The Stars and Stripes, America’s storied armed forces newspaper, began its World War I (WWI) run in February 1918, by order of General Pershing, leader of the American Expeditionary Force. (The first military publication entitled Stars and Stripes was published during the American Civil War, by federal soldiers – some of them printers and newsmen – who found an abandoned printing office and began issuing a paper. It’s a pretty amazing story, and there’s even a museum/library commemorating the publication in Bloomfield, Missouri).
In WWI, the Stars and Stripes was published by the U.S. Army for its troops in France. For the first time in our nation’s history, America had mobilized millions of its troops to foreign soil. Communication was deemed vital. Issues of the paper were printed in France, on borrowed presses, and were distributed by trains, automobiles and motorcycles to American “doughboys.” The WWI edition of The Stars and Stripes was published through June 13, 1919.
American forces were deployed across the Western Front. Units were sometimes combined with the troops of our European allies (including units of soldiers from Britain, France and Italy). One goal of The Stars and Stripes was to provide a new, quickly mobilized and scattered army with a sense of common purpose and unity. Another goal was to provide information about what was occurring on the home front. A weekly publication, the newspaper’s eight-pages were packed with news from the home front. nationally known journalists pitched in to help write pieces. Per the Library of Congress, “At the peak of its production, The Stars and Stripes had a circulation of 526,000 readers.” The newspaper was cherished by soldiers; it still is.
Consider this: 526,000 readers. And during the same year – per contemporary sources – America reportedly had 5,285,000 Liberty/Victory gardens.
The battlefront is the flip side of the home front, and I was not surprised to find articles about the Liberty/Victory Gardening efforts on the home front in a military publication. In fact, gardens were sometimes a feature of military bases (for example, American recruits cultivated potatoes at the sprawling Camp Dix, in New Jersey). Even the rear trenches in some places sported food-producing gardens. Gardens were also used at military hospitals, not only for food, but to provide therapy for wounded soldiers.
I’ve included an image in this piece. It’s a photo of an article about the success of the Liberty/Victory Garden, as reported by the National War Garden Commission’s Chair, Charles Lathrop Pack, to a reporter from The Stars and Stripes. Pack was an interesting fellow and the national gardening program was wildly successful…so much so that it was reintroduced as the Victory Garden effort in World War II, shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. It remains one of our nation’s most iconic home front mobilization efforts.