Preserving History with World War II Posters and Memorabilia

by Karen Plumley


After the Monday night World War II presentation at Pelham Historical Society, lecturer Bill Leary was available for questions on his many collected posters and memorabilia from the 1940 era.  Pelham residents Mike Gendreau and Ray Brunelle accompany Leary as he describes one of his collected pieces.

You never know where valuable antiques, artwork, and historical artifacts may just turn up: at the bottom of an old dresser, in the corner of a dusty attic, or even in a backyard outhouse.  Wait a minute, did you say outhouse?  That’s right.  Bill Leary’s growing passion for World War II posters and memorabilia originated after coming across several 1940s recruitment and propaganda posters squirreled away over the years by his father in Leary’s boyhood Worcester home’s two-hole outhouse. 

Leary’s father was a salesman for Worcester Electric Company in the 1940s, and part of his job was to set up the window displays for the store.  At the time, the government’s war campaign was at its height, and the company received may wartime posters, which the senior Leary would include in the window design.  After new posters arrived, Leary would take down the old ones and keep them stored at home.

Bill found these posters later and they peaked his curiosity and fueled his passion for history.  Leary has amassed nearly 200 posters, and along with other memorabilia of that period including various newspaper articles, magazines, instructional textbooks, and artillery, proudly displays them at local events: even offering his own personal take on collecting such treasures in presentations. 

The Pelham VFW co-hosted one such inspiring lecture along with members of the Pelham Historical Society.  Bill Leary spoke on Monday night to a crowded room of locals with various interests in the World War II period.  Veterans of the War, college students, and even youngsters were packed in tightly at the Historical Society Monday evening for the hour-long presentation.

In his speech, Leary touched on the many ways in which government propaganda was crucial in keeping support for the troops alive.  The war wasn’t some distant occurrence in a far away land.  It affected everyone, both young and old, even at home in the United States.  People were asked to make sacrifices:  grow gardens, conserve energy, wear layers indoors, and collect metal and rubber for the war effort.  Posters depicted the importance of keeping details of the War a secret, speak positively about the War’s progress, and to support their government by purchasing war bonds. 

Children were often used in these posters to evoke emotion.  In one, a boy with a tear in his eye is shown wearing his father’s war star imploring Americans to buy war bonds.  Another depicts a sad young girl holding a picture of her soldier father, stating “Don’t Kill Her Daddy With Careless Talk.”  A third portrays children playing in a field under an ominous shadow of a swastika, stating “Don’t Let That Shadow Touch Them.”  One guest quickly pointed out that many of these tactics would not be acceptable today.

Leary’s posters, worth an estimated $100 apiece, were displayed in several rooms and all around the seating area.  After the formal discussion patrons were invited to view the amazing displays up close.  Leary answered many questions, describing the details in some of the posters that most people would miss if they were not paying close enough attention.  In one such poster depicting an array of soldiers from all of the major battles leading up to World War II, Leary described the various weaponry that each was holding.  In another, “Homemaker’s War Guide,” Leary explained some of the bullet points about what people were asked to do at home to support the effort, such as installing storm windows and wearing layers of clothing to conserve fuel.

Despite being too young to have fought in World War II (he was just an infant “sleeping pleasantly in a laundry basket” during Pearl Harbor) the retired Caterpillar manager and former army member who served from 1963 until 1969 is doing his utmost to keep alive the memory of this significant time in American history.  “My goal is to carry the message that [at that time] it was a very different America.  A more unified one, and one we can still learn from.”  To learn more about his amazing collection or see a presentation, contact Bill Leary at 329-5304 or on his cell at 479-9035.  Alternately, he can be reached by e-mail at linbill26@comcast.net.

Pelham residents interested in learning about the unique part their town played in World War II can now glean a host of information by reading annual reports from this era available online thanks to the efforts of Historical Society President William Hayes and member/Website designer Karen Genoter.  With over 11,000 pages recently uploaded from the years 1856 to 2008, there should be enough to keep the most eager Pelham history buffs busy.  “We have one of the best town genealogy collections in the state of New Hampshire, perhaps even in New England,” noted Hayes.  He also noted that many historical images and newspaper clippings collected in a scrapbook by former beloved librarian “Aunt Molly” will soon be available online as well.  Log on to the Pelham Historical Society’s Website at http://www.pelhamnhhistory.org/ and click on “Hayes-Genoter History And Genealogy Online Library.”


