Special re-enactors came to set up camp at Fort Lee on Saturday, so visitors could see what life as a World War I soldier was like.
FORT LEE — Tri-Cities residents are quite familiar with history of the Civil War, as the region is rich in battlefields and cemeteries from that era. Though on Saturday, volunteers from around Virginia helped bring another earth-shattering conflict to life, as re-enactors, dressed in full World War I era military uniforms, set up camp outside the US Army Women’s Museum at Fort Lee. Visitors got to mingle with the soldiers, as they showed them the equipment they would’ve used, and talked about life in the trenches of Europe.
“I’ve always been interested in World War I because of the technology,” said Warren Clarke, who was dressed as a French soldier. “You start in 1914 with basically the same technology from the Civil War [in 1860], and by 1918 everything had evolved.”
Clarke, along with Steve McGeorge who was dressed as an American soldier, were showing curious onlookers the types of guns soldiers would have used, as well as the gas masks that soldiers used.
The uniforms the re-enactors were wearing were authentic wool uniforms from the war. The wool material was an upgrade from the cotton uniforms in past eras, as the material breathed a lot more easily, and didn’t fall apart in the muddy trenches.
Several re-enactors were also dressed up as “Lassies”, which were women members of the Salvation Army who voluntarily went over to Europe to assist the troops. The Salvation Army’s main objective on the front was to be in charge of transferring the soldiers money back to their families in the U.S. The soldiers were still paid in cash in the field during WWI, and Salvation Army volunteers would make sure their wages would make it back home.
Lassies had a special place in the soldiers’ hearts, as they baked homemade goods like doughnuts and cakes to feed the soldiers and remind them of home.
“When the soldiers found out we were being exposed to the mud and the mustard gas as they were, it endeared us to them,” said Cindy James, who was dressed as Salvation Army Lassie.
In addition to the camps set up, visitors got to see an authentic WWI vehicle, a 1918 Dodge, that was parked outside the museum.
Fort Lee played a big role in America’s preparations for WWI, as the base was commissioned in 1917 as Camp Lee just weeks after the U.S declared war against Germany. Soldiers trained at Fort Lee before being sent over to Europe to aid the allies, who at that point were in a stalemate with the Central Powers (made up of Germany and Austria-Hungary).
• John Adam may be reached at email@example.com or 804-722-5172.