Returning soldiers parade near Market and Church Streets in West Chester, 1919. Image from the Chester County Historical Society.
From his location near the frontlines in France, Spring City native Christie Collopy was thinking of his Chester County home. In a letter dated August 14, 1918, Collopy wrote to the Chester County War Aid Association (CCWAA) and thanked them for sending the local newspaper. “Things are pretty hard at the present time over here.” He wrote. “So when a letter or paper comes it makes you forget the fighting for a while.” (1)
Collopy did not think very highly of his German counterparts. They were “not very hard fighters…are afraid of us and all want to be taken prisoner, or at least quit.” Collopy was a U.S. Marine and a local hero to the folks in Chester County. He single-handedly eliminated a German machine gun nest, and for his bravery, he received the Croix de Guerre by the French government and the Distinguished Service Cross by the United States government. (2)
On July 3, 1918, the New York Herald included a brief mention of Collopy's act of bravery.
Similar heroic stories fill the papers of the CCWAA housed at the Chester County Archives. The CCWAA was a relief organization that started in December 1917 to support the Chester County soldiers and nurses serving in WWI. The collection consists of cards, correspondence, an account book of items sent to soldiers and nurses overseas, and miscellaneous WWI reference materials and clippings collected by secretary, Isabel Darlington. (3)
During the war, the CCWWA collected tobacco, knitted sweaters and wristlets, helmets, mirrors, combs, comfort bags, and local newspapers to send to those serving in Europe. The CCWAA even commissioned local companies to knit sweaters while other knit goods were made by local women who volunteered their time. On occasion, a soldier in a hot climate mistakenly received a sweater and returned it with good humor suggesting that it be sent to a man in cooler places.
One such example was Clifford Golder of West Chester. A CCWAA member asked Golder if he would like a pair of wool garments in which he replied, “I am on the front now and we carry very few extra clothes.” In return, Golder sent a piece of an aviation balloon that a German soldier shot down. (4)
This collection captures the impact that WWI had on Chester County and the ability of local residents to rally around a patriotic cause. However, not all the stories are cheerful, as some capture the grim realities of war.
Many in the County wrote Darlington and pleaded for any information about their loved ones overseas. The parents of Luke J. Crosby asked about the whereabouts of their son after local newspapers listed their son as missing in action. Darlington forwarded the letter to the Adjutant General’s office, and on December 9, 1918, the concerned parents were informed that “[Luke] has been reported missing in action since October 21st, 1918.” (5) To further complicate matters, volunteers at the CCWAA mistakenly wrote “Killed in Action” on Crosby’s soldier card. No matter where the Crosby parents looked, they were always answered with bad news.
Luke J. Crosby's card filed by the CCWAA. Volunteers incorrectly wrote that Crosby had been MIA than KIA. They corrected the false information.
That changed on December 21, 1918, when they received a follow-up letter from the Adjutant General stating, “I am happy to inform you that a cable received in this office from abroad states that Private Luke J. Crosby, Company I, 111th Infantry, previously reported missing in action since October 21st, 1918, is now reported as having returned to duty November 18, 1918.” (6)
The reverse of Luke J. Crosby's card where CCWAA volunteers pasted newspaper clippings about the Chester County soldier.
Updates from the battlefield were slow to reach the concerned families of Chester County, but soldiers too were often left in the dark. In May 1919, Louis Slawter of the 113th Engineers stationed in France wrote to Darlington.
“In a recent letter from my sister, I was informed you sent me a cablegram of my father’s death. This I wish to thank you for although it never reached me and I knew nothing of my loss until the second week of April.”
Slawter lamented on the unfortunate news.
“We have to lose our dear ones sometime in life and it comes to me harder than one could imagine on account of my being so far from home and the way in which it happened. I have tried to bear it all as best I could though it was very hard.” (7)
The obituary for William Slawter, the father of Louis Slawter, published in the Delaware County Daily Times on August 21, 1918.
After the war, the CCWAA helped returning veterans find employment as well as aid the injured. Darlington sent a welcome letter and questionnaire to each returning veteran inquiring about their need for a job, physical ability to work, and job skills. Through the generosity of Ms. Pierre S. du Pont, a Reconstruction Center equipped with 48 beds was established at Longwood on May 12, 1919 for sick or wounded soldiers. Upon admission a man could stay at the Reconstruction Center or visit as needed. The Center functioned until 1921.
This unique collection of CCWAA papers has been processed, indexed, and made accessible to the public. It captures the history of WWI from both the perspective of service members on the front lines as well local residents back on the home front. The war proved to be one of history’s darkest moments, but the CCWAA responded with charity and patriotism. This collection humanizes the WWI experience and connects Chester County to the broader history of this important event.
1) Christie Collopy to Isabel Darlington, August 14, 1918.
2) "Bravery of Officers Cited," New York Herald, July 3, 1918.
3) The Chester County War Aid Association Papers.
4) Clifford Golder to Isabel Darlington, August 1918.
5) U.S. Adjutant General Office to Thomas Butler, December 9, 1918.
U.S. Adjutant General Office to Thomas Butler, December 21, 1918.
7) Louis Slawter to Isabel Darlington, May 4, 1919.