William Emanuel Richardson, front row far left, without a hat. He’s with the 313 Machine Gun Battalion, shipboard on the Mercury, on his way to France in 1918. The officer sitting next to him, Lt. Parsons was killed in the Meuse Argonne fighting.
Presenter William F. Richardson is the son of William Emanuel Richardson, who served in the Great War. Richardson will read and interpret his father’s journal entries in a dramatic presentation that demonstrates the realities of the WWI experience. Richardson is a Berks County native and now lives in Golden, CO. Richardson grew up in Berks, attending Wyomissing School District and graduating from a private boarding School in 1958. He attended Princeton Universtiy, American University and completed his graduate studies at Penn State & University of Massachusetts. Richardson worked for ten years as the Assistant Director for the Reading Redevelopment Authority and served 26 years as the Executive Director of Berks Community Action Program. Richardson used his father’s diaries to develop an 8 session course on the history of WWI with the OLLI program in Golden last winter, and participated in several sessions at Red Rocks Community College for their WWI day commemoration/celebration last spring.
Richardson’s father, William Emanuel Richardson was born in Berks County in 1886. He was actually born in the building that today is the Daniel Boone homestead . Within the next couple of years the family moved to Bernville where William spent his childhood years. Growing up in Bernville meant that, like most of the population, he was bilingual. The Penna. German dialect, although not the language of the Richardson household, was spoken by many in the village and surrounding farmlands as their first language, and William and his brothers were fluent.
The Richardson’s were not a farming family. Charles, the father, ran a successful creamery/dairy business with branches in several nearby villages. William often had responsibilities in the family business, especially when on break during his college years.
College was a very formative time in his life. The Richardsons, unusual for a family in Bernville, sent all four sons to college. William was Princeton, Class of 1910. A trip to Europe in 1914 opened the way to an extraordinarily, comprehensive, and uniquely personal experience of World War I. Each year, from 1914 through 1919, he was directly engaged in some important aspect of the war. After his 1914 adventures when war broke out, he went back to France in 1915 as a volunteer driving an ambulance with the American Field Service. In 1916, like General Pershing, he rode with a cavalry unit on the Mexican border searching for Pancho Villa. He immediately enlisted in the army in 1917 when America entered the war, and after completing an officer’s training program was commissioned as a 2nd Lietenant in the Cavalry. He spent frustrating months state side training troops in Virginia, in 1918 he saw combat in France at Amiens, St. Mihel and the Meuse Argonne. After the Armistice he served in the Army of Occupation in Germany. Having realized early on that the cavalry was a poor choice for military advancement, he had managed to transfer to a machine gun unit. His combat experience in France was with the 313 Machine Gun Batallion. He received a promotion to 1st Lieutenant while under fire in France.
William’s extensive diaries and writings during this period reveal a profound patriotism, a hopeful idealism, and a keen understanding of the context and background of events as they unfolded. They also reveal a young man’s search for both adventure, and romance. They constitute, not a memoir, but a record of immediate experiences and observations. In the modern vernacular, this is World War One “in real time”. It is a very American story.
This Second Saturday program is part of Berks History Center’s Day Long Celebration of the 100 Year Anniversary of Armistice Day. Berks History Center will host a day of programs, marking the finale of BHC’s year-long WWI & Berks commemoration project.