

Regular columns included “Boys in the Service” and “News of Our Men and Women in Uniform.” (I can’t tell the difference in content, so I’m not sure why there were separate columns.) They were a collection of snippets about servicemen and women, often reported by relatives who had received a letter; news ranged from receiving a Bronze Star to confirmation that someone was still safe.

As I mentioned last time, Hobart and William Smith students researched Geneva and the war for a class project. One of them looked at these photocopies and said something to the effect, “They used up a lot of space talking about nothing, didn’t they?” Seeing things out of context is not limited to the young; it bears pointing out conditions in the early 1940s. Information was censored by the government for security reasons. Mail from the war theaters was very slow and sporadic; one local POW beat a letter home by nine months. Most Times readers knew someone in the war, so one sentence in the paper, for example, that PFC Rollo was safe in England was very welcome news.

When more information was known, there were longer articles on servicemen and women. It seems that the paper focused on success stories, i.e. survival and promotion, with the occasional humorous-with-a-happy-ending tale:

Sadder but equally important were the Killed in Action notices and photos. I hesitate to post examples; seventy years later, people are still alive who remember where they were when they received the news of a loved one’s death in the war.

These photocopied scrapbook pages are available to read during archive hours (Tuesday through Friday, 1:30 – 4:30 pm). Whether you’re looking for mention of a relative or just interested in how the war was reported, they’re a good read.

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