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.


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.



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.

A fun fact – The majority of scars appear on the left side of the face due to the fact that many fencers were trained in a right-handed style!

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

ss-hauptsturmfuhrer otto skorzeny schmiss mensur scars

Otto Skorzeny with Mensur Scar


German Pilot Eduard Wolfgang Zorer



Cartoon View ca. 1909 (From eBay listing)

Luftwaffe Portrait Photo (from an eBay auction)

WWI Patched Studio Photo: Corporal Harold Dannhorn, Illinois WWI and WWII Veteran of the 86th Division

Harold Dannhorn Reads a Book in France

Harold Dannhorn Reads a Book in France

Corporal Dannhorn served in the HQ Company of the 343rd Infantry Regiment of the 86th Division while stationed in France before being switched over to the 256th Prisoner of War Escort Company #256 during the Occupation of Germany.  Here he poses in a studio in Menton, France on February 20th, 1919.



Veteran Gravestone Registration

Veteran Gravestone Registration


WWI Draft Card

WWI Draft Card


Uncropped RPPC

Uncropped RPPC





WWI RPPC Photo – African-American Infantry Doughboy William M. Richardson of Washington, D.C. Posed in France


Reverse Side

Reverse Side

The hidden treasures of the eBay world still turn up genealogical treasures with a bit of background research.  A recent auction listing provided me with a solid base for some in-depth research.  I actually timed myself on this one – it took me exactly 1 hour and 32 minutes to research this piece from beginning to end.

Mr. William Maccihammer Richardson of 814 Michigan Ave, Washington D.C. enlisted for the draft on June 5th, 1917 at the age of 24.  He had a dependent mother and presumably a deceased /absent father.  William, according to his draft registration card, was already in the service of the War Department and was likely added to the roster of the 93rd Division.  The 93rd was comprised of National Guard units from New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Cleveland, and Massachusetts.  I’m assuming he was in the 93rd Division given the presence of his infantry regiment crossed rifle cap insignia and his military service in D.C.  He was a messenger before the war while working for the War Department in Washington, so it’s an easy jump assume he served in a similar role with an infantry regiment of the 93rd.  William was one of over 1,000,000 African-American men to register for the draft and one of only 370,000 to be inducted into the army.


CSI Style Signature Comparison

Those familiar with WWI draft cards will notice the clipped corners.  This was required of men of color in order to easily pick them out during draft board review.  It was apparently  a common practice that I was not aware of until researching this image.

Richardson Draft Card

1917 Draft Card

The next definite genealogical entry I found for William puts him in District 221 of Washington, D.C. in the census of 1930.  His entry is easily misread as a William N. Richardson.  He is shown as being married to a Mary E. Richardson.  His profession is listed as being a Chauffeur with the U.S. Government – another link to his prewar position.

1930 Census Record

1930 Census Record

In the 1940 census record, William is listed as being a chauffeur for a private family.  His yearly income is $1,700 – almost exactly the average annual income of $1,900 in 1940.  He lived in an apartment building in Block No. 18 of Washington and had two “lodgers” living with him and his wife.  June and Cleo Adams were sisters to Mary E. Richardson.


The last and final genealogical reference to Mr. Richardson comes in the form of a death registration.  William died at the ripe age of 81 on June 3rd, 1973.  The trail ends with his death, but the possibilities for future research lay wide open.  Which unit did he serve with?  Did he see direct combat?  How did he meet Ms. Adams?