I’ve been recently turned on to the magic of ancestry.com, one of the best tools for researching WWI images I’ve yet to discover. I decided to start a search for one of the names written on the back of one of my better WWI images. Alex Lindell poses in his WWI French portrait photo showing off his missing finger – likely a battle wound received on October 18th, 1918 while he was with the 309th Infantry Regiment (78th Division) during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. After a search of draft cards through the National Archives, I came across a pair of WWI and WWII draft cards with the presumed identity of Alex Lindell. After comparing the signatures on both my photo and the draft cards, I realized I had a match! Success! His ASN was 2451963.
Alex served in Company H, 309th Infantry Regiment, 78th Division and was originally born in Oeland, Finland but eventually ended up in Brooklyn, NY. He was born on May 5th, 1889 and passed away just shy of the age of 61 on April 11th. 1950 where he was buried in Long Island National Cemetery. He was listed as being severely wounded in action on October 18th, 1918 where he presumably lost his finger as seen in the below photo.
When searching for new portraiture to add to PortraitsofWar I generally tend to look for material with identifiable soldiers, uniforms, medals and other written or visual clues to help shed light on life during wartime. In this post, I will be researching a photograph of a US Navy sailor who caught my eye during a recent eBay search.
Reverse Side of Postcard
The information written on the back of the postcard shows an identification of the sitter as a B.G. Miller. He is identified as being a Pharmacist’s Mate 1st Class from Salt Lake City, Utah who was on duty at one point at a hospital in Samoa on August 1st, 1918. Additional info added to the photo includes an anecdote about his position as a Mormon missionary in Germany during the breakout of the war between Germany and France.
With a little luck and a lot of research I was able to track down our mysterious B.G. Miller. Byron Gardener Miller was found listed in the Utah World War 1 Military Service Questionnaire on ancestry.com. Please see his card below:
Byron’s WWI War Service Card
It looks like Byron attended the University of Utah for a year before being shipped off for his overseas missionary work. This is likely the reason for his service as a Pharmacist’s Mate with the US NAVY as can be seen in the details of his uniform.
Navy Pharmacist Rate Patch
The reference to his missionary service in Germany during the outbreak of war in July of 1914 is partially confirmed through my discovery of his listing aboard a ship ledger arriving in Montreal, PQ in September of 1914.
His service in Samoa has also been confirmed through the same series of records.
Sadly, his arrival back in the US in 1919 wasn’t likely a time of joy for the Miller family; a Utah death certificate shows that he died of the Spanish Influenza only a few months later on February 7th, 1920. Interestingly enough, my research into the US Hospital in Samoa shows that a MASSIVE flu outbreak in the Samoan Islands lead to the deaths of nearly 25% of the population. With over 8500 deaths, the Spanish Flu was devastating to the island. In response, the US Navy set up an epidemic commission to deal with the issue. The results of the intervention in American Samoa were incredible. Apparently the method of using maritime quarantine lowered mortality rates to nearly 1%. It’s strange that Byron would die of influenza only a few months later while in the United States……
One of the main goals of this website is to help share photos and pertinent military service information with the families of the men and women depicted in the images I collect. In this case, I’m hoping a Miller family representative will discover a rare image of their ancestor who witnessed a formative time in history.
Tonight we have a guest post from a Facebook friend who also enjoys collecting WWI photography. Special thanks to James Taub for providing us with this interesting shot of a French soldier!
A Poliu of the unfortunate 111e régiment d’infanterie. During the Battle of Verdun, on 20 March, 1916 the 111e was in positions in the woods near Malancourt and Avocourt. (Later to be crucial points during the 1918 Meuse-Argonne Offensive.) They suffered under an intense German bombardment before being assaulted by flame throwers. The four German regiments from Bavaria and Wurttemberg infiltrated deep into the 111e’s position. The regimental commander, the colors the JMO (war diary), and 1,200 other officers and men were lost, many taken prisoner. The Germans used the capture of the 111e as propaganda, and the French Army responded by disbanding the regiment and accusing all 13 companies of treason. One French official even stated that “the uninjured prisoners before the end of the war be worked into a court-martial “. It would not be until the late 1920s that it was admitted by General Petain that the regiment was one of the many sacrificed to slow down the German assault. In 1929 the 111e was reformed, and their colors allowed to hang in Les Invalides
Capitaine Jean Nardou of the 111e wrote:
“A 7h00, un bombardement très violent commence (grosses torpilles et engins de tranchées de toutes sortes) sur nos tranchées de première série et petits postes ; obus de gros calibres sur les deuxième séries et boyaux.
