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Welcome to the Kenneth Spencer Research Library blog! As the special collections and archives library at the University of Kansas, Spencer is home to remarkable and diverse collections of rare and unique items. Explore the blog to learn about the work we do and the materials we collect.

World War I Pen Pals

November 9th, 2012

This Sunday, November 11, is Veterans Day, and in honor of this we thought we would highlight a recent acquisition:  a group of letters that record one soldier’s World War I experiences in Europe.  The letters were written during 1915-1919  by Hector C. Henderson, who served as a private (later promoted to corporal) in the 1st Wellington Company, New Zealand Expeditionary Force.  Henderson, who was then in his early 30s, was writing to an American pen pal, Mae Josephine Gillette (born in about 1890),  who lived in Winsted, Connecticut. Henderson, who may have come from Australia (in June 1889 The Traralgon Record, Victoria, mentions a Hector C. Henderson, jun.), had worked as a railroad telegraph operator and clerk in New Zealand before the war. Writing first from New Zealand and later from England, France and Germany, Henderson filled 41 letters (237 pages) and 2 postcards with his observations about the horrors of  World War I.

Photograph of Hector C. Henderson (right) and unidentified man.

Photograph of Mae Josephine Gillette of Winsted, CT

Pen pals during World War I:  (top) Hector C. Henderson of New Zealand (figure on right by “x”) and
(bottom) Mae Josephine Gillette of Winsted, CT.  Henderson-Gillette World War I Collection.
(Recent Acquisition–call number to be assigned). Click to enlarge.

The first letter, sent from New Zealand in 1915, is written in shorthand (Gregg method). Henderson and Gillette had probably become acquainted through the Gregg shorthand pen-pal club that Henderson had joined in 1913 (The Gregg Writer, vol. 15:1912-1913). A 1916 letter cautions that shorthand letters won’t pass military censorship. The rest of the correspondence, written in pen or pencil on a variety of papers, is in ordinary cursive script. By 1918 Henderson reported that he was sick of war: “Saw a couple of Hun planes brought down…One of them was in flames when falling…this continual bombardment gets on my nerves…I’m writing this in my dug out & shells are screeching overhead. God how I wish it were all over.” In November 1918, the month when the war ended, he mentions his engagement to an English girl, and the correspondence ends in 1919. Hector’s letters must have been kept by Mae. A group of family photographs show Mae as an infant (1891), girl (age 12), and young woman (once with her parents and once alone). She may later have married Benjamin J. Wood of Millinocket, Maine, whose photograph is in the collection, along with a photograph of 2-year-old Mae Gillette Wood (their daughter?) holding a teddy bear.

Image of the first page of a letter from Henderson to Gillette in shorthand   Image of first page of letter from Henderson to Gillette, May 16, 1915

Left:  The first letter in the collection, a letter from Hector Henderson to Mae Gillette in shorthand (Gregg Method).
Right: A letter from Henderson to Gillette explaining that he can no longer write in shorthand since it won’t pass the
military censor.  Henderson-Gillette World War I Collection.(Recent Acquisition–call number to be assigned).
Click images to enlarge to legible size.


Karen S. Cook
Special Collections Librarian

A Kansas Soldier Abroad: 105 Years Ago Today

September 14th, 2012

Wint Smith Diary--September 13-14, 1917

Wint Smith Diary--September 14-15, 1917

Diary of Lieutenant Wint Smith, September 12, 1917 – May 10, 1918, open to the entries for September 13-15, 1917.
Wint Smith Papers, Call Number: RH MS C55. Click images to enlarge to a readable size.

Lt. Smith, from Mankato, Kansas, kept this diary while serving with the American Expeditionary Forces in England and France during World War I. The diary, which begins with Smith’s departure from New York City aboard a troop ship, the “Mongolia,” is quite detailed and anecdotal. The diary ends with an entry for May 10, 1918, while Smith is convalescing from a knee operation.

Snapshot of Lt. Wint Smith, 1917   Image of cover of Wint Smith's Diary for 1917-1918

Left: Snapshot of Lt. Smith on ship crossing the Atlantic, 1917. Wint Smith Papers–Photographs,
RH MS-P 201: Box 2, Folder 7; Right: the cover of his Diary from September 12, 1917 – May 10, 1918,
Wint Smith Papers, Call Number: RH MS C55.

Sheryl Williams
Curator of Collections / Kansas Collection Curator