Various posters, pamphlets, and artillery owned by World War II Collector Bill Leary were on display at the presentation on Monday evening at Pelham’s Historical Society.

School District Receives Donations for New High School

by Barbara O’Brien

With the opening of the new Windham High School just a little more than a month away, excitement within the community-at-large is mounting.  And with that enthusiasm is a surge of donations.

During the public address session of the school board on July 21, three residents came to the podium with offers that administrators were thrilled and deeply appreciative to receive.

Dick Ford, Windham resident and former candidate for the school board, offered his assistance in reworking the high school Website’s color scheme.  Ford said he was the Webmaster for Boston Children’s Hospital prior to his retirement, and had also volunteered locally in assisting with Websites.  Ford said he could save the school district about $750 by doing the job as a volunteer, rather than paying someone else to do the work.

Next on the docket was Barbara Coish, former school board chairman, who said she was representing not only herself but also newly elected Town Clerk Nicole Merrill.  Coish said that she and Merrill would like to see a historic, handmade wooden ballot box, which was used in Windham for a 19-year period from 1956 through 1975, placed on permanent display at the new high school.  The ballot box was previously in the possession of former school district clerk Chilla Wheeler.  Upon Wheeler’s retirement, she turned over the box for safekeeping to the office of the town clerk.  At the time, Joan Tuck was the town clerk.  Coish said this is the same ballot box that was used when Windham residents cast their votes for the name of the new high school, thereby making it even more historically significant.  Coish also has a framed photo of Chilla Wheeler’s grandson, Roger Wheeler, casting his vote into his own grandmother’s ballot box.  The photo includes text that was published in the paper at the time the vote was taken.  The ballot box could be placed in the town museum, Coish said, but the hours there are limited, and Coish feels more people would be able to see it at the high school.  Coish and Merrill also would like to see the ballot box displayed behind glass, to protect it from possible damage.

“Since future elections will be held at the high school,” Coish said, “and if that box ever again needs to be used, it will be easy to access.”  Owner’s representative for the high school construction project, Glenn Davis, said the ballot box would fit behind the glass on either the main floor or the mezzanine.

As the result of school board approval, the box will be placed on display during a ceremony on Friday, August 14 at 11 a.m.  During the occasion, Town Clerk Nicole Merrill, accompanied by Maria Webber, who is a retired Windham school teacher and sister-in-law of former school district clerk Chilla Wheeler, will present the ballot box and accompanying photo to Windham High School Principal Richard Manley.  Maria Webber will celebrate her 101st birthday this coming August 30.

“This way, the box will be in its place well before September and the grand opening,” Coish explained.  Windham High School opens to students on Wednesday, September 2, and the official Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony is set for Saturday, September 12.

Manley said he is pleased to accept the ballot box and feels its historic significance is very relevant to the high school.  “It’s important to stop and be reminded of the past,” Manley said.

The third donation presented was by former school board member Beverly Donovan, on behalf of the Windham Board of Selectmen.  Earlier this year, selectmen voted to donate the now out-of-service ambulance to the Windham School District to be used for transporting various types of equipment and supplies pertaining to activities at the new high school.  Types of equipment mentioned for transport included athletic, band, and booster club supplies.  Donovan thanked local business owner Jason Rogers, who donated his time and expertise in painting the former ambulance in the new high school colors of blue, gold, and green.  Thanks also went to Rick Hammer, who owns a sign company in Pelham, for donating labor and materials to letter the name of the high school on the sides of the vehicle.  Thanks also went to the three young volunteers who spent time cleaning the interior of the former ambulance: Rachel and Lauren Rogers and Amy Donovan.  A special thank you was also sent to the Windham Board of Selectmen and the Windham Fire Department for their generosity.

During the school board meeting on July 21, Donovan handed over the keys to the vehicle to Principal Richard Manley, complete with a key chain emblazoned with the letter “W,” signifying, of course, Windham High School.  The Windham School District took possession of the vehicle on Monday, July 20.

All these donations were generously given, and the community is very grateful for such generosity.

