Saturday, September 18, 2010

Young Historians 1940s Spotter Planes/Cavendish in WWII

The Young Historians will meet this coming week for the first time this school year. Below is the letter each student receives as well as information about Cavendish during WWII. If you have information about this time period, please e-mail it to

September 22, 2010

Dear Young Historians:

Welcome back. This year we will be studying the 1940’s in Cavendish. The first half of the year, we will be doing things that from World War II.

Today’s project is to learn how the children of Cavendish helped to spot airplanes that might have flown over our town. You will be given a deck of “spotter cards.” We will show you how to play the card game “War.” This was how children and adults learned the different type of airplanes.

Cavendish was at risk for being bombed by Germany because it was close to Springfield Vermont. Springfield made things used in the war. Three “spotter towers” were set up in Cavendish. Children would go with their Mom’s, Dad’s and grandparents to watch for planes.

The next time we meet, we will try spotting planes and reporting what we fine. So play “War” with your friends and family.

We are in need of milkweed pods. Please collect them and bring them the next time we meet.

Below is information about Cavendish during Word War II. Ask your family if they have any war stories that you can tell at our next meeting.


• Residents of Cavendish listened to the radio for news. Many farm families did not have electricity and used their car batteries to connect their radios.

• 168 men and one woman served in the 1941-45 period. Imogene Baxendale served as an Army nurse. Six men were killed in action and several were wounded. They served in every branch of the armed services and in nearly every area where American soldiers, sailors and flyers were sent.

• Gay Brothers Mill signed a union contract with Local 261 of the Textile Workers Union of America, CIO affiliate.

• Proctor Reel and Shook company moved its machinery from New Jersey into the old Black Bear Mill in Proctorsville and employed about 50 people. The company made, among other items, the large wooden reels for electric or telephone wire.

• There were classes on how to spot enemy planes, rules for air raid drills, blackouts, a Red Cross War Drive and Springfield machine shops would now train women for the workforce.

• Civil Defense was very active. Residents were telephoned and told the date of air raid drills (black outs). Streetlights were turned off at the scheduled time. Anyone outside was to take cover inside. Those in their homes were instructed to pull down the blinds on their windows and keep the light inside to a minimum. People in cars were to pull over and find shelter in the nearest building. The idea was that enemy planes couldn't target what they couldn't see, and that any light visible from above could attract bombs and gunfire. Drills were held regularly, with air raid wardens patrolling the villages and farms to make sure that lights were out and shades were drawn.

• Springfield was considered a high-risk area for bombing by the Germans. Since Cavendish housed many of the workers for the Springfield factories, as well as being the home to Gay Brother’s Woolen Mills, the area was also concerned to be at risk. After the war, when the German list of where to bomb in the United States was found, Springfield was not only in the top 10 sites, but ranked number 6.

Three “spotter” towers for aircraft were set up in Cavendish:
- School Hill, above the Duttonsville School,
- Across from Moonlite Meadows Farm (Ting’s Farm), on what is now known as East Road
- At the end of what is now called Blood Terrace off of Maple Street in Proctorsville.

These were manned by volunteers for two-hour shifts, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Women, high school students, and men not in the service helped with spotting. They had to learn to identify both friendly and enemy airplanes. Every plane that flew over had to be reported. They used high-powered binoculars. All of the spotting towers were made of wood. Walls were lined with identification charts.

• School children collected milkweed for the war effort. The milkweed silk was used for life vests.

• Rationing began in 1942. Sugar, meat, butter, lard and coffee were the main foods rationed. Sugar and butter were not big issues for farm families who could rely on their chickens and maple syrup. Gasoline rationing went into effect, causing many Cavendish residents to travel to Rutland by train,. Tires were also in short supply.

• Defense savings stamps were sold to school children and rallies were held to sell war bonds.

• Drives were held to collect scrap iron and rubber . Red Cross Home Nursing Classes and Civil Defense meetings were held in addition to the meetings of the Farmers’ Clubs, the Sunshine Society and the Home Demonstration Club.

• Gay Brothers was described as “the chief war industry of our town where 300 people worked producing 30,000 yards of woolen blankets, Navy uniform cloth and Khaki flannels each week for the United States Government. 37% of the workers served in the military. In need of workers, women worked in the mills, many men had second jobs there and all high school students over 16 were asked to work at the mill whenever possible.

• In 1942, the town voted to exempt every soldier and sailor from taxes.

• Cavendish women made surgical dressings for the Red Cross and people were taken to Springfield to donate blood.

• In 1943, a victory garden show was held at the Opera House (now Crows Corner Bakery).

•In 1944, the Cavendish Sunshine Society voted not to serve the Town Meeting lunch because of rationing and lack of help.

• On April 10, 1945, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited Chester High School, which some Cavendish students attended. She came to thank them for giving up their junior year trip and use the money for the war effort. It was on her way home from Chester, and other speaking engagements that Mrs. Roosevelt learned that her husband, President Roosevelt, had died.

• By 1945, there were few young men left in Cavendish, as most enlisted when they turned 17.

• When the war ended in Europe V-E day, May 8, the celebration was subdued. However, when V-J Day (Japan’s surrender) came, August 14, Mill whistles and church bells were sounded from about 7 pm until midnight.

• Rationing was lifted in August 1945.

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