WWI Portrait Photo – An AEF Soldier and a French Puppy, a Tribute to Violet


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.

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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.

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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?

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Lewis Hine Photograph Taken in Bridgeton, NJ Ca. 1909

 

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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.

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329 North Pearl Street, Bridgeton,NJ in 2018

WWI 1st Division DSC Recipient RPPC Photo


eBay can be a fun way to research WWI soldiers in a way that wouldn’t have been possible ten years ago. With the emerging databases of WWI soldier roster information and the ever-expanding capacity of Ancestry.com for genealogical data, WWI veterans are becoming easier and easier to research. In this case, I purchased a photo of two US officers posing in a French studio in March of 1919. The signature on the front and the inscription on the back give roughly enough information to make a positive identification. The standing officer is 2nd Lt. William H. Barry of Langley, Washington. He served with F. Co of the 28th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division during the American involvement in WWI. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for his bravery and extraordinary heroism in the breakthrough of the Hindenburg Line. A large percentage of his company became casualties and he assumed command after the CO was wounded. He reorganized the company and completed their objective under the rain of German machine fun fire.

 

To think, this photograph was obtained on an internet auction site for less than the price of a tank of gasoline and had been sitting in a pile of postcards for years before it was posted. I’m glad to provide this information – I hope a family member can find this post and learn a little about their ancestor!

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Lt. William H. Barry (Standing)

 

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Lt. Barry’s March 1919 Signature

 

BARRY, WILLIAM H.
Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army
28th Infantry Regiment, 1st Division, A.E.F.
Date of Action: October 5, 1918
Citation:
The Distinguished Service Cross is presented to William H. Barry, Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in action near Exermont, France, October 5, 1918. Assuming command of his company after his company commander and a major portion of the company became casualties, Second Lieutenant Barry reorganized his company and personally led it forward in the attack, successfully attaining his objective in the face of intense machine-gun and artillery fire. He constantly exposed himself to enemy fire in order to encourage and insure the protection of his men.
General Orders No. 103, W.D., 1919
Home Town: Langley, WA

 

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WWI – 57th Field Artillery Brigade Soldiers Pose in French Studio


A recent purchase just arrived in my mailbox and I’ve been researching the details in hopes of identifying something interesting to write about. Well, this photo has a few good details that will hopefully help future collectors with identifying their WWI photographs!

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57th Field Artillery Brigade

The first details that pop out are the accessories that these doughboys decided to wear into the studio. These small nuances of WWI photos really help researchers, reenactors and collectors understand that uniform and insignia regulations in 1918 were at time blurry, and interesting one-off uniform presentations did exist. In this case we see a handful of elements that are not typically found in photos of the period.

Leg Covering

One soldier (far left) is wearing M1910 canvas gaiters, while the other two are sporting wool puttees.

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Cap Insignia

All three doughboys are wearing French lettering on their caps denoting their specific unit affiliation. In this case, they are wearing the number 57 with a letter A. In any other scenario I would assume that this would place them within the 57th Infantry Regiment, Company A, or possibly 57th Pioneer Regiment, Company A. In this case, the next detail down drives the unit ID home. These letters and numbers are often seen on French collars.

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French Cap Numbering

 

Officer’s Field Artillery Insignia

The soldier at the far right is wearing an officer collar insignia for a Field Artillery Regiment. An odd thing on an enlisted man, and especially odd at the center of the chest. Who knows?

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Watches

All three are wearing watches! The first on the left has a pocket watch with fob and chain clipped to his shirt. The other two are wearing “trench watches” with kitchener straps. Interestingly, they both do not currently have crystal guards AKA “shrapnel guards” on the watch face to protect from wartime damage. These were popular amongst watch-wearing soldiers of WWI.

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Field Artillery Ring

One detail that I always look for is the presence of a ring on WWI soldiers. The soldier at the far left is wearing a sterling silver Field Artillery ring – another clue that supports the 57th Field Artillery ID for this photo.

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Oval Sterling Field Artillery Ring

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In summary, the tiny details of a photo can actually make an unidentified WWI photo incredibly interesting and fun to dissect. These little nuances of wartime accessory can, at time make the difference between a $5.00 photo and a $50.00 photo to the discerning collector. It also helps expand knowledge into unknown areas of military material culture collecting. Pull out your magnifying glass and look through your collection!

WWI Portrait Photo – Lt. Carl Wehner, 141st Infantry Regiment, KIA at St. Etienne, France


A recent eBay purchase has lead me down a warren of research avenues that are helping shed light on the American involvement at the bloody fray at St. Etienne during the Battle of Blanc Mont Ridge in October of 1918. The photo depicts Lt. Carl Wehner with the following inscription on the verso:

“141st Inf., 36th Div. Lt. Carl Wehner killed Oct. 8, 1918 by a German sniper.”

It was this writing that pushed me to purchase the photo at a reasonable $25.00 in hopes of researching and fleshing out the life of the young Lieutenant and Wisconsin native who was killed in action only days after his 26th birthday.