Three Towns Join Together in Bike Trail Alliance

by Barbara O’Brien

Generally speaking, teamwork gets a job done more quickly and more efficiently than going it alone.  This is the thought process involved behind the formation of the Tri-Town Southern New Hampshire Rail Trail Alliance, which includes Derry, Salem, and Windham.  Previously, each of the towns was operating independently of one another in getting a pedestrian/bikeway built in each community.

Six years ago, in 2003, a listing of the I-93 Salem to Concord bikeway objectives was established by the New Hampshire Department of Transportation (DOT) through a feasibility study conducted by Rizzo Associates.  Subsequently, a 3.5 mile stretch was completed in Windham, using 90 percent private funding.  A small portion remains to be finished — approximately 6/10 of a mile — before the bike/pedestrian path reaches the Salem town line.  Currently, the Windham section ends at Roulston Road.  The estimated cost of finishing the Windham stretch of trail is approximately $150,000.

Wayne Morris, representative of the Windham Trail Alliance, said that he frequently hears residents say that there are two “huge assets” in Windham: Griffin Park and the Rail Trail.  The second comment he often hears, Morris said, is in the form of a question, “When will the trail be completed?”  The entire length of the stretch from Derry to Salem comprises 13.3 miles.

Erich Whitney, the representative from the Derry Rail Trail Alliance, said that a stretch of trail was started this past spring and he expects that section (downtown Derry to the Windham town line) will be finished before summer’s end.  The remaining cost of finishing the Derry portion of the trail is estimated at approximately $275,000.

Bill Scott, of the Salem Bicycle-Pedestrian Committee, said Salem is involved in beginning the first phase of its 5.5 mile project, something he expects will take several years to complete due mainly to wetland issues.  Constructing Salem’s stretch of the bike path is estimated at about $910,000.

Representatives of the newly joined Tri-Town organization presented their joint resolution to Windham Selectmen during a meeting earlier this month.  They explained that they are seeking 80 percent of the money needed to construct the trail from federal sources, which are handled by the DOT and made available through a Transportation Enhancement Grant.  The remaining 20 percent needed would have to be raised through local sources.  The estimated cost of finishing the trail from Derry to Salem would be a total cost of approximately $1.3 million.

Benefits cited by alliance representatives included pooling financial resources, working to establish joint regulations, signage and uniform guidelines for trail use, as well as having access to more potential volunteers to assist with the project.  Listed among the advantages of multiple communities working cohesively are: a larger constituency, a variety of land uses, increased destinations, increased connections, coordination of design, enhanced scoring for grant applications, project momentum, and opportunities to expand the project beyond the I-93 corridor.

In correspondence directed to the Bureau of Rails and Transit in Concord, representatives of the tri-town organization said, “The Salem to Derry section represents a clear vision and opportunity for cooperation toward facilitating the implementation of the bicycle and pedestrian corridor from Salem to Concord.”  Furthermore, “We look forward to further expansion of our alliance and the connections that the corridor will offer toward completing the Salem to Concord project.  Combined, we can realize even greater positive outcomes from this endeavor.”

As for the overall benefits of the entire project, representatives of all three towns listed: opening up options for accessing regional employment and shopping, providing opportunities to enjoy the area’s natural resources and recreational offerings, while, at the same time, encouraging the reduction of environmental impacts in a method that only alternative transportation can provide.  In other words, walking or riding a bike to work or shopping rather than using a motor vehicle using fossil fuel.

In reference to applying for federal money to assist with the construction of the bikeway, representatives said, “The timing for a more rapid implementation (of the bike path) is valid, as the imminent construction for the lower portion of I-93 will impact all of our communities.  As rebuilding I-93 becomes a reality, we see the need to employ the components of the project that offer alternatives to (the use of) a motor vehicle.”

Windham Selectmen voted 4 to 0 to support the Tri-Town Alliance’s efforts in proceeding with securing the Transportation Enhancement Grant.  Voting in favor of the motion were Selectmen Galen Stearns, Roger Hohenberger, Bruce Breton, and Charles McMahon.  Selectman Ross McLeod did not attend the meeting.

