Beacon Street Diary blog

Collection Highlight: World War I and II patches

by William McCarthy, Processing and Reference Archivist

While the staff of the CLA have been working from home, we have continued to remain engaged with our collections even while separated from them. These posts will highlight some of our smaller, relatively unused collections. Please note that the collections highlighted are not available online unless otherwise noted.

Today’s collection is a bit different from the others I have highlighted previously. As a library with a long and rich history, we have collections that arrived in our care with minimal information about its origins and history. While it is disappointing to find items like this, part of my job as the processing archivist is to take these “mysteries” and illuminate them for our patrons. While searching for different items in our stacks I came across a box that had no labels or identifying information. Upon looking inside, I found the subject of today’s highlight: a scrapbook filled with World War 1 and 2 patches.

When dealing with a collection that has minimal information, it is imperative to scour the items for anything you can use to identify it. The scrapbook does contain a note on its opening page that it was created and filled by “First Church” but contains no information about a town or state. This means that I am unable to provide context but does not stop me from having the collection processed properly so it could be viewed by our patrons.

The patches themselves are in remarkable condition and involve nearly all branches of the U.S. military. The scrapbook is divided into 5 sections: Air Forces, Navy, Marines, Civilians and CoastGuard. The Air Forces section is further divided into Ground Forces, Air Forces and Service Forces. Each page contains between 4-10 patches, with the name and rank of the officer underneath. Some of the patches indicate divisions, such as the 101st Infantry Division, 2nd Armored Division and more. Also included would be patches that appear to designate specific roles, such as Malaria Control, Storekeeper, Water Purification and more. The last section of patches I wanted to highlight were ones for civilians helping with the war effort. Examples from this section include War Correspondent, Hospital Recreation, Women's Emergency Farm Service and Women’s Land Army. Finally, I separated out two pins that were loose on the final pages. They are the Army Physical Therapy Aide Pin and the Coast Guard Lieutenant's Insignia. This scrapbook is a remarkable piece of history and shows that wherever this “First Church” was located, the members were highly active during the two World Wars.

If you have any interest in viewing this collection once the library reopens, or you have any other CLA related questions, do not hesitate to reach out to us at ref@14beacon.org. Stay safe and have a great day!