Dec. 5—MANCHESTER — With the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor coming this week, the Manchester Historical Society held a program Sunday to remember the town's reaction to the U.S. entrance into World War II.
The program featured live music from the wartime era performed by local musicians Dan Thompson and Sandy Johnson, as well as a talk given by former state senator and retired Manchester Community College history professor Mary Ann Handley.
"I was five years old, I remember it very well," Handley said, adding that it had been clear before the attack that war was coming.
Soon after Pearl Harbor, the U.S. formally entered World War II, and towns such as Manchester reacted to this by preparing for a potential attack, she said.
Handley said the bombings of British cities by German planes "led people in Manchester and the East Coast to believe that they would be subject to that," and anti-aircraft organizations and warning systems were set up as a result.
One such system was a group of watching tower posts that were set up in Bolton, Glastonbury, and Marlborough to look out for enemy aircraft. Handley also said neighborhoods would have "air raid wardens."
She recounted how her neighborhood's air raid warden was a "very persnickety guy" and would tell her and her friends to put out their cigarettes so that enemy planes could not spot them. They would then re-light them once he walked away, she added.
In addition to concern about potential attacks, Manchester also aided the war effort, Handley said. The town would hold bond drives and Red Cross drives to raise money for the effort, and local industries such as Pratt and Whitney and other companies would help manufacture aircraft engine parts and other military supplies such as propellers and nylon parachutes.
The majority of workers in the labor force were women, Handley said, adding that many of the men were off at war. She said 6,700 women worked at Pratt and Whitney during the war, "doing jobs that men had done before."
In addition to increased industry, there were also rations for food and supplies such as sugar, gasoline, oil, meat, and clothing.
"The food supply was sporadic, things like fruit and meat would come and go," Handley said, adding that many people had gardens in the back of their homes to help supply meals for themselves and for schools to feed children.
She also said that because of the rations on gas and rubber, people would drive their cars less to save their tires. Handley said the only time her mother would use a car during the war was during her weekly trips to the grocery store. Otherwise, she would walk or take the bus.
Because people were not able to spend their money on themselves much during this time, Hadley compared it to the pandemic, "where you were making your salary but couldn't spend it." She added that this helped create the high demand for consumer goods after the war.
Handley also said Manchester's population increased from around 24,000 in 1940 to 34,000 in 1950, a 43% increase.
Some of the attendees of the program had personal connections and memories of the time period.
Daniel Kimball recounted how his father was stationed at an inland base on the day of Pearl Harbor, and was staying in a tent outside of the barracks. He was in this tent while the Japanese planes shot at the barracks.
"The Japanese pilots were flying so low that he could see the goggles over their faces," Kimball said.
About Pearl Harbor
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan on December 7, 1941 killed 2,335 military personnel and 103 civilians. More than 300 aircraft were damaged or destroyed, and 19 ships were damaged. However, only three ships were complete losses.
The next day, the U.S. declared war on Japan and joined the effort to defeat the Axis powers that included Japan, Germany, and Italy. About 16.1 million people fought in the war over the next four years.
Dave Smith, the Historical Society's curator who was also in attendance Sunday, gave his recollection of the end of the war.
"I was playing in the front yard of my house and all the church bells in town started ringing. And that was the end of World War II," he said.
Ben covers Coventry and Tolland for the Journal Inquirer.