Vers 9h00 j’envoie à mon chef de bataillon la communication suivante par un planton : “Les tranchées sont détruites, les abris démolis ou bouchés ; le téléphone, le bureau sont en miettes, la poudrerie a sauté, mes papiers sont détruits, la situation me paraît très critique”. Le bombardement a continué avec une intensité de plus en plus grande et est devenu d’une violence inouïe après 15h00. A partir de ce moment , tout mouvement dans les tranchées et boyaux était impossible, tant le bombardement était grand. Un peu avant 16h00, les Allemands ont lancé des liquides enflammés sur plusieurs petits postes qu’ils ont également fait sauter à la mine et ont profité de la fumée noire et épaisse qui se dégageait pour s’approcher de nos tranchées qu’ils ont attaquées de revers et de face à l’aide de grenades, pendant que leur bombardement continuait.”
“At 7:00 am, a very violent bombardment begins (big mortars bombs and trench machines of all kinds) on our first series trenches and small posts; shells of large caliber on the second series and dugouts.
Around 9:00 am I send the following communication to my battalion commander: “The trenches are destroyed, the shelters demolished or plugged, the telephone, the office are in pieces, the blowing snow has blown up, my papers are destroyed, the situation seems to me very critical “. The bombing continued with increasing intensity and became incredible violence after 15:00. From that moment, any movement in the trenches and dugouts was impossible, so much was the bombing. A little before 4 pm, the Germans fired flamethrowers on several small posts that they also blew up at the mine and took advantage of the thick black smoke that was emerging to approach our trenches they attacked. from behind and from the front with grenades, while their bombardment continued.”
After a long hiatus I’ve decided to come out of obscurity and begin posting to the blog again! A recent Facebook purchase from a WWI collecting colleague has proved to be a classic PortraitsofWar photo for interpretation. The photo depicts two US soldiers posed in a German studio during the postwar occupation of Germany in 1919. The soldier at right is shown with three overseas (OS) stripes on his left cuff denoting 1 1/2 years of overseas service as well as a French-style cap. Both soldiers are wearing 3rd Army patches on their left shoulders, which would have been worn during the postwar occupation period. The seated doughboy is sporting two wound stripes as well as two OS stripes and a Wisconsin collar disc on his cap. The reverse of the photo lists one of the soldiers in the photo as Robert B. Alexander of 914 Adams Street, Portage, WI. Given that the seated soldier is wearing a Wisconsin disc on his cap, it is presumable that the identification on the reverse is leaning towards the sitter at left.
Pvt. Robert B. Alexander (seated), Co. F 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division
Reverse Identification of Pvt. Alexander
Some quick research revealed that that Pvt. Alexander was born on April 20th, 1892 in the town of Portage, Wisconsin to Robert M. and Mary Alexander. He lived much of his teen years at 913 and 914 Adams Street in Portage and was listed as working as a switchman with the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad as of 1917 before he enlisted in August of that year.
Railroad Switchman, Ca. 1940
914 Adams Street
Attempts to find a photograph of Robert Alexander using traditional research methods failed, but I was able to track down a yearbook photo of Robert’s youngest son. Claire Alexander sat for a yearbook photo in 1944; a side-by-side comparison leaves no doubt in my mind that Claire is a progeny of the seated doughboy.
Claire L. Alexander in 1944
Research into Alexander’s wartime service has revealed that Robert was involved in heavy combat in September of 1918 only months before the end of the war on November 11th, 1918. His accolades are laid out in an unlikely document:
Veteran Headstone Document
Reverse of Above Document
This document confirms that Robert served with Company F of the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division. He was wounded at least once and received the Purple Heart (After 1932) and also the Silver Star. Details about his wounding and SS are still pending… stay tuned.
Private Alexander’s 1956 headstone was made by the Acme Bronze Company of Maple Park, IL and was delivered to the family on November 6th, 1956 following Robert’s death on October 23rd, 1956.
Mr. Alexander’s Headstone (Courtesy of Findagrave.com)
Research into living members of the Alexander family have proven fruitful…stay tuned for details related to the reunion of this photo with a great-granddaughter!