Windham to be Revalued in 2010

by Barbara O’Brien

All real estate property in Windham is slated to be revalued in 2010.  Tax Assessor Rex Norman said that the State of New Hampshire requires that a community be revalued at least every five years.  The last time Windham went through the revaluation process was in 2006.  “This is when real estate was at the peak of the market,” Norman said.

In light of the current economy, particularly in regard to the depressed housing market, many residents have expressed concern about the discrepancy between their assessed value for tax purposes and the amount of money they might garner should they try to sell their homes at this time.  Norman said that assessments are currently tracking higher than market value across the board.  Currently, the median assessment is about 10 percent higher than market value.  For example, property assessed for tax purposes at $400,000 might sell for about $360,000.  Norman said he is still using the tax assessment tables which were compiled in 2006, as he is required to do.  Assessments are based on several components, including land, buildings, quality of construction, and any amenities.  Were he to lower assessments on property now, he explained, it would only cause the tax rate to increase correspondingly because taxpayers still have to come up with the money to fund the current 2009 town budget and 2009-2010 school district budget.

As for ongoing construction in Windham, Norman reported that 57 new homes are listed as being under construction thus far during the current year.  As a result, he said, the town’s valuation has increased by about $30 million over last year.

Addressing possible tax exemptions for homeowners, Norman suggested several possibilities which he would like to see presented to voters next March through proposed warrant articles.  These exemptions include granting an exemption for the surviving spouse of a member of the military who was killed in action, as well as an increase in exemptions granted for a blind resident.  Currently, a blind resident is granted a $15,000 tax exemption, which is significantly lower than that allowed by other area communities.  For example, the Town of Hudson allows a $105,000 exemption per year for a blind resident.  Norman said there are presently five individuals in Windham who qualify for the blind exemption.

Norman also suggested looking into allowing exemptions for property owners who install solar, wind or wood heating systems in their homes.  In such a scenario, the homeowner would be able to exempt the cost of the equipment installed.  This would encourage energy efficiency, Norman said.

Emergency Generator Suffers Meltdown

by Barbara O’Brien

The generator that provides emergency power for the Windham Police Department has suffered a major meltdown.  According to Police Chief Gerald Lewis, the generator was being put through a routine test on Friday, July 17.  After a few minutes, however, when the load on the generator was increased, as is standard during testing, problems began developing, Lewis said.  The unit began smoking and emitting a noxious odor and became exceedingly hot, melting the conduit as a result.  Lewis said the generator lost its coolant and the oil inside of it turned to sludge.  The coolant hose may have been laying against the generator’s engine block and therefore deteriorated due to the heat, causing the hose to split and the coolant to leak out.  The machine eventually “seized” and shut down, according to Town Maintenance Director Al Barlow.

Although the generator worked very well during last December’s ice storm, there have been a number of problems since that time.  Approximately $5,000 has already been spent in recent months keeping the generator functioning.

As of Monday, July 21, the technician who services the generator did have it up and running, Lewis told selectmen, but there were no guarantees that it will keep running for five minutes, much less five hours.

“If it fails, we’re out of business during an emergency power outage,” Lewis explained.

Barlow said the technician feels both the head gasket and the oil gasket are gone.  The new coolant that was put in last week has already become discolored, Barlow said.

The generator is approximately 10 years old and originally cost the town approximately $80,000.

The question now is whether to have the generator repaired or to buy a rebuilt engine for it.

Selectmen’s Chairman Galen Stearns said he isn’t recommending that the town rely solely on the old generator any longer.  He recommends getting a back-up unit.

“We need to come up with a replacement fast,” Selectman Ross McLeod said.

“We can’t allow any down time,” Selectman Charles McMahon added.

Chief Lewis recommended a two-pronged approach to solving the dilemma — first, the town should rent a standby generator on a temporary basis; second, the town administrators should go out to bid  on repairs to the existing generator engine and/or the cost of purchasing a rebuilt generator engine.

It is estimated that the cost of buying a brand new emergency generator of sufficient power for the police department would be about $100,000.

Selectmen approved Lewis’ recommendations by a unanimous vote of 5 to 0.  Lewis said that renting a temporary generator could be accomplished quickly, while it would take 30 to 60 days to complete the bid process on repairing the current generator engine or buying a rebuilt unit.

The entire board agreed that resolving the issue as expediently as possible is of the utmost importance and should not be delayed.

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