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Guide to the New-York Historical Society World War II Collection
 MS 672

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
New York, NY 10024
(212) 873-3400

New-York Historical Society

Collection processed by Alison Dundy (2012), with later additions

This finding aid was produced using ArchivesSpace on June 20, 2019
Description is in English. using Describing Archives: A Content Standard

Scope and Contents

The World War II Collection is an "artificial" collection of subject-related materials that were donated by or acquired from a variety of unrelated sources at different times. A group of letters to The New-York Historical Society superintendent Garrett H. Winter from nine employees on active service describe a range of servicemen's war experiences: working as a radar operator in Washington State; guarding prisoners of war in Delaware; serving in India; witnessing surrender in Germany; and hospitalization for "operational fatigue, in other words, nerves."

Other servicemen's experiences are documented in a letter from "Johnnie" to his mother, describing a Navy search and rescue mission off the coast of Iceland for survivors of a ship sunk by a German submarine. The collection includes accounts and artwork by servicemen through V-mail, or Victory-mail, that was a unique form of microfilmed correspondence used during World War II to screen messages and reduce bulk on cargo ships. Correspondents would write on special V-mail letter-sheets, which were then reviewed by military censors and reduced to thumb-nail size on microfilm. The reels were then sent to receiving stations near the addressee where miniature facsimilies of the original V-mail letter sheets were reproduced and delivered.

The experiences of British civilians during the German air raids are also documented in this collection. A group of letters by Edward Tempest from Yorkshire, Britain to American friends were circulated in round robin letters--a wartime penpal exchange sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. Tempest's letters are a vivid portrait of everyday life during the blitz yet were clearly written for a broad public with the purpose of fostering solidarity between British and American civilians.

War-time deprivations, restrictions, and civilian activities to support the war effort are exemplified in numerous documents. The collection includes several ration books and stamps, including one that had been issued to a 12-year-old boy; these are primarily ration book numbers 3 and 4, but there is also a sheet of fuel oil ration stamps from 1942.

The collection also includes an identification card of a hostess of a Stage Door Canteen. Broadway's wartime service organization, the American Theatre Wing sponsored the popular Stage Door Canteens for the exclusive entertainment of uniformed military personnel. There is also a Civil Service Award by the Navy Department for "outstanding performance and loyalty" to the chief of construction on the docks of the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Other items include an exchange of letters regarding the ban on taking photographs in New York Harbor, a war damages insurance policy, and the logistical plan for a 1942 "New York at War" parade in Manhattan.


The collection is arranged in three series:

Series I: New-York Historical Society Employees Letters

Series II: Edward Tempest Letters from Britain

Series III: Other Correspondence and Documents

Folders are arranged alphabetically within series by the name of the correspondent, or alphabetically by format. Correspondence and documents within folders are arranged chronologically.