Harry was born in Hartford Hospital in 1925, and has lived and worked in Manchester most
of his life. Despite Manchester’s growth, Harry notes some of its “small town” connections over the years:
• When he began his 35-year career in the Manchester school system, he taught in the same classroom that his mother taught in: Room 15M in the "old high school" at the south end of Main Street.
• He knew both prior owners of the Scarborough Road House where he lived for 36 years, and the next owner too.
• When Harry moved into The Arbors a while back, he discovered he was “mildly related” to three people there.
Susan Barlow: Could you tell me about your recollections of the Depression?
Harry Maidment: The Depression didn’t hit my family as bad as it did many. My father worked for Cheney Brothers as an accountant.
In 1933, his pay was cut in half. Then it was cut in half again. Then they abolished his department, and he was out on the street. I just vaguely remember it. I would have been only eight years old.
He was one of the fortunate ones. In a couple of months he got a job as an accountant at the state Comptroller’s Office. The Deputy Comptroller, Bob Smith, lived around the corner from us. I’m sure he helped my father get the job.
I imagine during those couple of months when he was out of work he was worried, but we didn’t go on Welfare or any of that kind of thing, as so many people had to.
Cheney Brothers went to pot in the early 1930s. It picked up again during the War, with the Pioneer Parachute Company, but that folded in the 1950s. My father worked there, my wife worked, my father-in-law worked there. You either worked at Cheney Brothers, for the most part, or you worked for something like the school system, which was kind of sponsored by Cheney Brothers.
Cheney Brothers built all the schools in South Manchester, and rented them to the Town for a dollar a year. When Cheneys went broke in 1935, they had to dump the schools on the Town. All of a sudden, people who’d been paying practically nothing for property taxes, had to pay taxes that went way up, at a time when a lot of them were out of work.
S.B.: Did your family come from Manchester?
H.M.: No. My mother, Mary Seymour, came from Suffield. Her father was a tobacco farmer. She and her sister, who was a year older, both went to the New Britain Normal School. It took two years to become an elementary school teacher. Students from the Normal School would come to the Ninth District in Manchester to do their practice teaching.
My mother moved to Manchester and started teaching third or fourth grade around 1915 or 1916.
My father was born in 1892 in Glen Cove, NY, and came to Manchester in 1915 to work at Cheney Brothers.
S.B.: Do you know how your parents met?
H.M.: There used to be dances for the single school teachers at Teachers Hall near the old high school. That’s probably where they met.
S.B.: So, during the 1930s, where were you and your family living?
H.M.: 99 Robert Road, a nice house. My father built that house in 1927, and he put all his money into it. It had a big mortgage, of course. But we didn’t have a car – didn’t get one until our 1931 Chevrolet. We didn’t have a refrigerator – L.T.Wood Company brought ice in blocks for the ice box. We didn’t have a radio. I think he sacrificed that type of thing to have the house.
He was fortunate to get the State job, and not lose his home. But others in the neighborhood up there weren’t so fortunate. People all over Manchester lost their homes on account of the Depression. We knew a family, the Mansfields, who lost their farm, and the father committed suicide. There’s no one left of that family.
S.B.: You were going to elementary school at that time?
H.M.: Yes, at Highland Park School.
Sometimes we’d have two grades in the same classroom. In the first and second grade, we had Mrs. Wallett. I remember we had these little moveable chairs, and there was one kid who raised hell all the time. The teacher used to push that kid around on the chair. She’d get so mad at him for acting up. That was Harvey Oliver, poor guy. He got killed in the Battle of the Bulge.
When I was about five or six years old, I remember sitting up on the hill out in the back of the school, to watch a dirigible. I’m not sure which dirigible it was – either the German Graf Zeppelin, or the American dirigible, the Los Angeles. It went up the Connecticut valley. About five years later, we did the same thing, and saw the Hindenberg.
