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”

WWI 26th Division Chaplain Photo – Bloomfield, VT Native Arthur LeVeer in France, 1918


It’s always fun to sift through assorted boxes from my collection in search of new material to post here to PortraitofWar. In tonight’s case, I stumbled across a portrait shot of a WWI Catholic chaplain from my adopted home of Vermont!  With only 16,000 soldiers, marines and sailors during WWI, Vermont is a hard state to collect.

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102nd Infantry Regiment Chaplain Arthur J. LeVeer in 1918

Chaplain Arthur Joseph LaVeer was born along the Connecticut River in the Northeast Kingdom (a regional name) town of Bloomfield, Vermont on February 3rd, 1886. Commissioned as a 1st Lt. on August 22nd, 1918, LeVeer was quickly sent overseas to serve as a chaplain with the 102nd Infantry Regiment of the 26th “Yankee Division.”

Identified chaplain photos are incredibly hard to find on the open market, and to find an example taken overseas showing a unit patch and chaplain insignia makes this an exciting acquisition. Father LeVeer served at St. Norbert’s Church in Hardwick for the remainder of his life; this is a spot that I’ve passed hundreds of times during my life without giving a second thought to the WWI history of the area.

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Arthur’s WWI Record

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Arthur’s WWII Draft Card

Rev. Arthur LeVeer is buried in the Mount Cavalry Cemetery in Saint Albans, Franklin County, Vermont.

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LeVeer in the 1960s

WWI RPPC Photo – Amputee Soldier Poses w/ Friends in Paris Hospital


Clark B. Potter (at center) was born on October 3rd, 1891 in Kimball, Brule County, South Dakota; eventually landing in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Clark went on to serve as an officer with Company E, 126th Infantry Regiment of the 32nd Division during WWI. He was wounded by friendly fire in August of 1918 during the Battle of Fismes (Second Battle of the Marne) where he was sent to a hospital for the remainder of the war. This incredible photo of Clark posing in a Paris photo studio on Christmas Day, 1918 includes two other wounded soldiers of different regiments.  Of interest is the leg-amputee who seems to be keeping his jolly composure during the photo; an additional veteran attempts to pick Clark’s pocket during the photo, adding a bit of joviality to what should be a somber photo.

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Clark and Friends in December of 1918

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Clark Potter’s WWII Draft Registration

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University of Michigan Class of 1919 Entry

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Clark’s WWI Company posed after the war (he was still in the hospital)

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Clark’s 126th Infantry Regiment Roster Entry

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Clark as a Child (from ancestry.com)

 

 

WWI Balloon Company Winch Truck – A French Latil Mystery Story


I paid a pretty penny for a dozen photos from the 20th Balloon Company (WWI, American) specifically for this photograph.  I’m attracted to obscure and strange photography, and this photo is an anomaly for WWI image collectors.  What the heck is going on?

20th Balloon Company Winch Truck

20th Balloon Company Winch Truck

The vehicle/tractor/truck in the image was something I’ve never encountered.  I knew it was related to a balloon company, and the large drum on the back alerted me to the fact that it likely was meant to hold and retract cable wire.  But how could I figure out the make and model of the vehicle?  Balloon Company information is difficult to identify through google searches, but I was able to make some leads by searching in French!

Latil Truck

Latil Truck

 

My first hit came with a French search for “winch truck” and provided the above image.  I now knew that the Latil Company made heavy 4×4 vehicles for the French army during WWI and provided the American Expeditionary Forces with balloon winches!

I couldn’t quite make out the grill badge in the image I purchased……

Mystery WWI Badge

Mystery WWI Badge

But I was able to figure it out after my French language search…

The Latil trucks/tractors were originally made to tow 155mm guns, but they were retrofitted to accept heavy-duty winches to support the observation balloons used by the 20th Balloon Company.  The Latil company would later be absorbed into Renault….

Lentil Artillery Tow

Latil Artillery Tow

And according to a ca. 1919 publication, only 50 of these trucks were made specifically for the AEF during WWI.  They were outfitted with Cachot power winches (seen in the rear of the head image) to retract the balloons after observation was achieved.

 

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Latil in Action  – Courtesy LOC

Special thanks to the Transport Journal  blog!

Check out this specific post to learn more about the Latil:

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And another blog picked up the Latil story: http://justacarguy.blogspot.com.br/2015/11/ww1-observation-blimp-and-tow-truck-i.html

WWI Ohio Soldier Research – Defiance, Ohio Soldiers Identified as Ward Family Veterans


A recent eBay purchase has been incredibly fun to research and has yielded some solid and fulfilling results.  I purchased a group photo of four US soldiers posing in an American studio immediately following the war.  How do we know they are in an American studio?  The veteran at center is wearing a WWI Discharge Chevron, also known as a Discharge Stripe or Honorable Discharge Stripe, which indicates that the soldier has been discharged from his service and can wear his uniform in public with the proviso that he affixes the chevron.  Apparently, it was possible to be arrested for wearing a service uniform without the stripe after three months following discharge.

