Letters Home: Remembering World War I

Letters Home: Remembering World War I from the Center for Local History.

When World War I began in mid-August of 1914, it divided the global superpowers into Central and Allied Powers.

But it was not until after the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 – and incessant pleas from the Allied Powers – that the United States officially entered World War I on April 6, 1917. Then soldiers from all over the United Sates, including Arlington, signed up to “do their part for the War effort.

Because of new innovations in weaponry and chemical warfare, this was unlike any previous war; more than nine million soldiers perished, and approximately twenty-one million were wounded between 1914-1918.

Many Americans never returned home, but one who did make it back to Arlington was Edward G. Fenwick.

Fenwick served as an ambulance driver during World War I, and his journey through wartime Europe can be relived through his numerous personal correspondences. (You can see more of his memorabilia of the Great War at the Arlington historical Museum (1805 South Arlington Ridge Road including his medals, uniform, and dog tags.)

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Fenwick’s World War I Ambulance


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Fenwick’s letter home, page 1

With letters addressed to his loved ones, including his beloved “Momsie,” the contents reveal an intimate look at life behind-the-scenes during war, and a soldier’s internal struggle to maintain a sense of normalcy and familiarity amidst a chaotic war-torn backdrop.

These wartime correspondences, as well as other family records can be found in the Eastman-Fenwick Family Personal Paper Collection at the Center for Local History.  The Eastman-Fenwick Collection details the history of this well-known Arlington family over four generations.  The collection is comprised of wartime letters, (both Civil War and World War I) economic records of the family, 19th century sermons, genealogical materials, and various postcards and correspondences.

When Kristin Young, an Arlington County employee, discovered that the Center for Local History was going to showcase letters and photographs from World War I, she graciously loaned us a photograph of her grandfather, William Leo Diedrich for our exhibition.


William Leo Diedrich

Kristin’s grandfather served in France in 1917 and his personal diary quoted that he was “shot and gassed in October 1918.”  He survived the war but Kristin says, “My grandfather didn’t talk much about his service.  Nor did my uncles who served in WWII.  I can say that I am proud of my family’s tradition of service.”  In fact, Kristin is retired from the Navy Reserves.  She stated, “I’d like to think that I continued that tradition and hopefully made him proud.”

View the Center for Local History’s complete online World War I exhibit.

Visit the Center for Local History’s Research Room at Central Library to see our World War I mini-exhibition, and to get an up-close-and-personal glimpse into this bygone wartime era.

The Center for Local History is a community driven archive which collects documents, photographs, and other archival records detailing Arlington’s diversified neighborhoods, groups and clubs, and residents.