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World War I battles, homefront and personal sagas to be explored in Norwich programs

Norwich — The first image that comes to mind about World War I is trench warfare in the fields and forests of France, but the Norwich World War I Memorial Committee this fall hopes to show that the Great War had profound impacts on all aspects of life for millions of people across the globe.

The committee will host a series of programs starting Tuesday and running through October that will touch on everything from trench warfare to personal and family loss, how the war inspired one German artist to demand peace and how it changed the map of the Middle East with repercussions still sounding.

The programs begin with a dig into trench warfare in a free program at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Park Congregational Church, 283 Broadway. Program director Christine Pittsley will describe a project to restore the trenches where Connecticut troops fought and died in 1918.

Pittsley led a project in 2019 that sent 15 Connecticut high school students, including Lillith Davies-Smith of New London, to France to restore the trenches. On Tuesday, Pittsley will describe their work and experience and discuss future plans for the effort.

A week later, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14, also at Park Congregational Church, the committee will bring the war in the Middle East to the forefront, with a program presented by Hamish Lutris, an associate professor at Capital Community College. The war in that region destroyed the Ottoman Empire, redrew national boundaries, created countries out of former provinces and killed millions of men in devastating battles.

“This is a very contemporary issue, one that is very relevant today,” said Dale Plummer, chairman of the Norwich World War I Committee. “We’re most familiar with it because of Lawrence of Arabia. It was a great movie.”

Plummer said Lutris has done extensive work on WWI in the Middle East.

The war drew in troops from all over the world. Vietnamese served in the French army; Sikhs in the British, Canadian and American armies, and Australians and New Zealanders famously died by the thousands at the devastating Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey, Plummer said.

Themes for the series shift to personal loss and determination on Saturday, Sept. 18, and Tuesday, Sept. 21. The committee will host a screening of the 2014 film “Testament of Youth: Vera Brittain – World War I Memoir of a War Nurse.” The film will be shown at 9:30 a.m. at the AMC Classic Lisbon theater at Lisbon Landing on Route 12. Tickets are $10 at the door.

Brittain joined the nursing corps after her fiancé, brother and close friends joined the British army to serve in the war. The film delves into the lives of women and the war’s impact on the British civilian population.

“She became a volunteer nurse to do something to support them,” Plummer said, “to be part of what’s going on, closer in a way to the men she loved.”

Brittain’s story can be paired with the committee’s following program, a free discussion at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 21, at Park Congregational Church on the life and art of German artist, peace activist and Holocaust escapee Kathe Kollwitz. Sept. 21 is International Day of Peace, and Amanda Douberley, assistant curator and academic liaison at the University of Connecticut’s William Benton Museum of Art, will describe how the death of Kollwitz’s son early in the war in 1914 profoundly changed her art and her life.

Kollwitz created posters, sculptures and paintings featuring dramatic facial expressions and poses, including an iconic 1924 poster of a woman shouting, short-cropped hair blown back and one hand thrust in the air, with the words “Nie Wieder Krieg!” — “Never Again War!”

On Oct. 2, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the roles of women and other noncombatants will come to life on the Norwichtown Green with, “From the Home Front to the Western Front,” the reenactment of a field hospital, complete with a re-created World War I ambulance, field hospital staff reenactors and soldiers. Civilian women will knit wool socks and head coverings and roll bandages for the soldiers. Other civilians will depict life on the home front.

Other programs are in the works for October, including a discussion led by Sinmit Singh on Oct. 5 on the Sikhs’ participation in World War I and a program Oct. 26 by Stephen O’Shea on the war in the brutal weather conditions of the Italian Alps.

“We want to show more about the war, not just the Western front,” Plummer said, “but what was happening at home too. We want people to understand just how much this involved everyone. If you were living in America in 1918, one way or another, you were involved in this war.”

c.bessette@theday.com

If you go

The Norwich World War I Committee will host several programs in September and October.

Tuesday, Sept. 7: 7 p.m., Park Congregational Church, 283 Broadway, Norwich: Digging into History: WWI trench restoration in Seicheprey, France, where Connecticut soldiers fought and died. Admission free.

Tuesday, Sept. 14: 7 p.m., Park Congregational Church, 283 Broadway, Norwich: The Middle East and World War I.” Admission free.

Saturday, Sept. 18: 9:30 a.m., AMC Classic cinema, Lisbon Landing, Route 12, Lisbon: Screening of 2014 film, “Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain, World War I Memoir of a War Nurse.” Tickets $10 at the door.

Tuesday, Sept. 21: 7 p.m., Park Congregational Church, 283 Broadway, Norwich: Kathe Kollwitz: Activism through Art. Admission free.

Saturday, Oct. 2: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., Norwichtown Green, Norwich: “From the Home Front to the Western Front,” field hospital re-enactment with a WWI ambulance and depictions of wartime home front activities. Admission free.

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