My father used to take me to the Thanksgiving Day Road Race. I’ve been going for about 70 years – I only missed two or three of them. Starting around 1931, when we got our first car, we’d go down to Highland Park School and sit on the bank there. We’d watch the ten or fifteen runners come by. Then, we’d hop in the car, and go to the finish line. It was different from the 10,000 that run the race today.
S.B.: Can you tell me about produce trucks that used to come around to the neighborhoods?
H.M.: Yes, we had those when I was little. There was a fellow by the name of Henry Weir, who had a horse and wagon, if I’m correct. He used to come around when we lived on Robert Road. We had milk delivered too, it came by horse and wagon. Ice was delivered, too.
S.B.: Tell me about how you went from high school into World War II.
H.M.: I was drafted for World War II at eighteen. I turned eighteen in May, and I knew I was going to go into the service. It was 1943, and if you were eighteen and all in one piece, you were going to go in the service. I graduated from high school in June, and I was able to spend the summer at Camp Pioneer, a Boy Scout camp in Winsted.
I was drafted on the 3rd of September. Clara (Turkington) Wallett was the head of Manchester’s Draft Board. You couldn’t object to being drafted by her – she had six boys, and the four oldest were in the war. The two youngest weren’t old enough.
Manchester had a population then of about 25,000 people. They were drafting a hundred men a month. About half the people who were drafted were young kids like me, who just turned eighteen. The other half were married men with children, who had previously been deferred. Most of those people, the older guys in their thirties, the “old men,” [laughter] they’re all dead, to the best of my knowledge.
S.B.: How did they pick those hundred men a month? Did they draw tickets?
H.M.: Back when the draft started, people had numbers, and they were picked by numbers. By the time I was old enough, you just went. There had to be something awfully wrong with you not to go. When they were hauling in men in their thirties, with children, there was hardly anyone who wasn’t drafted. If you hadn’t enlisted before you turned eighteen, you were drafted automatically. You just took it for granted in 1943.
S.B.: What about the engineers at Pratt and Whitney?
H.M.: Yes, but they weren’t eighteen-year-old kids.
Here at The Arbors about half the men are World War II veterans. And the other half were probably five or six years older. They’d graduated from college, and if they graduated in Engineering, they were worth more to the war effort at Pratt and Whitney or other defense industries, than they were worth as soldiers and sailors.
S.B.: After you were drafted, what was the protocol and the training?
H.M.: At that time, I went to Fort Devens. They took the young guys and put them into the Army Specialized Training Program, A.S.T.P.
This was the peak of the Navy program. It’s one of the reasons they stopped enlistments – the Navy was getting the brighter kids into the Navy V-12 Program, which I tried for, but I couldn’t pass the eye test.
I went to basic training in the infantry at Fort Benning, Georgia. Then while I was at Cornell University, in the A.S.T.P., there were so many people getting killed in Europe, that they did away with the A.S.T.P.
After bouncing around a bit, I ended up in the 790th Field Artillery Battalion, training at Camp Forest, Tennessee. From there, we went to Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Then we went to the point of embarkation in Boston, in January of ’45, to go to Europe, which was being hit hard.
S.B.: Were there other Manchester kids with you in those travels?
H.M.: No. There was one guy from Manchester, whom I didn’t know. An Artillery Battalion has about 700-800 men. I was in the Headquarters Battery.
They came from all over the country. It was like those movies where you have the Infantry Company, and the Artillery Battery – people of every nationality, religion, from every state. Of course, no blacks – it was segregated then. You never saw a black – except loading trucks, and that kind of work. They let them do that, but they wouldn’t let them fight. Crazy nonsense, but that was segregation.
In the 790th Field Artillery Battalion, I was a “wire man.” I used to climb up the trees, because I was a young punk, and these old guys (in their thirties) couldn’t climb as fast as I could. I’d climb, and put the wire up. I was with that outfit for most of the war.
Our outfit went to the European Theater in January ’45, just about the time the Bulge was over. We ran eight-inch Howitzers, the damn things are bigger than this room. This was about the time the push was going on, and the Rhineland was occupied. We sat in France doing nothing for two months. Then we went into Germany on the first of April, which I always remember because it was April Fool’s Day and Easter Sunday, both on the same day. As we went through Maastricht in the Netherlands the church bells were ringing.