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Lt. Carl Wehner in France, 1918

This photo was most likely taken a month or so before his death in October, as he is sporting a 6 month overseas service chevron on his left cuff. August or September would roughly be six months after his arrival from stateside officers training. He was selected to be a Lieutenant with Company K of the 141st Infantry Regiment of the 36th Division – a unit comprised mostly of southern boys from Texas and surrounding states. Having been born in Lincoln, Kansas and spending most of his life in Madison, Wisconsin, he originally enlisted with the 32nd “Red Arrow” Division but elected to train to become an officer. At the time of his enlistment, he lived at 925 West Dayton Street in Madison.

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Carl’s WWI Draft Registration Card

And I was able to find a fascinating account of his death while commanding Company K following the death of his Captain (Source – Entry by RavenHawk)

…It was near St. Etienne, as his captain layed dead, Wehner led his unit forward, until he himself was struck in the head, by enemy gunfire, and killed. One account of the battle (perhaps a little exagerated), said: “Lieutenat Wehner died with three machine gun bullets in his forehead and a smile on his lips as he led Company K of the 141st Infantry over the top after his captain was killed by the fire of the enemy.”….In a letter signed by the Marshall Of France, Commander in Chief of the French Armies of the East, Petain, it was written: “Lt. Wehner displayed audacity and disregard of danger during the operations near St. Etienne. At the head of his men, encouraging them with his skill, he largely contributed to the success of the operations which made it possible to capture all objectives. He was killed at his post of combat.” For his bravery, Wehner was awarded the Croix de Guerre with palm for bravery….As for Wehner’s family, they didn’t find out until after Christmas, that Wehner had been killed, in battle…Wehner’s body was returned to Madison in 1921, and reburied at Forest Hill on 10/21/1921.

WWI Portrait Photo – 102nd Ambulance Company, 26th Division


This photograph is a true mystery for me. I can’t identify the sitter of this photograph even though there is so much information to work with:

  1. He’s identified on the print as Pvt. John Illiano of the 102nd Ambulance Company
  2. He’s sporting a 26th Division uniform with at least 1 1/2 years overseas service
  3. He was one of the first 100,000 US soldiers to enlist (conjecture based on star)
  4. He’s most likely from New England at the time of enlistment
  5. Probably Italian-American

I found a digital scan of this photo on War Relics Forum, a site dedicated to WWII artifact research. The OP of this photo, MD Helmets, doesn’t have any additional information but did claim he/she purchased it from Bay State Militaria back in 2013.

What do you guys think? Any leads?

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102nd Ambulance Company “Mystery Sitter”

Rare Aerial Photo of Gliders Taken After Operation Varsity, March 1945


Taken on March 25th, 1945, this image was snapped by a low-flying P-38 or P-51 of the 363rd Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron.  I acquired a large set of these original 12×12 inch prints (complete with pencil notes on the back) on eBay a few years ago directly from the estate of a 9th Air Force photo tech who apparently saved hundreds of original flyovers like this.  He saved duplicates as well!  This is one of those duplicates.

This large format photo, taken a day after the strategic landing of two airborne divisions on the eastern bank of the Rhine River near the village of Hamminkeln and the Town of Wesel, Germany.  Know as Operation Varsity, the landing is regarded by many historians as the most successful airborne landing carried out during WWII.  Although I tend to argue such facts, the point is that the landing led to the quickening of the end of the war.

This series of photos provides an incredibly detailed view of the aftermath of the glider landings and a general layout of trenches, hedgerows and landscape features that may be obfuscated today.  These images can be found in many books and through government archives but may be of lesser quality due to multiple reproductions.  Enjoy!

 

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Large Format Aerial Photo Showing Airborne Gliders, March 25th, 1945

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WWII Color Photo Post: An Unopened Box of Developed WWII Kodak Color Slides!


Many of my followers know that I actively collect WWII color slides, predominantly those developed by the Eastman Kodak Company.  These Kodachrome slides are typically regarded in the field of vintage color photo collecting as the crème de la crème of vintage color.  Taken at a time of incredible social and political upheaval, these images capture an era that will never be seen in the same light or colors again. With the small percentage of the world populace that used color photography, an even smaller percentage of the slides have been passed down or purchased by people with the ability to scan and post them to the internet.

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In this rare case, I was able to purchase a large set of Kodachrome slides taken by a US serviceman before he shipped off to war.  One box of the Kodak-developed slides were unopened.  I took a photo of the seal, opened the box and immediately scanned them!  Please enjoy the following 12 slides that are only seeing the light of day 70+ years later….

Taken in Fort Benning, GA, these slides were shipped home in January of 1945 to only be opened in 2016! Enjoy.

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WWII Snapshot – Female Photographer Pauses for the Camera


 

A female US service member rocks a summer dress and snaps a shot of the photographer; what more can you ask for from a blog dedicated to obscure vernacular snapshots taken during wartime?   Originally digitally cropped down from a slightly larger print, this shot exudes the youthful demeanor of downtime during WWII. The taut, braced legs also hint to a slightly posed sexualized snapshot….

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Famous Bougainville Signal Corps Photo Unraveled – 754th Tank Battalion


From time to time, a certain photo in my collection will call to me from beneath a dusty pile of books and other ephemera; pulling me away from other nocturnal pursuits, I will spend hours slipping down the rabbit hole of internet research.  In tonight’s post I dissect an image I picked up in a large photo grouping from an unidentified Pacific Theater of Operations U.S Army soldier whose estate was broken up on eBay.

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This photo has taken me months to research, with new avenues of potential insight popping up at every twist and turn.  “My” version of the photo includes the portions of the negative’s border which, once deciphered, indicate the photographic unit responsible for the image.  These borders are typically not present on post-war copies of the photo, so this points towards a wartime first-generation version of the photo likely printed overseas. Additionally, later prints of the photo include inclusions and negative abrasions not present in earlier versions.

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What does the negative bar tell us?  For one, it gives us the number of the photographic unit responsible for the image.  The first number corresponds to the ID # for the 161st Signal Photographic Company. The 161st, as anticipated, shot still and moving images in the Pacific in WWII, working in tough weather conditions not conducive to normal photographic processing.  Through my exhaustive research, I’ve uncovered additional information about the photo not commonly known on the internet.

 

Commonly ascribed to Guadalcanal, New Guinea and other remote locations, the photo was actually taken in April (hence the 4-44 label on the negative) of 1944 on Bougainville Island, Papua New Guinea during the Bougainville Campaign.  Again, commonly ascribed to a Marine unit, the soldiers in the photo are actually of the Company F, 129th Infantry Regiment of the 37th Infantry Division.

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Insignia of the 161st Photo Co.

 

The details of the photo are crisp, clear and perfectly printed with little great use of light, shadows and other atmospheric conditions in the heat of battle.  Bayonets affixed, the solders are scrambling for cover, firing and advancing behind a Sherman tank of the 754th Tank Battalion as it progresses forward through the dense jungle.  The tank at the forefront of the shot is “Lucky Legs II”, clearly a later iteration of a previously destroyed or abandoned armored vehicle. Tank and plane names were commonly derived from hometown sweethearts, pinup magazine, popular songs and movies, or unique creations.

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Notice the play of light….

What isn’t immediately clear is the reason why the star is only partially visible on the turret. Using the power of the internet, I was able to track down a military forum with some information to help……

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Lucky Legs II in action (note star)

Apparently, the tanks were covered in oiled tar to protect from rust during overseas transport.  This includes the stars, which, in this case, was still partially covered in goop during the first counterattack after receiving the M4 mediums in March of 1944.  The above forum post provides a delicious detail, one that would be almost impossible to posit, without the help of a guy who “was there.”

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754th Tank Battalion Patch

 

According to research, tanks of this new delivery were equipped with armor plate protecting the driver from shots off the starboard and port sides of the tank.  This raised area was used by tankers of the 754th to paint the tank moniker.  Another example from the same group includes the “Wild Boar.”

 

 

Further distinguising insignia found on the tank include the 3 within a triangle, denoting that the tank was the Platoon Sergeant’s tank; the II adjacent to the triangle in the photo likely indicate that the tank is of the Second Platoon.

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Rear Painted Details

So, we have a tank commanded by the Platoon Sergeant of the 2nd Platoon of a an unknown company of the 754th Tank Battalion.  I can narrow this down only a bit more, but future research and reader commentary should elucidate some of the murky details.

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Back to the previous image of the internet post regarding an angry response by a tanker who fought in Lucky Legs II:

“I said just from the inside of that turret.  That’s my tank, and probably my steel helmet hanging on the back. Because Tony Benardo, and Gus, had theirs inside with them.. I think.”

The same forum post refers to a US Signal Corps film that depicts the tank in question….. I think I found it…..

And if that wasn’t enough… I found more shots from the same photographic series

 

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WWII War Correspondent Ernie Pyle’s Oil Stained Pants – A Photographic Review


Amateur snapshots of WWII war correspondent Ernie Pyle are incredibly hard to find. Although a celebrity during the war, identified photos of him are hard to come across on the open market; obscurity and scarcity make these images unidentifiable to most eBay sellers.   This is mostly due to the fact that Ernie Pyle is mainly known only by WWII veterans and war buffs; his early passing in 1945 stunted his potential post-war career and relegated him to the annals of pre-boom(baby) literary figures.

 

I’ve been collecting amateur shots of Ernie Pyle for nearly ten years and have accrued a sizable collection of one-off snapshots of his wartime escapades.  One thing I’ve noticed during these years is that Ernie only had ONE pair of pants during the entirety of his European tour.  Grease and oil stained, these trousers appear in every photo of him during this period; I can only wonder where these pants are today…..

 

How did they become stained?

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Ernie Drunk in Italy (From my collection)

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Oil Stains on Right Knee

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Drunk Ernie Showing Oil Stains on Zipper Fly (From my Collection)

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