Today marks the centennial of the sinking of the Lusitania, usually acknowledged as the first step towards the United States’ entry into World War I. The Lusitania was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Ireland on 7 May 1915, causing the deaths of 1,198 passengers and crew. The death toll included 128 Americans, sparking outrage throughout the nation.
One of the survivors was Richmond native Charles Hill, who was 38 at the time of the sinking. Hill, who worked for the British-American Tobacco Company, had been living in England with his family for almost fifteen years. He returned periodically to Richmond to visit his father, C. Emmett Hill. In April, Hill, his wife Eva, and their children returned to the U.S. for the sake of her health, travelling on the Lusitania. On 1 May, Hill reboarded the Lusitania in New York, bound for Liverpool with almost two thousand other passengers and crew members.
Hill was on the starboard promenade deck of the Lusitania when it was struck, and saw both the periscope of German submarine U-20 and the wake of the torpedo. After rushing below decks in an unsuccessful attempt to find several friends, Hill returned deck and made it into lifeboat number 14, which over the course of the afternoon capsized six times. Hill clung to the lifeboat with several other … read more »
These are some examples of how soldiers at Camp Lee, Virginia, celebrated Christmas in 1918. The records of the Virginia War History Commission have been processed and are open to researchers.
-Roger Christman, Senior State Records Archivist… read more »
Welcome to Mug Shot Monday! This is the latest entry in a series of posts highlighting inmate photographs in the records of the Virginia Penitentiary. Kenneth Frederick Thomas, the subject of this week’s post, was either a bigamist or a decorated World War I hero. Thomas’ version of his military service and his The Hangover-like courtship and wedding, stand in stark contrast to the evidence gathered by two Virginia governors.
Kenneth Thomas arrived in Norfolk in early March 1918. On Saturday, 9 March, Thomas, dressed in the uniform of an aviator of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), attended a dance at the Fairfax Hotel where he met 20-year-old Rose Eugene Swindell. Thomas wooed Swindell with tales of air battles with the Germans on the Western Front as a Canadian pilot. Thomas’ stories, reported the Virginian-Pilot, “blinded the young girl and she married her romantic suitor” on 12 March. The newlyweds lived at the Lorraine Hotel until the bridegroom was arrested 16 March by agents of the United States Department of Justice at the request of Canadian authorities. Thomas was wanted for desertion and bigamy.
Upon his arrest, Thomas told a very different story than the one he told his bride. He claimed he was an American citizen, had never served in the Royal Flying Corps, and was a victim of mistaken … read more »
The Executive Papers of Governor Henry C. Stuart, 1914-1918 (LVA accession 28722) are now available to researchers as part of an ongoing project to arrange and describe the papers of Virginia’s governors that have been lost thus far in the archival backlog. Once housed in acidic boxes with some metal pins and staples, Stuart’s papers now have been reboxed and refoldered. More importantly, the papers have received detailed archival processing in order to unearth some of the gems below. Though not the most important administration of the 20th century, it is clear Stuart’s was eventful and the records illustrate the significant moments of his term in office. From the unveiling of a statue to Virginia’s dead at Gettysburg to the country’s initial involvement in World War I, Stuart’s papers are a valuable resource for early 20th century Virginia researchers.
-Craig S. Moore, State Records Appraisal Archivist
Created in 1919 by Governor Westmoreland Davis, the World War I History Commission’s task was to collect, edit, and publish source material concerning Virginia’s participation in the Great War. The Commission also conducted a survey of World War I veterans in Virginia using a printed questionnaire mailed to each soldier or nurse by local branches of the Commission. The soldier or a family member completed and returned the questionnaire to the local branch, which forwarded a copy to the Commission’s Richmond office. In June 1928, the Commission disbanded, transferring all records to the Virginia State Library (now the Library of Virginia). An invaluable source of genealogical and military information on Virginians who served in World War I, this collection of nearly 14,800 questionnaires was processed and microfilmed in 1996 and digitized in 1998.
When I joined the State Records section in 1999, I began processing the remaining records of the World War I History Commission. Much to my surprise, I discovered additional questionnaires filed separately, which had not been filmed or included in the digital collection. As it turned out, staff of the Commission had set these records apart from the remainder of the collection by design.
In preparation for its first source volume, Virginians of Distinguished Service of the World War, published in 1923, the World War I History … read more »