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Edna Ierley-Byrne
(973) 593-3094
(973) 593-3095
(973) 593-4945
Madison Civic Center
28 Walnut Street
Madison, NJ 07940 (map)

LOOKING BACK COLUMN

MADISON’S HOME DEFENSE LEAGUE

    World War I, also known as the Great War, began one hundred years ago on July 2, 1914.  After a German U-boat sunk the RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915 killing 128 Americans, President Woodrow Wilson warned that the United States would not tolerate unrestricted submarine warfare and, in 1917, war on Germany was declared.     
   Meanwhile, back home in Madison, an organization called the Home Defense League was organized. Their armory was in a section of the large brick building on Main Street where the British Home Emporium is now located. The local volunteers donned Army uniforms and patrolled the area around the Madison water pumping station on Station Road, and the water tower on Midwood Terrace to prevent sabotage by the Germans. A pre-planned maneuver was held on a Sunday afternoon in1917. The league was divided into two units: Company A  had the task of defending the waterworks of the borough, and Company B was the attacking force. Reports came in that an “attack” was planned to destroy the water tower, the pumping station and the Samson Avenue bridge which would block the railroad tracks. At the completion of the maneuvers referee Major Hildreth told both units that he felt it was a great success and splendid practice for members of the Home Guard.    
   The possibility of a severe food shortage and higher food prices resulted in the formation of the Home Gardens Committee as part of the Home Guard. “Plant beans and be patriotic” was their slogan. Madison homeowners responded generously and those who desired could apply to the committee to have their property tilled, cultivated and ready forplanting .    Women’s organizations were also formed.  One such group was known as the Woman’s Land Army which took over farm work after the men went to war. Most of them had little experience with agriculture, but eventually they learned how to plow, plant fields, drive tractors and harvest. The “farmerettes” as they were called were paid wages equal to male farm laborers.                                                                                                      On November 11, 1918 at 11:00am, “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month,” an armistice with Germany was signed and the war ended.

                                                                                                                                                                by Helene Corlett