CPS Unit Number 011-01
Unit ID: 1
Operating agency: AFSC
Opened: 6 1941
Closed: 10 1942
CPS Camp No. 11, a Forest Service base camp located in Ashburnham, Massachusetts and operated by the American Friends Service Committee, opened in June 1941 and closed in October 1942. Men cleared fallen trees and debris left by the New England 1937 hurricane and fought fires.
Director: Henry Perry
Nurse: Virginia J. Drury
The men reported from nine states with twenty-six from New York, seventeen of whom were from New York City and surrounding burroughs.
The men at American Friends Service Committee camps tended to constitute the most religiously diverse group of men, including those who declared no religious affiliation when entering CPS. At Ashburnham, of forty-four men, six had reported Friends affiliation, five Congregational, four Methodist, three each Baptist, Jehovah’s Witness and Jewish, two each Episcopal, Evangelical, Pentecostal, Presbyterian or None, and one each Assembly of God, Church of Christ and Hebrew. (Atom May 1942)
The men at Ashburnham had reported a variety of occupations upon entry to CPS including librarian, teacher, student, sales, manufacturing, social work, banking, transportation, radio and journalism, farming, economist, accountant, artist, actor and musician. (Atom May 1942)
Men in Friends camps reported on average 14.27 years of education when entering CPS, with a number reporting graduate and post graduate education. (Sibley and Jacob p. 171)
CPS men cleared fallen trees and debris left by the New England 1937 hurricane. Some men became specialists in telephone maintenance, including repairing lines to ranger stations and stretching new lines for system improvement. Some staffed lookout towers and participated in fire fighting.
At Ashburnham, during the summer the men dug waterholes to serve as fire breaks and fire-fighting water supply. They fought forest fires mostly in spring and fall. In April and the beginning of May 1942, two sixteen person crews “were out of the camp more than 68 hours which were mostly occupied with wet, cold (or hot) arduous and boring work punctuated by periods of strenuous and exciting proximity to blazing infernos. Both Joe Peabody, State Fire Warden, and Dick LaPoint, Camp Project Superintendent, expressed great satisfaction as to the results. . . . So far we’ve had considerable success using water, and all without the waste always entailed by counter-fire.” (Atom p. 5)
During the winter, the men cleared hurricane debris, cut trees and debris along roads not only to prevent fires, but also to produce firewood for use by the camp and the town.
The camp newspaper revealed an active life at Ashburnham. Many men appeared to be aficionados of ping pong replete with tournaments, where the winner was treated with breakfast in bed and relief from dishwashing. A 1942 issue reported that a camper, who had “graduated” from Ashburnham, donated a new net, paddles, and nineteen balls so that the tournament could be revived. (Atom October 1942)
On August 29, 1942, three hundred people attended a one act play put on “by the camp’s best talent. The audience, seated in front of the tool house stage, was huddled under blankets.” The evening included not only the play, but also singing by “a select octet of campers”, refreshments to warm up afterwards, along with community singing and “round and square dancing in the recreation hall”. At the intermission, the men collected an offering of $125 for the Friends Ambulance Unit in China. (Atom October, 1942)
The newspaper included reflective articles written by campers after a few men had left CPS for the armed forces and some for jail. The column “Are We Dodging the War?” written by David E. Swift, Friends CPS educational director stated the challenge. “War is upon the world with bitter grasp. What is the peacemaker to do before the time of binding up the wounds? Does he not have his peculiar torment, and if he does not, has he any right to his exemption from bearing arms? “. . .. Campers George Snyder and Ted Horvath wrote responses. (Atom May 1942, pp. 6 ff.)
Three issues of the newspaper Atom Volume 1 (May through October of 1942) are housed in the Swarthmore Peace collection archives. An Editorial statement in the May, 1942 issue described the title.
The atom is a small world – infinitesimal in size. Yet it is a world filled with enormous power which may someday be utilized to drive ocean liners and turned the wheels of industry.
We in C.P.S. Camp 11 comprise an atom. In our size we are an infinitesimal drop in the population of this country. Yet in our cause of unremitting, individual and group opposition to war and in our attempt to make and spread peace we believe there is an incalculable power which might someday reshape the world. (p. 3)
In the October 1942 issue, the men reflected on the upcoming merger of the AFSC New England small camps into one. They had hoped that the smaller camps would nurture “creative group spirit” while at the same time recognizing that they might prove to be a financial burden per capita. One column assessed the value of the work completed “How Valuable Is”, and another focused on the work the men hoped to do “Our Work Project?” from which an excerpt follows.
. . . Another type of work which would fill a real need is that of helping farmers with their work. This will help relieve the shortage of farm labor, which is becoming more acute, threatening to cause a great loss to some farmers. A further hope is that in working with them we can help build a much needed spirit of cooperation among the farmers which will aid in rehabilitating the farms in this area. W.E.S. & R.S.T. (p. 5)
Atom, Vol. 1:1 (May, 1942) and Vol. 1:3 (October 1942) in the Swarthmore College Peace Collection, American Friends Service Committee: Civilian Public Service Records (DG002), Section 3, Box 3.
For stories from men who, as COs, walked to a different drummer during World War II, see Mary R. Hopkins, Editor, Men of Peace: World War II Conscientious Objectors. Caye Caulker, Belize: Producciones de le Hamaca, 2010, Marshall O. Sutton, pp. 88-95.
For general information on CPS camps and units, see Albert N. Keim, The CPS Story: An Illustrated History of Civilian Public Service. Intercourse, PA: Good Books 1990.
For more information on Forest Service camps in CPS see by Mulford Q. Sibley and Philip E. Jacob, Conscription of Conscience: The American State and the Conscientious Objector, 1940-1947. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1952, pp. 127-130.
Swarthmore College Peace Collection, Camp periodicals database.