The main focus of this blog is to highlight individual photographs from WWI and WWII veterans whose photos have made their way to the secondary market; eBay and flea markets are a good way to find these photographs, and the typical image comes with little-to-no context. Today’s photograph shows a typical German trench in the spring of 1917 with a pair of handmade signs.
I collect WWI German trench signs and shots like this are a good way to identify the style and construction techniques of a period trench-made sign.
Villa Margarete – Fernsprechen (Telephone)
Thanks to a Reddit user I was able to translate the writing on the reverse side of the postcard:
In the dwelling trench by the phone dugout.
NCO Biernacki, me, NCO Schwabacher, ?? Puppchen of the artillery observers.
The trench signs that are shown in the image are as follows: Villa Margarete and Fernsprechen (Telephone)
One of my closely held collecting secrets is that I love WWII and WWI photographs of soldiers holding or interacting with their dogs. My recently dearly departed furry companion Violet originally led me to start collecting shots of soldiers with their canine friends nearly eight years ago. Without her I would’ve never thought twice to bid on a dog photograph.
Violet at the Hilton Portland, ME
I dedicate this post to her. In this particular case, I bid on and won (eBay) a photograph of a US soldier holding a young puppy during wartime in France. Typically, shots of US soldiers holding dogs or other mascots were taken (at least that I’ve found) in the post-war era following the 11/11/18 Armistice. This studio photograph was taken on September 10th, 1918 and shows Thomas (Tom) Gray Jr. posing in a French studio with a puppy cradled in his left arm while sporting a custom knit necktie.
Thomas Gray Jr. and a cute puppy!
The photo was taken in September of 1918 and the writing on the back (see below) notes that Thomas had been overseas for ten months at this point. Additionally, he addresses the postcard photo to his mother, Mrs. Thomas Gray of 329 North Pearl Street, Bridgeton, NJ. After my normal run of extensive research it appears that his father and brothers worked, at some point, for a local glass factory as glass and bottle blowers. This company was likely the Cumberland Glass Works which was located not far from their duplex home. Additionally, the factory could’ve been the More-Jones factory that appears in a series of Lewis Hine photographs depicting child labor. In fact, Thomas appears in the New Jersey State Census of 1905 and is listed a “Snapper Boy” in the occupation column. So, at age 14 Thomas was working in a glass factory… Could he be one of the young boys captured by Hine?
Lewis Hine Photograph Taken in Bridgeton, NJ Ca. 1909
Reverse side of the postcard
As far as I can tell, Thomas served with Company B, 501st Engineers and shipped out in November of 1917 and served until mid 1919 when he eventually went home to New Jersey with no mention of a companion. I wish I could learn more about the dog in his hand and about his service in this obscure unit, but I can only do so much research before moving on. I hope that a relative finds this post at some point and can help fill in the gaps. Crazier things have happened on this blog.
One of my favorite pieces of WWI ephemera to research is the pre-printed postcard that was handed out to soldiers intended to be sent to loved ones from the decks/bunks of the multitude of transport ships that brought doughboys back from Europe in the years following the war. In tonight’s case, I purchased this card on eBay without any prior research. The date of 9/11 caught me as particularly interesting given the 2001 connotation, so I made a quick bid and won the postcard. My research process can be followed below:
Step 1: Purchase the card
Only $9.89+0.99 shipping!
Step 2: Receive the card in the mail
Front side of the postcard
Back side of the postcard
Step 3: What the heck is going on?
The first actual step in the interpretation and research of a WWI postcard is to figure out when it was made, when it was sent and who sent it. This one should be pretty easy.
Copyright date of 1919
Most WWI postcards don’t usually come with a Copyright date and/or an artist’s signature. This one comes with both. I don’t have time to delve into the identity of the artist, but I can say that the card was copyrighted in 1919.
So, the written portion is from September 11th, 1919 at the very earliest.
Step 4: Who the heck sent this thing?
Whenever I attempt to identify a soldier-sent postcard, I always try to research the recipient first. Normally, we have the name of well established member of a community as well as a normal mailing address and town name intended as the recipient. Assuming most postcards are sent to a mother or father, it doesn’t take much effort to track down the 1910 census record for that family using Ancestry.com. This is exactly what I did in this case. The first Maroney to appear in the Eyota, MN 1910 census was a Patrick C. Maroney… Bingo.
