Our History Matters: Holiday cheer for the Manatee County men serving in World War I

When America entered into World War I, Bradentown and the Village of Manatee organized home guard units for the war effort.

Volunteers and draft selections totaled more than 900 men from across Manatee County. For many, this was the first time they left their homes for extended periods and their first experience in a foreign country.

The holiday season was particularly difficult being far from the comforts and traditions of home.

To help combat this, small gestures of humor or touches of home were often used to raise their spirits.

Thanksgiving ‘over there’

Howard Lathrop, a Bradenton resident who fought in the Argonne Offensive, wrote home to share how his Thanksgiving holiday went while recovering from gunshot wounds at the U.S.A. Base Hospital, No. 13, in Limoges, France.

He sent his father the Thanksgiving menu card, which was published in the Manatee River Journal on Jan. 2, 1919.

Here’s what soldiers at the hospital were served: Turkey A ‘La Armistice, Aerial Bomb Oyster Dressing, Mashed Potatoes au Marne, Shell Crater Turnips, Allied Apple Sauce, Rhine Coffee, Banana Flares, Shrapnel Grapes, Kaiser’s Pie, Berlin Nuts, High Explosive Cigars (Duds) and Mustard Gas Cigarettes.

This tongue-in-cheek menu was intended to lift the spirits of those recovering in the hospital and unable to return to their homes and families during the holiday season.

The Manatee River Journal summed up the menu by noting that this “probably can be understood best by the boys with experience at the front.”

Sending goodies from home

Many local soldiers were sent to Camp Wheeler, a tent camp established outside of Macon, Ga., for training in the fall of 1917 and were there through the holiday season awaiting their overseas assignments.

With few comforts and being far from home, it is no surprise that even the simplest reminders of family and home could raise a soldier’s spirit.

To send a little Christmas cheer to the hometown soldiers, The Bradentown Women’s Club set to work making care packages of homemade treats. These packages contained oranges, jellies and preserves, and were a welcome reminder of home.

The Manatee River Journal documented their gratitude by printing their response to the gift: “The Manatee county boys wish to thank the ladies of Bradentown for the oranges, fine assortment of jellies and preserves sent them. We assure you that every one of us boys enjoyed them and appreciated them more than we can express. It was the first home eats we have had, and they surely were fine. With best wishes and many thanks, Yours respectfully, ‘The Manatee County Boys.’ ”

Details: Learn more about Bradenton and Manatee’s contributions to World War I at Manatee Village Historical Park’s World War I Centennial Mini Exhibit on the second floor of the Wiggins General Store and take in the Victorian Christmas decorations from now through early January.

Melissa Porter is the education and volunteer coordinator at Manatee Village Historical Park. Our History Matters is an occasional series published in the Bradenton Herald.