It started with a poster I saw hanging in the Dummerston Historical Society.
The top half showed high cirrus clouds in a bright blue sky.
The bottom half was of late summer foliage in green with just a hint of the autumn colors to come.
In the center, peeking out above the treeline, is the cupola of the Dummerston Congregational Church.
But what caught my eye was the lettering at the bottom of the poster: village fair august 30 1945 5:30 dummerston center.
That date intrigued me.
It was two weeks after the end of World War II. It was three days before the formal surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay.
It was a pivotal point in history, where the relief at the war being over was mixed with concern over what the postwar world would be like.
What was that afternoon like in Dummerston, as one era was ending and another era was being born?
To borrow a line from humorist Will Rogers, all I knew was what I read in the papers. So let’s go back to the Dummerston of August 1945, via the pages of the Brattleboro Daily Reformer.
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Like many towns across the United States, Dummerston celebrated the announcement of Japan’s unconditional surrender on the night of Tuesday, Aug. 14.
Americans had been expecting the news for several days, and there were a few false alarms passed on by the radio networks and newspapers. But on the 14th, at 7 p.m., Eastern War Time, the White House issued the statement the world was waiting for — that Japan accepted the surrender terms, ending the Second World War.
The Reformer’s Dummerston correspondent reported that “as soon as President Truman’s report came, stating that the Japanese had surrendered, the church bell was rung and was kept ringing during most of the night. A large number of young people went to Brattleboro to celebrate and several parties were held.”
The next day, which was declared a national holiday by President Truman, the town celebrated further.
“A soft ball game iwas held in the afternoon between the single and married men. The score was 18–15 in favor of the single men.”
In the evening, what was called “a very impressive service” was held in the church under the direction of Pastor Rankin Shrewsbury, with “hymns, prayers, and a short sermon.”
It was followed by “an old-fashioned dance for the townspeople at the Grange hall after the service, music being furnished by Mrs. Bertha Brown, Mrs. Richard Bloch, and Charles Laughton.”
The gaiety was tempered by what was on the front page of that afternoon’s Reformer: an honor roll of every service member from Windham County who had been killed in action. Two columns of names ran the length of the page.
Nearly 50,000 Vermont men served in World War II, and 1,223 died while in the service — 80 from Windham County. Some 1,400 Vermont women also served.
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The Woman’s Association was busy making preparations for the village fair on the common, the Reformer reported. “Articles for the grab bag should be sent to Mrs. Harold Reed, for the rummage sale to Mrs. Merton Hazelton, and for the auction, call Mrs. Leo McTighe.”
To the best of the recollections of the older members of the Historical Society, the August fair took place annually up until the 1960s. The late starting time allowed the farm people who made up much of Dummerston’s population to get the chores done before going to the Center for supper and an evening of square dancing.
The weather was fair and warm that Thursday night on the common for the fair, which fell just before the Labor Day weekend. Dummerston schools were set to reopen on Tuesday, Sept. 4.
So what might have been talked about at the fair?
• Page 1 of the Aug. 30 Reformer was dominated by the news that Gen. Douglas MacArthur was setting up his occupation headquarters in Tokyo.
• The news of MacArthur’s triumphant arrival in Japan was bookended by the release of the official report on the Pearl Harbor attack.
• The big news in Vermont was a shocking mass murder in Essex Center. A family of four was slain and another family member, a solider home on leave, was believed to have carried out the killings.
• People at the fair might have been talking about a bus accident on Route 5 in Dummerston. A Vermont Transit bus collided with a Connecticut car on Tarbox Curve. There were no injuries.
• Baseball might have been a topic. Major league baseball was still being played, but teams were missing most of their stars due to the draft. By 1945, rosters were filled with players who were too young, too old, or not eligible for military service.
• The Boston Red Sox were playing the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium that afternoon, and the Yankees won, 7–1. The Boston Braves had the day off, but they were set to begin a series against the Phillies at Braves Field. Both the Braves and Red Sox were on their way to losing seasons.
• What was at the movies? People might have been making plans to go into town Friday. The Paramount had a double feature with the latest Charlie Chan film, The Scarlet Clue, along with a Western, Rustlers of the Badlands.
