WINCHESTER – 75 years ago, residents pitched in to make Winchester “The Town That Went to Town” in aiding national defense. Nov. 29, 1941, was Winchester’s Uproar Day for National Defense, arranged to make the entire town conscious of Defense Bonds and Defense Savings Stamps.
By 1941, though not formally at war, the nation was helping the Allies in Europe. In March 1941, President Roosevelt signed the Lend-Lease Act which allowed allied nations to purchase military equipment and defer payment until after the war. As a result, defense spending soared. That April, the United States issued the first defense bonds and encouraged people to buy them at regular intervals.
Winchester’s Defense Bond Staff headed the local effort and enlisted the cooperation of local organizations and departments. A two-day promotion (which grew to three days) produced sell-out results.
On Thursday, Nov. 27, students at the high school were asked to complete a “home lesson in patriotism” by going house to house to sell at least one 10-cent stamp to homeowners and to raise awareness. The superintendent mapped out the assignments, asking each student to go to four residences within their own neighborhoods. It was reportedly the first effort of its kind by any organized school group in the country.
For Uproar Day itself, a detachment of the Navy, armed with torpedoes, set up headquarters on the common. An Army Jeep was also brought to town, manned by a contingent from Fort Banks in Winthrop. The cost for a ride in the Jeep, quite naturally, was the purchase of bonds or stamps.
At 7 a.m. on Saturday, the church bells were rung for five minutes, followed by a series of 13 blasts (signifying the original 13 colonies) on the fire alarm whistle.
At 7:15, a group of 100 Winchester women wearing victory capes and Uncle Sam hats took their posts at designated street corners to tag everyone they met by selling a stamp.
One woman halted a B&M train in the square, climbed into the cab, and sold stamps to the engineer and fireman. Two others turned the tables on a Metropolitan District Police car. Instead of their being stopped by the police, they stopped the police and sold stamps to the officers.
Having also planned attention-getting students, at 9:30 the Fire and Police Departments swung into action. Firemen climbed ladders to tag workers in upper-story businesses and offices. Instead of issuing tickets, police officers tagged motorists by selling stamps.
At 12:30, the chimes at the Unitarian Church played patriotic music. The Army and Navy contingents were treated to lunch at Horace Ford’s restaurant.
Throughout the day, merchants asked their customers to take at least part of their change in Defense Stamps. The ticket seller at the railroad station did the same. The post office was open to sell stamps. Police Chief William Rogers was the first buyer, purchasing a $25 bond as a Christmas gift for his granddaughter.
Before the day ended, the post office’s entire supply of defense bonds and stamps, including those available from Woburn, were sold out. Winchester earned national recognition for the great success of that day.
One part of the event had to be postponed. An aerial bombardment of about 15,000 leaflets from Army planes, simulating an enemy air attack on the town, was also planned. Due to high winds, gusting up to 70 MPH at the airport, the bombing had to be postponed to the next Saturday when resident Lt. Robert L. Eckert, flying one of the planes and directing five others by radio, swooped down over Winchester just before 3 o’clock and, in a series of spectacular maneuvers, dropped the “bombs” over various sections of town.
Five of the “bombs” were certificates entitling the finders to a $25 Defense Bond. Within a week three youngsters had become the lucky owners of bonds, and two further winners soon claimed their prizes also.
The delay meant that the “bombing” took place on Dec. 6. Just the next day came the shocking news that Pearl Harbor had been horribly bombed in an actual act of war. Hours later residents heard that Japanese planes had also bombed American bases and Manila in the Philippines. Soon the nation declared war, and the idea of a real air attack over the Atlantic coast had become a grim possibility.