1910 Census record
From here I researched the children of Patrick and Emma Maroney (the card says “Dear Ma”) and found that they had a son named Charles E. Maroney who was born on September 22nd, 1895 and passed away on September 5th, 1934.
Charles’ September 11th, 1919 return to the USA
Charles singed in aboard the U.S.S. Montpelier after his time in France on August 28th, 1919 and landed back in the US on September 11th. It was at this time that he was most likely given the above card to fill out and ship to his parents back in Minnesota. His wartime record puts him with an engineering unit that was focused on railway work during the war and this tombstone identifies him as a Private with the 69th Engineers . This doesn’t exactly jive with his US Headstone Application or the US Army Transport records seen above. According to records, his grave should’ve listed him as being with the 144th Transportation Corps. Please note that his mother was also the recipient of his body after he passed away in 1934. 😦
I apologize for not posting more frequently, but I’ve been focusing on preparing presentations and talks for local historical societies here in my home state of Vermont. Tonight’s post is the first that focuses around a recently-purchased portrait photo. A dealer from the Philadelphia area has been selling off what appears to be an entire collection of WWI portraits from a Charleroi, Pennsylvania photo studio. Of the several dozen portraits sold by this seller in the past two months, I’ve been lucky enough to pick up two photos. The best of the two is the image photograph presented below:
At first glance, this photograph clearly presents evidence of damage in the hands of an ink-wielding enemy. Who knows how this was damaged, but it didn’t seem to impact the final value of the photograph, which sold for a healthy $68.00. The particularly interesting elements of the photograph are presented here:
English Style Cap and Engineer Collar Disc
French Croix de Guerre medal w/ silver star and 1st Army patch variant
After a bit of research into the sitter above, it quickly became clear that he was an engineer with the 1st Gas and Flame Regiment, previously the 30th Engineer Regiment. As a Private with the regiment, he would’ve been involved in the maintenance and mobilization of Livens gas projectors during the last several months of the war.
Born on April 21st of 1897 in Naples Italy, Louis emigrated to the United States on May 26th, 1910 in hopes of linking up with family members in Pennsylvania. He gained his citizenship when he was naturalized in May of 1928 due to his service for the U.S. during the war.
The men of the 1st Gas and Flame would be charged with maintaining, resupplying and moving the Liven’s projectors during the tail end of the war. What did this involve?
Levin’s Projector schematic
Louis is sporting a wound chevron in the portrait photo above – he was gassed on November 1st, 1918 only ten days before the Armistice of November 11th.
Note wound chevron (stripe) on right hand sleeve
It’s unclear through the records on how he received his gas wounds, but it’s highly probable that his gassing took place during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, when the 1st Gas Regiment was actively moving forward during the “third-phase” of the offensive. The attack in which Louis was wounded began at 5:30 on the morning of the 1st of November. Sadly, the gas mortars that were projected that morning were done so under less-than-ideal conditions and it appears that shifting wind blew toxic gas back towards the 1st Gas Regiment. All those who were gassed during this event were brought off the line to Sommerance, France where they were treated. All of this information can be found in the unit history of the 1st Gas Regiment, which is hyperlinked here.
Louis’ War Record (Note gassing date)
What Louis achieved after the war is unknown to me, but I hope that he lived a full and rewarding life. His war record and portrait will remain a part of my website, but I hope to pass the photo along to a relative one day.
I really enjoy meeting with elderly citizens who can remember local events of historic significance and always make an effort to ask them where they were during critical national or international turning points in history. But in the case of the man below, I’m not sure I could top his story. At the time this TV show was filmed in 1956, Mr. Samuel J. Seymour (1860-1856) had already lived through the Civil War, the financial depressions of the late 1800s, the Spanish American War, the invention of the automobile, the invention of flight, WWI (he was in his 50s when that happened), the jazz era, the Great Depression, WWII, the nuclear era, the beginning Korean War and McCarthyism. This guy had seen it all!
Although the contestants figured out his story pretty quickly, the story of his traveling to the show and his determination to tell his story are remarkable. Encounters with people who witnessed history like this are examples of what drives me to continue to take the time to chat with WWII veterans when I encounter them. With so few left, it’s important to just… talk to people. Mr. Seymour passed away only 63 days after his filming of the episode shown below. Enjoy.