The Latchis had the comedy Twice Blessed, starring Preston Foster and Gail Patrick.
• Rationing had not ended, so grocery stores had plenty of fruits and vegetables, while meat and butter were still scarce. But Grand Union proclaimed that “The Lid’s Off!” in the Aug. 30 Reformer. The market announced that it had beef in stock, with sirloin steaks at 39 cents a pound and ground beef at 27 cents a pound.
• Coffee was one the first items to come off the ration list. It was fully available again by the summer of 1945, and First National Stores had two 1-pound bags of its Kybo Coffee for 51 cents. You could pick up a 1-pound loaf of whole wheat bread for 10 cents and get a jar of peanut butter to go with it for 22 cents.
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Or maybe the people of Dummerston were talking the economy. One of the big concerns as the war ended was whether the country would slide back into depression.
H. Margolin & Company, the pocketbook factory on Vernon Street in Brattleboro, took out a big ad in the Reformer seeking workers.
“the job is done. Get Back now Into Steady Civilian Work. 100 men — women (16 years and over) needed at once.”
It was a good growing season for apples that summer, and some orchard owners were worried that there would not be enough apple pickers available for the upcoming harvest.
“3 apple growers need 200 pickers,” read the headline in the Reformer. No one had applied for apple picking jobs at Connecticut Valley Orchards in Westminster, at W. H. Darrow in Putney, or at Dummerston’s Scott Farm as of the end of August.
Although the apple crop was down, getting harvest in was enough of a concern that the principals at Brattleboro and Bellows Falls high schools offered to release students from class an hour early so they could pick apples.
For those who wanted to pick apples, they would be paid 15 cents per bushel.
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Quite likely, the talk was dominated about the servicemen who were still coming and going from Dummerston, and who was coming home and when. The Reformer in August was full of those notes:
• “Pfc. Spencer A. Reed left for Fort Devens, Aug. 15 after spending a 30-day furlough with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Harold A. Reed, and brother, Stuart, who accompanied him back.”
• “Capt. and Mrs. Robert Story came Saturday from North Carolina, where Capt. Story has been hospitalized for several months, to visit her parents, Mr. and Mrs. D. R. Miller.”
• “Sgt. Kenneth Macie returned to Camp Edwards Sunday night after spending the week-end with the family.”
• “A family reunion was held Sunday in the home of Mr. and Mrs. James Clark, in honor of their two nephews, Marvin Tuttle, Jr., EM 1/c, who is on leave from the Navy, and Pvt. Graydon Tuttle, who was home from Camp Edwards for the week-end. There were 22 present.”
• “Cpl. Tech John W. Annand, son of Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Annand, received his discharge from the Coast Artillery Wednesday after completing 42 months service in the South Pacific. He is expected to arrive at his home tonight.”
• “Pvt. J. George Spicer came home last week Friday from the Naval hospital, Philadelphia, to the home of his mother, Mrs. J. W. Walker, for a 12-day stay. Mrs. Spicer is with him."
Most of these names are among the 59 men and women of Dummerston who served in the war. Their names are listed on a bronze plaque on a stone at the corner of the town common.
At the bottom of the plaque are three names, the three sons of Dummerston who did not return at war’s end.
• Army Pvt. Howard Griffin, 24, a member of the 112th Cavalry Regiment, was the first Dummerstonian to lose his life in the war. He died in the line of duty on Dec. 26, 1942 in the Pacific and was buried in the National Memorial Cemetery in Hawaii.
• Army Pvt. Wallace E. Tyler, 32, a member of 315th Regiment of the 79th Infantry Division, was killed in action in France on Nov. 13, 1944. He was buried in the American Cemetery in Lorraine, France.
• Army Staff Sgt. Alfred G. Tier, 24, a member of the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion, was killed in action in Belgium on Dec. 21, 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge. His body was returned to West Dummerston in July 1948, and he was buried in the West Dummerston Baptist Church Cemetery.
Some of the fair-goers might have been thinking about these three men and their ultimate sacrifice for their country — part of the swirl of emotions that were felt in a little Vermont village, and little villages and big towns all across America, at war’s end.