Growing up in Bristol during World War II

A collection of World War II era items, including uniforms, pictures, and news clippings were on display during a discussion last week at the Memorial Military Museum. The exhibit will run all month.

Those that were alive during the era of World War II gathered at the Memorial Military Museum this month at the Bristol Historical Society to compare their lives back then to now. The event was called, ‘We Were Just Kids: Growing Up During WWII’. The discussion centered on the period of time from Sept. 1, 1939, through Sept. 2, 1945. Hitler had invaded Poland, and then France and Britain declared war on Germany.  The United States entered the war in 1941.

The discussion was led by Bernie O’Keefe, a volunteer of the museum, and historical society member. There was talk about how people had to ration coupons, gas, and save everything such as foil, and even fat and grease because the glycerin was used to make bombs, so people would bring their grease and fat to the grocery store. They’d trade if for change.

“A lot of collecting,” said O’Keefe. “Not everything was useful, but they wanted everyone to be included, and feel like they were contributing.”

The women at the time would knit scarves—blue for the navy, and brown for the army. There was a stocking factory on Riverside Avenue that made hosiery for the servicemen. To recognize the women who served, there was mention of seeing about getting a monument built in Bristol for the women who served.

One attendee of the event who was a former classmate of O’Keefe’s recalled when he had arrived to the United States from Lithuania in 1949, when he was in the sixth grade. He didn’t speak any English, and his family was on a list to be exiled to Siberia. He had an aunt that lived in Bristol, and was in a displaced person’s camp before arriving in Bristol, so that his family wouldn’t have to go back to Lithuania during the Russian raid. “He really lived the American dream,” said O’Keefe.

President of the military museum, Mike Thomas said that the museum is important to have around because people need to have knowledge about history. “The kids of today, they’re not getting their history; they don’t know about WWII, and everything that happened,” said Thomas. “Down on the Boulevard we have a huge monument. I could stand there on any given day, and as people stop at that stop sign, I could ask them about this monument. I think nine out of 10 will say it’s for a war, but they don’t even really know what that monument is there for, so it’s important that we keep the history of Bristol, the men and women who served, keep it going.”

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