Roles of area's Poles, Italians in WWI explored

Published on Tuesday, 28 November 2017 22:29
Written by Charles Paullin

Staff Writer

NEW BRITAIN - It was a battle that left a mark on Connecticut’s psyche.

The World War I Battle of Seicheprey was one of the first American engagements of the war, and saw over 70 Connecticut soldiers killed, about 450 wounded and about 150 taken prisoner, said Christine Pittsley, project director for the Remembering World War One Community Archiving Project.

“There were many men from New Britain killed that morning. There were Italians killed, Polish killed, there were all sorts of really brave men killed that morning,” Pittsley said.

She said men from Bristol and New Haven were sent to the trenches, without reinforcements, when the Germans began an attack on the French town at 3 a.m.

Pittsley was the final speaker in a lineup that recently opened the Cross-Culture Courage: Connecticut’s Response to World War 1 exhibit at the Elihu Burritt Library at Central Connecticut State University.

Focusing on Italian and Polish contributions during the war, the exhibit features uniforms of the solders who enlisted in the United States, Italian and Polish armies, along with personal care items, written letters, and more from soldiers hailing from Connecticut.

“If you wanted to fight for Poland and there was no Poland, what do you do?” Mieczyslaw B. Biskupski, a CCSU history professor, said, explaining that before the war, Poland had not been an official nation for just over 100 years, due to conflict with Russia and Austria.

“Well, you somehow get to Poland and volunteer to do something,” he continued, noting that a Polish man from Meriden was probably one of the first to do this after forging papers in New York to travel back to Poland.

He said not many Poles were able to do this, as they shared German and Austrian heritage, making them enemy aliens at the time and liable to be arrested.

Carl Antucci Jr., director of library services at Elihu Burritt Library, and Kenneth DiMaggio, professor of humanities at Capital Community College, spoke on the Italian history.

“There was a lot of conflict when America entered (the war) with ‘Which side do you sign up and fight for?’ ” said Antucci of Italian-Americans when America joined the war. Italy was desperate for soldiers, as many of their men had emigrated to the United States.

Whichever country Italian-Americans chose to fight for, “it helped the Italians at this time to gain acceptance and Americanize in this country by showing they were patriotic by going back to fight,” he added.

Pittsley also noted that Connecticut’s Sgt. Stubby, which she called the most decorated war dog, will have a movie made about him, to be released in April 2018.

“I really didn’t get a lot of information from him,” said New Britain resident Mary Tierney of her father, who served in the war but died when she was 14, unable to share stories of his efforts to her. “It’s nice to be able to find out more stuff.” Tierney of is Polish descent.

“I didn’t have anyone in my family serve, but it’s nice to know of the collective culture in response to the war,” said Cecilia Gigliotti, a CCSU graduate student of Italian descent. “A lot of my friends are Polish, as is the surrounding area, so it’s nice to know their efforts, too.”

“We’ve heard about them, but never actually seen some of them,” said Peter Tragni, one of the lead exhibitors, of the rare uniforms on display.

The exhibit runs until Dec. 15.

Charles Paullin can be reached at 860-801-5074 or On Twitter: @CPaullinNBH.

Posted in New Britain Herald, , New Britain on Tuesday, 28 November 2017 22:29. Updated: Tuesday, 28 November 2017 22:32.