Durham sent two primary units of volunteers, Company M, the Third Regiment of the National Guard, pictured here in front of the courthouse, and Battery C of North Carolina’s 118th Field Artillery, to World War I. Company M was among the forces that broke the Hindenburg line, and Battery C participated in the Argonne battles. On the home front, men over 31 formed a Home Guard and 80 percent of Trinity College students enlisted in the Student Army Training Corps. Civilians raised money for the war and, when food became scarce, people grew what they could. Women went to work in jobs they had never before been allowed to do.
Even though African-American men had been allowed participation in the Spanish-American War nearly 20 years earlier, their recruitment remained a contentious issue. Rumors circulated that black soldiers would join the German side, an accusation to which Durham’s Captain Peyton Smith responded by holding a patriotic rally. Two hundred African Americans attended and passed resolutions of loyalty to flag and country. In 1918 a group of 95 black recruits were sent to Camp Grant in Illinois for basic training.
Durham lost approximately 44 men during the war. Many others were given military medals for the wounds they had received or for other demonstrations of exceptional service. A homecoming celebration for the returning soldiers was held in April 1919, which coincided with the town’s semicentennial celebration, and the Chamber of Commerce set up an organization to facilitate their return to civilian life.