Common Hour artfully reflects on effects of First World War

By Samantha Greenfield, Staff Writer ||

This week’s Common Hour was the second Common Hour in honor of the centenary of the First World War. Attendees were asked to pin a paper poppy on their shirts or jackets as they walked through the door. These poppies symbolize all of the lives lost in the war and are worn on the anniversary of the war each year.

Last week’s Common Hour was presented by Jay Winter, a professor of history at Yale University. He spoke about how the war was so revolutionary because of the way it blurred the line between civilian and military targets. Between 1914 and 1918, millions of men, women, children, and entire families were killed. A week later, this Common Hour focused on the effect of the war on Americans as both civilians and formal participants in the war.

The audience of Common Hour this week had the chance to learn about and also experience different aspects of World War I through poetry readings, a speaker, and a musical performance from the
F&M Orchestra.

Each part of the event illustrated the emotion and surreal horrors of the war.

Two students from the Writer’s House read poems from World War I. The first poem was titled “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae, who became a medic during the war and died in 1918 of pneumonia. The second poem was by Edward Thomas and was titled “This is no Case of Petty Right or Wrong.” Thomas was enlisted in the army in 1915 and was killed in battle years later.

After the readings, the  Orchestra, along with two local high school students, played a piece from the seven-movement orchestral suite titled “Planets”, composed by Gustav Holst between 1916 and 1918, reflecting the mood of war. These pieces focused on the astrological value of the planets. The first piece played was called “Mars,” which is the bringer of war. Later on the orchestra played a piece titled “Jupiter,” which is the bringer of
jollity.

The first piece was extremely intense and dark. It was almost frightening to listen to and lasted six minutes so that it was able to tell a story about the war. There was a huge applause after their performance. After this performance there were more readings depicting the horrors of war through poetry. The different art forms that portrayed the war allowed the audience to see the event from different lenses.

Louise Stevenson, professor of history and American studies,then introduced Scott Salmon ’12, who gave a presentation about how the College was affected by World War I.

Salmon explained how Germans in the community were ostracized, and he spoke specifically about a professor at F&M. The city of Lancaster asked everyone to sign a loyalty pledge saying that they were loyal to America during this war. Professor Schidt, who was German, refused to sign this pledge and was ostracized until he resigned for “mental health reasons.”

Once America entered the war, F&M, which was an all men’s college at the time, struggled to stay open because 50 percent of its students left to join the war. Old Main struggled to stay open and President Apple briefly entertained the idea of bringing women into the college in one of his diary entries that the school kept in its archives. F&M was fortunate that it even survived, especially after the draft age was lowered to 18.

The war department realized what they were doing and created the Student Army Training Corp, which is similar to R.O.T.C. This program allowed students to stay in school and also train for the military at the same time. That program only lasted two months and then the war came to an end.

After Salmon’s presentation there were two more readings artfully depicting the war.

Common Hour closed with an interfaith prayer. The prayer asked for unity, freedom, and peace, as well as remembrance of those who were killed in the war.

Those who were injured and suffered were also remembered, as were those who waited patiently at home for loved ones. The Common Hour ended as the audience said “Amen” in unison.

Senior Samantha Greenfield is a staff writer. Her email is sgreenfield@fandm.edu. 

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