Ayer Library Event Calendar

Date: 11/15/2018
Time: 6:00 PM -
Title: Water for Soldiers
Contact: Ayer Library, 978-772-8250
Description: Join us at Ayer Library on Thursday, November 15th at 6:00 p.m. for a presentation from the Shirley Historical Society on the book Water for Soldiers: New England Villages Answer the Call in World War I. Books will be available for purchase.

When the United States declared war on Germany in April, 1917, the Army immediately authorized the construction of 16 cantonments across the country to be used for training new soldiers. The cantonments were readied for use quickly and thousands of new soldiers suddenly appeared in what had recently been rural locations. Camp Devens, Massachusetts, the first such base to be established, was the point of induction and training of recruits from New England and eastern New York. The Army urged citizens living near Camp Devens and other cantonments to provide a like-home atmosphere and help maintain morale among the soldiers.

Frank and Anna Lawton and their 20-year-old daughter Shirley stepped forward early with an interest in the transformation that their neighborhood was about to experience and a willingness to open their arms and home to the soldiers stationed nearby. The sign “Water for Soldiers” was posted on the front side of the Lawton home and conveyed, literally and figuratively, that soldiers could pour themselves a glass of water – or share a meal, spend a night, or otherwise benefit from the welcoming warmth of the Lawton household. Over the years that followed, as new soldiers were trained, injured soldiers were brought back for medical attention, and veteran soldiers awaited discharge after the end of the war, soldiers from Camp Devens were regularly in the towns and interacting with the residents – and personal friendships developed as a result.

Water for Soldiers is Shirley Lawton Houde’s richly detailed account of the thoughts and experiences of her, her family, and her community as they interacted with the many soldiers during the war years and, as well, of the influences those experiences had on her later in life. Shirley’s memoir provides a rare view of a community’s commitment to and involvement in a national war effort at a venue geographically far removed from the conflict itself.

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