By Christina Nhean
On November 11, 1918, the First World War officially came to a close and a new era of remembrance began. As early as 1918, Connecticut towns honored the men and women who fought and served in the war by celebrating their courage through varying forms of commemoration. Many towns in Connecticut built rolls of honor—lists of local residents who participated in the war—while others erected “doughboy” and other types of statues. Among the most proficient at commemorating its residents’ contributions was the city of Hartford, which demonstrated its appreciation for the servicemen and women of the Great War in numerous and profound ways.
Hartford Commemorates the First World War
Beginning in 1918, rolls of honor emerged throughout the city. Hartford’s organizations, companies, and institutions complimented these efforts with the construction of numerous memorial plaques. Many companies, such as Aetna, attached plaques to their buildings to commemorate the service of their employees.
In the 1920s, Hartford resident and WWI veteran Charles Yerrington, post commander of Rau-Locke American Legion post, compiled the names and profiles of fallen servicemen from Hartford and the city planted over 200 elm trees (complete with commemorative wooden tablets) along the driveway in Colt Park to symbolize the lives lost. Eventually officials replaced the wooden tablets with bronze plaques. Unfortunately, by the 1960s many of the elm trees succumbed to Dutch Elm disease. The associated plaques remained in storage until rediscovered in a basement in 2013.
In addition to the city’s role in memorializing the lives of servicemen and women, families and churches engaged in commemorations as well. In 1923, the family of Walter Lamkins, Private First Class of Company C of the 101st Machine Gun Battalion of the 26th Division, dedicated a beautiful stained glass window in the North United Methodist Church in Hartford in honor of his memory. Families, friends, and institutions built monuments and memorials throughout the city to pay respect and preserve the memories of loved ones.
World War One Memorial Banners
One of the very personal and intimate means residents found for commemorating the city’s fallen came from Hartford resident and WWI veteran, Ratcliff Hills, who designed memorial banners to honor Hartford soldiers lost during the war. The banners consisted of blue material with gold fringe and tassels and displayed names embroidered in white letters. When finished, this makeshift memorial consisted of 10 banners recognizing the sacrifices of 212 men and one woman.
In 1933, Hills donated the banners to the city, and Mayor William J. Rankins housed them in the city hall’s Function Room where they remained until 1997. The city used the banners in processions or exercises such as Hartford’s Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day Parades. What made these memorials unique was their ease of transport, allowing them to take part in numerous events staged in different locations. Ratcliff Hills later stated in a Hartford Daily Times’s veterans’ memorial article, “Some persons might see only the names inscribed, but the friends, relatives and comrades will see faces, hear voices, and recall their experiences in France.”
Christina Nhean wrote this piece while an intern at the Connecticut State Library and student at Central Connecticut State University. It served as part of the library’s Remembering World War One: Sharing History/Preserving Memories project.