We went up to the Rhine. The war was almost over. We got credit for two or three weeks of combat duty, but it wasn’t much of a battle, because the only German soldiers were on the other side of the Rhine River. We fired across the river at Dusseldorf.
Then we went down to the city of Cologne. It’s unimaginable if you haven’t seen it. The destruction was almost complete. It had been a city of a million people, and there was nobody there.
Our guns were set up in a campus quadrangle at the University of Cologne. This university had been beautiful, but there were books and scientific equipment lying in the mud, kaput (as they say in German). We fired across the river. We stayed there for several days. We were on the Rhine side of what they called the Ruhr pocket, with another American army in the north, and another in the south. They closed in, closing the “pocket.” Then we were sent back as security guards in the Rhineland for a couple of months. After that, we went to Bavaria, in the American occupation zone.
Then, they activated us to go to the Japanese war. We went up to a staging area in northern France, and that’s where we were when they dropped the atomic bomb. So the necessity of sending us to the Pacific didn’t exist any more. We stayed there for a while. They broke the outfit up, and at the end of the war I was at the Switzerland Leave Center, on the border of Switzerland and France. I got out of the army in April ’46.
S.B.: Were any of your mates killed?
H.M.: I knew a number of people killed in the war, yes, but not in the outfit I was in. We had one casualty, and that was all. A guy ran over a mine in a Jeep, and he was killed. I didn’t know this him personally.
I knew the people killed in my high school class – about ten guys. There’s a list at the High School of the ones who served in war – a fantastic number of people for a small city.
S.B.: So, in 1946, you came back to Robert Road. Can you tell me how that felt after being in Germany?
H.M.: Aah, you’re young, you bounce with the punches. But I didn’t have anybody shot down next to me – that kind of thing. People who went through heavy combat like that, the war affects them a lot more than it does those of us who kind of “put in their time.” We didn’t have any choice in the matter. We went where we were sent.
After the war, I came back here, went to college, Yale, class of 1950.
S.B.: Did you use the GI Bill?
H.M.: Oh, yes, completely.
I didn’t know what the heck I wanted to do. I majored in history, because I like history. What do you do with a history major? Teach school! That’s what I ended up doing. I took some education courses, and when I graduated from college, I went to the University of Connecticut in the summer, to take the required education courses.
I took practice teaching at Manchester High School in the fall of ’50.
Larry Leonard, a teacher at the high school, was a Reserve Officer. When the Korean War started to go bad in 1951, he was called back with about a week’s notice. So Edson Bailey, the principal of the high school, had to get somebody to replace him. They called me up and I took the job. I never worked for anybody else. I was originally hired on a substitute basis, but as enrollments increased in the next couple of years, they made me a full-time teacher.
I taught for six years at the building down on Main Street. I moved to the Guidance Department full-time when the new high school was built in 1956 up on Middle Turnpike.
S.B.: What about the racial make-up of Manchester?
H.M.:There were about two or three black families. A story from when I was a guidance counselor:
I had some forms from the Federal government. They wanted to know what percentage of white students and black students went on the college. I figured it out – about a third of our white kids; 100 percent of our black kids. Yeah, the one black kid we had went to college!
Dick Cobb, a gym teacher, was a Manchester native. He lived out on Hillstown Road. He wasn’t getting a job – a college graduate, and they wouldn’t give him a job until “old guard” retired. That’s the story I got anyway.
S.B.: So there was discrimination?
H.M.: Of course there was. Ray Rogers became the principal, and he hired Dick Cobb, the first black teacher at the high school. Dick’s son went to college, so 100 percent of our black graduates went to college! That’s what you can do with statistics.
S.B.: What about women? Were women discriminated against in employment?
H.M.: During the Depression, women who got married were fired. They had no union protection. And they were paid less than the men.
