WWI 26th Division / 32nd Division Mystery Photo -103rd Infantry Regiment Officer


Today’s photo post is a real head-scratcher!  I purchased the image thinking it was a nice studio portrait of a 32nd Division officer, which is evident from the SSI patch of the red arrow with a line through it.  When the photo arrived I noticed instantly that the officer was wearing the collar insignia of the 103rd Infantry Regiment of the 26th Division.  Causal readers of this blog will know that I actively seek out 26th Division photos due to my New Englander roots.

32nd Division or 26th?

Back Reads:

Selters Germany

12 January 1919

From Captain

Guy Swett (Hard to read writing)

Co. H 127th U.S Inf

32nd Div

“Army of Occupation”

Sent to a Miss Flora Murch

South Paris, ME USA

I am assuming the fellow was originally from the South Paris area in Maine, which would point towards a Yankee Division identification.  The 32nd Division was made up of guys from the Michigan area.  Looking at his other insignia also may point to his unit identity.  Is that a DSC ribbon on his chest?  It’s hard to tell, but it possibly may help in identifying the last name and original unit.

Any help from readers would be greatly appreciated!

Special thanks to our friends over at Soldier’s Mail for this wonderful interpretation!  Don’t forget to check out their website for a super collection of WWII related information. 

“After the end of hostilities with the signing of the Armistice, inducements were offered to encourage veteran combat troops to extend their enlistments and remain with the Army of Occupation in Europe rather than returning directly home on the Bridge of Ships. (Sam Avery speaks of these inducements in this letter: http://worldwar1letters.wordpress.com/2010/01/13/sarrey-france-1131919/)

After the Armistice, the 26th Division was in such bad shape from combat losses that it was assigned to the rear rather than the Army of Occupation. However, a number of its members chose to extend their deployments and were reassigned to different units in other Divisions stationed in Germany.

The officer in this photo clearly originated with the 103rd Infantry as indicated by the Regimental device on his collar. However, he is also apparently a newly-minted Captain in the 32nd Division as indicated by his sporting of the double 1st Lt bars on his shoulder along with the 32nd Division shoulder patch. I believe he was originally a 1st Lt in the 103rd Infantry, and then accepted a promotion in rank to extend his service in Army of Occupation with the 32nd Division.

Based on the writing on the reverse of this photo card, the 127th was one of the four infantry regiments in the 32nd. This man’s rank as Captain also indicates he would have been appointed the Company commander.”

Thanks again to Soldier’s Mail!

Amazing 103rd Infantry Regiment Field Written Poem – “Somewhere in France” – 26th Division


Sometimes a true gem will turn up among the pages of boring WWI eBay listings.  In this case I was able to purchase a small lot of photos and letters for less than $10, and discovered an amazing field written poem by a battalion runner in the 103rd Infantry Regiment of the 26th “Yankee Division” (my favorite division BTW).  Although the photos that came with the grouping are unrelated to the 103rd, I thought I would post the poem and transcription as a memorial to all those who died in the trenches of France.  Memorial Day is only a few days away and I think it is a fitting tribute to the men and women who served during the First World War.

Please visit Soldier’s Mail for other photos and interpretations of further 103rd Infantry Regiment related material.

Written at Apremont France by Battalion Runner  Blanchard of Company F of the 103rd Infantry Regiment of the 26th Division



Somewhere in France

I

A soldier boy lay dying,

On a road “somewhere in France;”

he had tried to get through a barrage

Tho he knew he stood no chance.

A pal knelt down beside him

While the tears ran down his cheek

For this soldier was his lifelong friend

And he longed to hear him speak.

II

When the dying soldier opened

Up his eyes, and look around

And saw his dear old pal

Kneeling side him on the grounf

He smiled and said “They got me Jim

Yes got me with a shell.”

“My orders were to take this note

Through water, fire and hell.”

III

“Take this message Jim and run it thru

Do not stop for me

It means two hundred lives and more

Its for our company

Fritz made a fake attack this morn

Just it break o’ day

If you can only get it rhu

We’ll make those dam Huns pay”

IV

“And when you get around to it

Just write a line or two,

To my mother and my sweetheart Jim

Old pay so good and true;

Tell them I tried to make it

Thru gas, barrage, and shell

That my resting place is heaven

For I when there thru a hell.”

V

Then the dying soldier closed his eyes

His pal with tender care,

Gently laid him down

And smoothed his bloody ruffled hair,

And with a sob of anguish

He started down the road,

In his hand he held the message

That was written out in code.

