As the centennial commemorations of World War I come to a close, we’ve been working to develop two class sessions focused on the local impact of the war. As a result, we’ve been digging into our biographical files on students from the period to track down hidden stories of Amherst students that went off to war.
As soon as the United States entered the conflict, the Alumni Council of Amherst College established a Committee on War charged with requesting information and updates from alumni who had served. Questionnaires sent out were almost universally returned, demonstrating a desire on the part of the alumni to remain connected to the College community and to accurately reflect their service during the war. The Archives’ student biographical files cannot capture the full extent of personal experiences in the war – but the files do provide enough detail to show the hardships faced overseas. In this blog post we present a selection of materials from the class of 1914. These materials present an interesting challenge for researchers. In the face a vast amounts of raw historical data, how do we begin to make sense of it all? And how do we begin to track down loose threads presented in the primary source?
We’ll end with Merrill S. Gaunt (AC 1914), whose diary is pictured above. After graduating Amherst College, Gaunt attended Andover Theological Seminary before volunteering for the ambulance service in France in January 1916. He was in service at the start of the Battle of Verdun but succumbed to cerebrospinal meningitis. He died in the hospital in Bar-le-Duc, France, April 3, 1916. The Amherst College archives holds his diary for this period. Though only in the war for three months, Gaunt’s brief journal entries offer glimpses into the cruelties of war.
The diary also includes his Gaunt’s last entry, written in French: