WWI Portrait of Pvt. Louis Alterici of the 1st Gas and Flame Regiment in WWI


Pvt. Louis Alterici

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:

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Louis Alterici of Charleroi, PA

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:

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English Style Cap and Engineer Collar Disc

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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 German Facial Dueling Scars – Mensur Scars and WWI Portraits


Apologies for not posting any interesting original material in the past few weeks, I’ve been busy dealing with the holidays and the celebrations that inevitably pop up at this time of year. Today’s blog post will be about a topic I’ve become fascinated with over the course of the past two years. Have you ever wondered why stereotypical WWI German media characters from WWI always seem to have a large scar on their face? Ever wonder why they always seem to be on the cheek and always are attributed with men of high status such as generals and higher ranking officers?

Well, recently I was able to purchase on eBay  an inexpensive photo ($4.99) on eBay that perfectly personifies the image of a young WWI German soldier with a prominent facial scar.

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Mensur Scar (New photo to collection)

Was this scar the result of a bad shaving accident? In fact, the answer is exactly the opposite; this left cheek scar is the result of a deliberate action.

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Ouch!

After a solid night of internet research, I was able to cobble together an answer regarding the odd number of facial scars associated with late 19th and early 20th century German and Austrian soldiers. The Dueling Scar!

Male (upper class) students who were members of fraternities of major German and Austrian universities during this time were often engaged in academic fencing which at times would, at times, become a duel between competing fraternities. These individualized duels between students eventually became a badge of honor among fraternity members – taking a blow to the face showed courage and was a lasting reminder of the fraternal bond. Since these boys were often from a higher class, it was no surprise that many eventually became officers during WWI. This act was well know during the time and eventually became banned around the time of the outbreak of the war. The ban was lifted when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933. Many of the German officers of WWII had these scars given the fact that they were in university prior to WWI.

Skip ahead to 2:50 to see the duel in action!

 

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Otto Skorzeny with Mensur Scar

 

 

 

An American in the Czechoslovak Legion in WWI


Today’s post comes after a bit of head scratching and internet searching that eventually lead to an interesting discovery (for me) of a WWI story that has somehow remained unknown to me until this blog post. It involves the Czech Legions of WWI…

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Emil Stedronsky in WWI

The above photo, and the postcard below, were sent to a Mike Stendronsky of Cleveland, Ohio in the waning months of 1918 from his brother who had just arrived in France to fight as part of the Czech Legion. Check out the video at the bottom of this post to learn a little about the Czech Legion in WWI…

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American and Czech Flags

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Emil Stendronsky in France, 1918

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Emil’s WWI Draft Card

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”

100 Years Later: Vermont’s Entry into the First World War


It has been called THE GREAT WAR and THE WAR TO END ALL WARS.

According to Tweets from WWI, the American intervention in the war can be summarized as:

There is only room for one: ‘s idealism vs. German ‘s imperialism (US caricature).

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Today, we know it as World War One (WWI). It began in 1914 and ended with an armistice at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918. The global toll had already reached nearly 40 million casualties, including American losses of 117,465 dead and 204,002 wounded.

100 Years Ago Today

After War was officially declared (House and Senate) on April 6th, 1917 the U.S. began preparations to enter the quagmire of European trench warfare.

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Vermonter John Corcoran (r) in WWI

In June of 1917, U.S. transport ships carrying nearly 15,000 U.S. troops (many from New England) in the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) approached the shores of France, these soldiers would join the Allied fight against the Central Powers.  They disembarked at the port of Saint Nazaire; the landing site had been kept secret because of the menace of German submarines, but by the time the Americans had lined up to take their first salute on French soil, an enthusiastic crowd had gathered to welcome them. However, the “Doughboys,” as the British referred to the green American troops, were said to be untrained and ill-equipped, untested for the rigors of fighting along the Western Front.

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PortraitsofWar’s WWI Smithsonian Cover

As U.S. troops landed in France, Americans were mindful of a 125+ year old debt owed that nation. France had been the colonists’ most important ally during the Revolutionary War, having supplied money, material and military brains. The Marquis de Lafayette had fought beside Patriot soldiers, equipping some of them at his own expense. He won the affection of George Washington and became a hero to the young nation. Urged on by Lafayette, France had sent ships, troops, and arms that played a key role in the Patriots’ victory. In early July 1917, the newly arrived American Expeditionary Force troops marched under the Arc de Triomphe, cheered by the people of Paris. In a ceremony at Lafayette’s tomb, where the Frenchman lies buried under dirt from Bunker Hill, an American officer lay down a wreath of pink and white roses. Another officer stepped forward, snapped a salute, and declared: “Lafayette, we are here!”

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Earl F. Lavallee of Winooski, VT in Germany, 1918.

As followers of PortraitsofWar will know, we take a great pride in providing interesting and never-before-seen imagery and narration of wartime photography ranging from the American Civil War to the Korean War. In most cases, I take an authentic photograph from my personal collection and work towards uncovering various details that hopefully elucidate some aspect of the photo.

101st Ammunition Train

In this case, I worked the other way around. My familiarity with the First World War history of the State of Vermont is well known to followers of this blog as well as within my home state. One of my favorite Vermont units to serve in the war was the 101st Ammunition Train of the 26th “Yankee Division”.

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Jeannine Russell (Vermont Agency of Transportation Archaeology Officer), Myself (Vermont Agency of Transportation Archaeologist) and David Schütz (Vermont State Curator) inspecting WWI flags

Only a week ago I was lucky enough to be invited into the bowels of the Vermont Historical Society storage area to inspect a series of American Civil War flags with a few colleagues of mine from work. While in the holding area I mentioned that a series of WWI groups had donated regimental flags and/or guidons to the State of Vermont in the years following the war.