VI

Jim got the message there in time

To quell the Germans’ bluff,

He told the story to the boys

How the blood got on his cuff,

The dying words of Bill his pal

A runner dead and gone

And the company paid their last respects

To the brave but silent form.

~Wrote at Apremont by Batt. Runner Blanchard

At the conclusion of a dream – YD Co. F 103. Inf.

102nd Field Artillery Band Members in France (26th Division)


The bulk of my collection has been culled from endless pages of ebay listings, but I occasionally have the opportunity to discover hidden gems at flea markets and trade shows.  Today I attended a Antiquarian Book and Ephemera show at the Sheraton in South Burlington, VT.  I attached a link below to help plug this great organization.  Anyway, I eagerly searched through thousands of postcards and photos looking for military related images.  I saw a few overprices Civil War images, and a number of lack luster WWII photos.  My WWI radar was in full swing and I left with a handful of great images.  Please enjoy reading about my favorite find!

This wonderful image depicts two band members of the 102nd Field Artillery of the 26th Division.   Taken in France in 1918, this RPPC (real photo postcard) has everything going for it.  The two doughboys are wearing French style caps with unit designation affixed.  Their collar discs are a mix of MASS National Guard insignia and 102nd Field Artillery band discs.  The details on the M1911 pistol grips is superb.  Even the embossed leather US is visible on the holster.

Vermont Antiquarian Booksellers Association Website

Check it out!

http://www.vermontisbookcountry.com/

Welcome to Portraits of War!


Welcome!

After years of collecting WWI and WWII photography, I’ve finally decided to share some of my favorite images with the world.  I’ve searched through flea markets, antique stores, and eBay auctions to obtain photos depicting American soldiers in various world conflicts.

Where to start?

Lets jump into the dissection and interpretation of one of my favorite WWI images and see how history was recorded through the lens of a photographers camera.

Aesthetics

The first thing I always look for when buying a good WWI photo is the general “eye appeal” of the image.  Is the subject well lit?  Did the photographer take time to seat and position the subject?  How good is the contrast and detail?  All these things are sometimes unable to be determined when making internet based purchases, but it never hurts to ask the seller for a better scan.  Condition is also a big factor when I make a “higher end” purchase in eBay.  I consider $50+ the threshold between medium range and higher end purchases.

In terms of aesthetics, this photo has it all going on.  The contrast and detail are perfect, the condition of the image is superb, and the price was right at $26.50.  Because the purchase was an eBay auction win, I wasn’t able to ascertain the historical details until I had the photo in-hand.

Historical Detail

The first and easiest way to identify the unit designation of a WWI soldier portrait is to inspect the shoulder sleeve insignia also known as an SSI, or in layman’s terms, a shoulder patch.  In this case, we see a YD on a diamond on the subjects arm.

My favorite WWI division has to be the 26th “Yankee Division” – made up of primarily New England soldiers who took the call to the National Guard units early on in America’s involvement in WWI.  These New England National Guard units were eventually combined together to form the 26th Division and were later bolstered by fresh recruits from replacement units while stationed in France.

 

How can we tell when this fellow joined the war?  Although the date of the photo is unknown, we can ascertain that he served at least 12 months overseas.  The two chevrons on his left arm mark him as having served for two 6 month periods.  The photo was likely taken right after his return to the states, which is denoted by the dark colored chevron below his SSI (patch – remember?).

This guy was wounded twice during the war.  The double chevrons on his right arm were earned for being wounded.  He has no obvious battle scars on his face or hands, and he appears to have both his legs, so I am assuming that his wounds didn’t force his discharge.

Most 26th Division doughboys (an endearing term used for WWI American soldiers) served at least 18 months – so this veteran likely came in as a replacement to help fill the slowly depleting ranks of the division.

 

The 104th Infantry Regiment

With my super-duper high resolution scanner I was able to grab a high quality crop of the collar disc insignia this veteran is wearing.  See that round button below his left cheek?  Under high magnification the button/disc reads – 104 with a US monogram above it.  This means that the wearer is a member of the 104th Infantry Regiment – one of the regiments that made up the 26th Division. The regiment originally started in Springfield Mass in the mid 1700s to help ward off attacks from the bands of King Phillip’s Native American warriors.  This regiment fought with valor in a number of key offensives during WWI.  I wish I had a copy of the unit history to use as a reference 😦