One hundred years ago today, April 6, 1917, the United States Congress declared war on Germany, upending the lives of all Americans living at the time.  Where were the alumni of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907 that momentous day? How were their lives affected by this world-altering event?
On the front page of The Norwalk Reflector Herald that day, just below the article announcing the war, was a small item notifying readers that one alumnus of the Class of 1907, Robert Venus, had spent two years at the Case School of Applied Science and now held “a responsible position with the East Ohio Gas Co.” 
Did his country’s entry into war change Robert’s life. Indeed, it did. He enlisted as an officer candidate in the Army and by July was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant. He would spend the next two years on active duty. I do not have any evidence that he served overseas, but no matter–he did serve. 
The “War to End All Wars” disrupted lives all around the world, and ended the lives of millions. Robert Venus was not the only graduate of Norwalk High School whose life was turned upside down. As I often do when writing these posts, I turn to the diaries of Harriott Wickham, my grandmother, to see what she had to say. Here is what she wrote on April 22, 1974.
This evening have been watching a movie about W.W.I. How very long ago that seems now—like a different lifetime! It is really very clear in my memory though. Most of the boys I had known off in France! Bill  among them. Making bandages in the courthouse in Buffalo, Wyo. with other women. Getting a letter from my “then fiancé”  in France. Eleanor,  and I working in Columbus & Cleveland for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And especially remembering the long, long, two deep rows of rough boxes that stretched along the station platform at Columbus. Coffins filled with the bodies of boys who never even got to the front, but died of the flu epidemic at a training camp! One of the saddest sights of my life, I think! – Then, finally a night when we were awakened by the noise of sirens & shouting and chanting, — the “false armistice”!  But the real one a few days later, when there would not be any more “casualty lists” in the paper and the boys would be coming home alive!
It was another year before Bill would be home – but we didn’t know that then. And I think he really enjoyed that year – after the fighting had ended. He was quartered in a French home. When he had been crossing the ocean to France, a torpedo from a German submarine had grazed their ship—he heard the scrape of it! then it hit & sank another ship.
A number of our friends were killed in the war—one of them a fraternity brother of Bill’s at Ann Arbor—Lois Brush. I had been his guest at a Beta House party two years earlier. – He had no girl to ask & I was visiting Aunt Sue,  who was taking her doctor’s degree at Ann Arbor. A number we knew from Wooster & Norwalk were killed, though most of them came home safe. Damn Wars!! So stupid & unnecessary!
Stupid and Unnecessary! That sums about sums it up, doesn’t it?
 “U.S. Declares War Against the Kaiser,” Norwalk Reflector Herald, April 6, 1917, page 1, column 5. The Norwalk Reflector Herald was a successor to both the Daily Reflector and the Evening Herald which had merged in 1913.
 “Where They Are,” Norwalk Reflector Herald, April 6, 1917, page 1, column 5.
 In the U.S., Adjutant General Military Records, 1631-1976 Ohio Soldiers in WWI, 1917-1918, 1st Lieutenant Robert Edward Venus of 45 Seminary Street in Norwalk, Ohio biography reads: 2 Lieutenant Quartermaster Corps 15 Aug 1917 from CL. 1 Lieutenant 28 July 1918. Fort Benj Harrison Ind 15 May 1917 to 14 Aug 1917. Quartermaster Corps to Discharge Cp Sherman O; Cp Johnson Fla; Baltimore Medical Department Honorable discharge 24 March 1919. Citation: The Official Roster of Ohio Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the World War, 1917-18. Columbus, OH, USA: The F.J. Heer Printing Co., 1926.
 Harriott’s younger brother, my great uncle Bill Wickham.
 Joe Gill. When my grandmother lived at our home near the end of her life, she told my mother that she received a “Dear Jane” letter from this man while he was in France. She said that it came as a big shock and she had a hard time getting over the rejection. I don’t know much more about him.
 Harriott’s sister Eleanor Wickham, my great aunt and godmother.
 On November 7, 1918, three days before the actual event, UP mistakenly reported that the German’s had signed an armistice. This sparked wide-spread, if short-lived, celebrations. How wrenching it must have been to learn that it was not true. For a detailed account of this little-known event, visit the New York Sun Blog.
 Suzan Rose Benedict. In 1914, she became the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Michigan.
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Filed under: Harriott Wickham, Norwalk HS Class of 1907, Norwalk OH High School, Robert Venus, Uncategorized, Wickham | Tagged: Germany, Harriott Wickham, Norwalk Evening Herald, Norwalk High School Class of 1907, Norwalk Ohio History, Norwalk Reflector Herald, The Great War, Venus Genealogy, Wickham Genealogy, World War I | 2 Comments »