Although I can be a bit fuzzy in my recollections, I apparently had my facts straight and we moved a series of shelves to uncover the aforementioned flags. As I fingered through the labels I instantly recognized the attribution: 101st flags. Please see below for a bit of insight into my recollection…

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101st Ammunition Train Guidon Donation Alert, Burlington Free Press, February, 1919

Ok – So my first attempt at searching on the Library of Congress Newspaper website turned up only one reference to the flags, I kept searching (tried COLORS) and came up with this…

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Flags presented

The above snippit from a 1919 Burlington Free Press article reads:

Colors Presented

War Flags and Shields Presented to State

Montpelier, Oct. 23 – The presentation of the colors and shields of the organizations from Vermont participating in the the world war occurred this evening in the State House with some 200 veterans attending and over 400 spectators in the seats of the representative hall and balcony.

The services were fitting and were attended by many of the men who have been prominent in the connection with the war. Col. F.B. Thomas presided over the exercise and the program carried out consisted of the “History of the 57th Pioneer Infantry” Capt. Ernest W. Gibson – Brattleboro

Presentation of colors – First Vermont and 57th Pioneer Infantry, Col. F. B. Thomas… History and presentation of colors of 302nd Field Artillery , Color Sergeant Albert J. Seguin of Newport.

History and presentation of 101st Ammunition Train Col. William J. Keville of Boston Mass.

Presentation of guidon, Company E. 101st Ammunition Train, Capt. Harold M. Howe of Northfield, VT.

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Ca. 1919 Co. E101st Ammunition Train guidon photo (from Brennan C. Gauthier Collection)

Presentation of guidon, Company F 101st Ammunition Train, Captain McMath

Presentation of guidon, Company G, 101st Ammunition Train, Chester Mooney of Newport.

As I stated earlier, I remembered the fact that the 101st and the 302nd had presented the State of Vermont with standards and guidons from prominent units representing Vermont involvement in the war. The following photos show the results of my inquiries:

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Left to Right: Jeannine Russell (Vermont Agency of Transportation Archaeology Officer), Myself (Vermont Agency of Transportation Archaeologist) an David Schütz (Vermont State Curator)

In the above photo we have just unrolled the 101st Ammunition Train guidons from their muslin cocoons. Present are representative samples of Co. C, G, F and E of the 101st. Each of these matches with the above 1919 article. How amazing is it to read a 98 year old article about a presentation and see the EXACT pieces in living color?

I’m particular excited about the Co. E guidon. I own a ratty panoramic photo taken of the unit when they returned in 1919. Click here to see ever single facial feature of the men in that group.

Ok – so here’s a photo of the guidon taken right before donation in 1919:

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And here’s the guidon today (my big head is at the left edge of the frame):

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WWI guidons of the 101st Ammunition Train

Also, I requested that the regimental flag of the 302nd Field Artillery be brought out for photographing. Special thanks to Jonathan Croft for being the photographer!

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302nd Field Artillery

Has it really been 100 years?

Thanksgiving in the First World War: U.S.Base Hospital #6 Holiday Menu Card


I’ve been lucky in the past few years to pick up some fun WWI shots of US female nurses and auxiliary service members photographed while serving overseas in 1918 and 1919.  US women in France were vastly outnumbered by their male counterparts, and to be able to positively identify a nurse is a fun way to learn about female service roles during the war.  In this case, I was able to purchase a small group of photos and a Thanksgiving menu from a woman in Base Hospital #6 stationed in Bordeaux, France during the war.  The standing studio portrait was identified on the reverse as H.K. Judd of Base Hospital 6.  On a whim I searched for Helen K. Judd (thinking that Helen was a likely candidate for H) and came up with a positive hit on a woman named Helen K. Judd from Southhampton, Mass.  I cross referenced with the digitized passport records from 1917 and 1918 and had a positive match.  Luckily the passport applications come with little snapshots of the applicants.   The amount of material available to identify WWI photos is incredible.

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Base Hospital #6 Thanksgiving Menu

So what was served up on Thanksgiving, 1918? 

Given the recent cessation of hostilities on November 11th, the nurses and ailing soldiers of the AEF had a lot to be thankful for in 1918.  How did they celebrate?

US Dietitian Ellen W. Wells was someone who likely put together the well-rounded meal seen in the above menu.  With appetizers of celery and olives, the nurses, doctors and assorted hospital staff and wounded next moved to a main course of roast stuffed turkey, apple sauce, mashed potatoes, green peas and creamed onions.  For desert they gorged on mince pie and an oddity in Europe, pumpkin pie.  After dinner snacks included fruit, nuts, raisins, bon-bons and coffee.  And to top it all off, the men and women were provided with cigars.  What a meal!

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Helen K. Judd in France, 1918

WWI RPPC Photo – South Dakota Quartermaster Veteran Identified


Balancing work life, house chores, being social, and collecting WWI photos can be a daunting task; too much investment in one area can lead to neglect in another.  As is the case of my life as of June, 2016.  Luckily, I’m making a solstice dedication (is that a thing?) to posting more of my identified material in hopes of reuniting family members with deceased relatives.

In tonight’s post, I’ve purchased and researched a photo in the course of one calendar week with some positive results.  As you may know, veterans with interesting surnames are typically easier to identify, and this post is an example of one of these researching ventures.

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Elmer Liebig (at left)

Elmer Reinhardt Liebig was born on November 1st, 1894 in Spink, South Dakota, the son of two German immigrants.  Having served in a Quartermaster unit during WWI, he went on to own and run a pool hall in his hometown for a number of years until operating as a salesman until the 1940s, where he eventually ended up with the South Dakota Department of Fish and Game, acting as a warden for Brookings an Moody Counties.

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WWII Draft Registration

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Full Photo Scan