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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Meyer Later: A Soldier’s Story in World War I France

Meyer Later, letter to brother Abe, April 30, 1919
Meyer Later, letter to Abe, p. 2


World War I, called the “war to end all wars,” lasted from 1914-1918, and the United States entered the conflict in 1917.  One American soldier was Meyer Later (1895-1984), from Hartford, Connecticut, who was drafted into the U.S. Army in the fall of 1918 and continued his service until spring 1919. I processed Later’s World War I collection of memorabilia and correspondence documenting his service in France. The collection tells a story about a Connecticut man who had no choice but to answer the call of duty and endure the tumultuous events of World War I. For a person like myself who has an interest in memorabilia from both world wars, I admired every item in the collection because materials from this era are not only scarce, but precious and nearly a century old. Later’s correspondence provided me with insight not only to his whereabouts during the war, but his persona. The emotion filling his letters provided insight into his personality, which can be described as comical and charming. Most of his letters were written to his brother, Abe, and detailed his endeavors in areas of eastern France, including Dijon, Paris, and Buzancy. Elements of levity surface in his writings when it came to the ladies he met. For example, Later referred to a French woman as an “Ooh, la, la.” In one of his letters, Later sarcastically accused his brother Abe of having an “Ooh la la” sit on his lap while attempting to write a letter to him because the handwriting was poor.

Meyer Later, Self-Portrait, 1919

Processing the collection has been a fun, learning experience during which I had the opportunity to create a processing plan for these awe-inspiring materials. The collection served as good archival training for me; that is, I had to figure out a reasonable approach to arranging and describing the materials. For the most part, I transferred the correspondence and photographs into protective sleeves and created sink mats for the three-dimensional objects, a dog tag and silk-embroidered handkerchiefs. After the physical processing of the collection, I recorded the collection’s arrangement, description, and contents in Archivist’s Toolkit. All of the information will soon become available in an online finding aid. The correspondence and photographs serve as good visual aids for a researcher following Later’s experiences in eastern France between the fall of 1918 and the spring of 1919.
Meyer Later, 1919

    I personally enjoyed looking at each individual item in the collection because each piece of material represents a significant part of Later’s experiences in wartime France. Lastly, I had the opportunity to speak with his daughter, Stephanie Later, who donated the collection in 2008. She was a great help to me in learning more about her father’s personality and what he did after the war. Later was discharged in the spring of 1919 and worked for the Morris Packing Company, a meat-packing company and family business in Hartford. He died in 1984.


  1. I enjoyed reading about Later's correspondence (esp. so close to Memorial Day)! Correspondence and personal artifacts from another generation really allows the reader to learn about the time period and the individual.

    Mus(eum)ings: Musings from a Museum Intern

  2. When I go to antiques stores or flea markets, I ALWAYS wind up pouring through ephemera - old letters, old photos. They completely fascinate me. What is so cool about it is that the original writers probably never had any idea that someone would save their musings so many years later (no pun intended on the "Later" name!). Even though "I don't know much about history..." especially when it comes to military history, I cannot seem to help becoming entirely mesmerized by letters and photos from the various conflicts or other historical events. As an aside, about a year or so ago, I tossed most of my own old letters and journals since I would never imagine anyone ever wanting to read them - ever!