We left our church family back in May of 1940, celebrating Memorial Day, looking forward to the warm days of summer, and worrying about the war in Europe. By early June, we in America had received the happy news of what was called the “Miracle of Dunkirk”. This was an amazing rescue of over 300,000 English, French and other allied nations’ troops, from the port of Dunkirk, where they had been surrounded by German forces, to the safety of England, where they could regroup and continue to fight the war. In the rescue, not only British troop ships, but thousands of small private craft, many just pleasure boats, helped carry the men to safety. Our church family would have received this happy news at the same time that they learned that the city of Paris had been bombed by the German Luftwaffe. As always much of the information about our church activities, comes from the Girard News, a weekly newspaper published every Friday, and available on microfilm at Girard Free Library. This is supplemented by what can be found in our Church Archives as we look back seventy-five years ago. Rev. Hilberry was still our Pastor and on June 8th his sermon was entitled “Leaves”.
The June 14th edition of the News featured a picture on the front page of a Father, Mother, and their three children, under the descriptive headline, “Opalk Family Holds Happy Reunion”. These three children had stayed behind in Yugoslavia while their Dad, Mom and an older brother had come to America in search of a better life. They had settled in Girard where Mr. Opalk and the older son had found work at Ohio Leather. As Europe was descending into war the Opalks decided they needed to bring their younger children to America as soon as possible. They booked passage for their children on an American ship, Manhattan, which was sailing from Genoa, Italy. Immediately after the children arrived in Genoa from Yugoslavia, Italy entered the war as an ally of Germany. There was a mad scramble in Italy by all foreigners to leave the country as soon as possible. The Manhattan was crammed full of 1,907 refugees, including the Opalk children. Fortunately, the voyage was uneventful except for periods of “blackout” when the ship sailed with no lights visible, and the younger children were frightened. They landed in New York safely, and now were happily with their parents and older brother in Girard.
There must have been many of our church family who also had family members in Europe, and who were worrying about them, but couldn’t just bring them to America as the Opalks did, because they were not their little children, but cousins, aunts, uncles and sometimes just friends. All they could do was worry and wonder about them.
On June 14th, the French Government fled to Bordeaux, and Paris was occupied by the German Army. On June 18th, Winston Churchill told the House of Commons, “The battle of France is over. The battle of Britain is about to begin.”
But, life goes on. Sunday, June 16th was Children’s Day at our church. There was a Children’s Day Cantata during morning worship service, directed by Mrs. Mary Williams. The June 21st edition of the News announced that the great Tom Mix would make an appearance at the New Mock Theatre the next Wednesday, with his horse, Tony. If I had been a Girard kid of 10 or so, I would have wanted to go. An Editorial in the Girard News in that same edition, described the great numbers of refugee children in Europe, their families displaced or family members killed in the bombing, The editor described how the American Red Cross was working hard to help these families reunite and find some kind of shelter and safety. He went on to say that we in America were the lucky ones who could, at least, support the Red Cross financially. The work they were doing was so important but also expensive, and they were running out of funds.
Our Philathea Class held its annual picnic dinner Monday evening, June 17th at the Scout Cabin in Liberty Park. During the business part of the meeting, the ladies voted to contribute $10 to the Red Cross Fund. On June 26th, our church held its annual Sunday School Picnic at Liberty Park. This was a Wednesday evening, and at 6 PM the picnic dinner was served. After dinner there would be singing and games.
On Sunday, June 23rd, Rev. Hilberry’s sermon title was “What in the world is God doing?” As usual, I wonder what that was about. Did it refer to the awful war in Europe? That, however, was certainly not His doing. Reading his sermon titles always makes me wish I could be there just to hear what the title had to do with his sermon topic. That service also featured special music by Mr. and Mrs. H.H. Hilberry.
So, we leave our church family, back in June of 1940, with the ominous sounds of war blending with the beauty of the Hilberry’s special music duet - Seventy-five years ago in our church, in our town, and in our country.