Mrs. Hitchcock, the Director of Guidance who was my boss at Manchester High, got married secretly during the 1930s, and evidently the officials didn’t know about it. When the war came along, she went into the WAVES. She was a lieutenant commander. When she came back, they needed teachers, so the discrimination against married teachers had ceased.
I started teaching in 1951, and it was only three or four years before that that they equalized salaries.
Chester Robinson, who was Vice Principal at the High School used to invite all the male teachers to the Hebron Rod and Gun Club. He’d cook a roast beef dinner that was out of this world. You could fit all the men who were teaching in Manchester in a room not much bigger than this living room. There were no men in the elementary schools, only a couple at the junior high, and the rest were at the high school.
All the elementary school principals were women, with one exception: Tom Bentley at the Hollister School.
S.B.: Did you live at home when you started teaching?
H.M.: I got married to Esther Panciera June 3, 1950. Three weeks later the Korean War started, and I was concerned that I’d have to go, but I wasn’t called up. We had an apartment on Chestnut Street – the Centennial Apartments – lots of school teachers lived there. I was earning $2,600 a year. Esther made more as a secretary at Cheney Brothers. But we paid only $60 a month for a good-size apartment.
In 1952, when my job became permanent, I bought the house at 18 Scarborough Road. They used to call that section “Hollywood.” The houses were built in the late ’20s and early ’30s. Ours was one of the later ones, built in 1937 or ’38.
S.B.: Tell me about your involvement with Boy Scouts.
H.M.: Yes. I was in the Cub Scouts at Center Congregational Church. Charley Lynn, who died three or four months ago, was Cubmaster for a number of years. When I turned twelve, I joined the Boy Scouts, Troop 25. I’ve been in the Boy Scouts about 65 years.
I took over as Scoutmaster in 1948, while I was still in college, and I stayed Scoutmaster for forty years. My son Paul took over, and he’s still there.
S.B.: You have two sons who were Boy Scouts?
H.M.: Yes. They still are. I’ve got two grandsons who are Cub Scouts in Bolton. I rather suspect that when the time comes, they’ll be Boy Scouts too. It’s the family business, so to speak. My sons David and Paul have been camping since they were able to walk.
S.B.: You and your family also have an interest in history?
H.M.: Yes, my stepmother, Emily House Maidment, was the historian at Center Church for 47 years. She wrote the history of the church for the 175th anniversary, and another one for the 200th anniversary. I succeeded her as historian for about five or six years.
S.B.: Has the church changed over the years?
H.M.: Yes. The church used to have a thousand kids in the Sunday school in the 1950s. Many of those kids joined Troop 25. We had so many kids, I stopped taking kids from anywhere except Center Church for about seven or eight years.
Today, we’re lucky if there’s a hundred kids there on a Sunday. I guess that’s true in all the churches. They used to have a confirmation class of thirty or forty kids every year. Now, it’s eight or ten. So, it’s changed a lot.
The number of kids in Manchester is also way down. That’s a change. And, the whole business of two parents working. My mother, once she got married, didn’t work. It wasn’t done.
S.B.: How long have you been a parishioner of Center Church?
H.M.: I was baptized, confirmed, married, and I assume that when the proper time comes, they’ll take care of burying me. I’ve been there all my life.
At the end of our interview, Harry showed me a collection of World War II memorabilia, including a small sword and some medals that belonged to a German officer. He graciously took apart a framed portrait to provide the photo that accompanies this story.
This article appears through the consent and generosity of the writer, Susan Cronin Barlow, Manchester Historical Society and class of 1963.
To read more about Manchester veterans...
• Click Veterans Memorials to access a page in our "Places to Visit" section, describing memorials put up in honor of Manchester's veterans.
• Click Dorothy Olcott to read an interview by Susan Barlow with Harry Maidment, who served in the WAVES during World War II.
• Click Vet Haven to read an interview by Susan Barlow with Ted Cummings, who served with the Marines in World War II and who lived in the Vet Haven housing development after he came home from the war.
Reproduced 2011 from www.mhs1955.com with permission of its webmaster Dick Jenkins.
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