Ward Brothers

Ward Brothers

A fellow WWI researcher (Brian – AKA WWINERD) posted the following information on a popular militaria web forum:

“Thus far, I’ve been unable to locate any specific General Orders either from the War Department or from the U.S. Army concerning the red discharge chevron, which I believe was adopted early in 1919. However, I do know that:

  • Each discharged soldier was issued with three discharge chevrons. Officers had to purchase their own.
  • Upon being discharged from service, the uniform could be worn for a maximum of three months without the red discharge chevron.
  • If the uniform was worn after the three month period had expired, the person wearing it could be charged with the offense of impersonating a soldier.
  • If the uniform was never worn again the discharge chevron did not have to be sewn on.
  • As soon as a soldier received his discharge papers he became a civilian, and he was no longer obligated to salute a superior officer.

These and other facts pertaining to the uniform and discharge chevron were explained in a post war pamphlet handed out to Doughboys before they mustered out of the Army. It partially read as follows:

John Ward's Discharge Stripe

John Ward’s Discharge Stripe

The Uniform

If it is your desire to go home in uniform, it is your privilege to do so, under full grant of an act of Congress. You may wear your issue uniform as long as it hangs together if you wish. It is yours. But do not let a minute pass, after being discharged, until you have sewn on, or had sewn on a red chevron, point up, midway between the elbow and the shoulder on the left sleeve.

The wearing of any gold, silver, or metal device indicating service is forbidden. Only regulation service chevrons and collar insignia are authorized by law and regulations. Wound and service chevrons for service in any of the Allied Armies are included in that authorization. Can all camouflage.

Remember in wearing the uniform, that all of its privileges are yours, with none of the restraints. You are a civilian. There is no law or regulation or tradition requiring you to salute an officer. But so long as the O. D. or the Navy blue or the Marine green covers your body, it should be your pride as one with a military training, and as a soldier who participated in the Great War, to be courteous.”

Where Do We Go from Here: This is the Real Dope, 1919, William Brown Meloney, page 21, 22

Ok – so we know the photo was taken stateside at some point after the war, but recent enough to warrant a group shot of all four men in uniform.  The photo trifold mount had “Ward Boys” scribbed on it with no additional identifying information.  The seller was from Ohio, so I started with a basic search for Ohio veterans with the last name of Ward.  Big mistake……. There were nearly a hundred men with the last name of Ward who served in Ohio during the war.  Take a deep breath…..

I needed to narrow down the search and the image itself provides a very good way in which to identify one of the soldiers based on his patches.

Clayton Ward

Clayton Ward

See those patches on his left sleeve? They’re from a very famous unit that served in Italy during the war.  In fact, this is an incredibly rare shot that depicts a soldier wearing regimental, divisional and army level patches along with the discharge chevron previously mentioned.  Ok – so we know one of the Ward Boys was in the 332nd Infantry Regiment.  Since the typical US regiment during the war varied between 1000-2000 (roughly), it’s highly unlikely that two men with the last name of Ward were likely to both be from Ohio.  Luckily, my research gamble paid off……

Clayton Ward, H Co. 332nd Infantry Regiment

Clayton Ward, H Co. 332nd Infantry Regiment

Bingo!  After interpreting the abbreviated information in the Ohio WWI book, I was able to determine that Clayton was born in Defiance, Ohio, was 24 years of age, and served with Company H of the 332nd Infantry Regiment.  With the place of birth info, I was able to identify all the additional men in the photo using clues present on each of their uniforms.

A quick search for the 1910 US census record for the Clayton Ward provided me with the names of his brothers:

1910 US Census

1910 US Census

With the census in hand, I was able to make out a few names of brothers who were of-age to serve during WWI.  Clint (short for Clinton) and Perry were easy enough to research.  The same Ohio reference book provided the following:

Clinton Perry

Clinton Ward

Perry Ward

Perry Ward

Based on the information provided in the reference book, Clinton Ward, age 26 1/12 at the time, enlisted with Company G of the 6th Infantry of the Ohio National Guard.  This unit was federalized and became Company G of the 147th Infantry Regiment.  He rose to the rank of Private First Class on May 15th, 1918.  Since I’ve memorized the rank insignia of the AEF, I was able to quick pick him out.

Clinton Ward

Clinton Ward

See the round patch on his right arm?  That’s the rank insignia worn by a Private 1st Class during WWI.  I’m including a generic view of the patch below:

Since he’s the only one wearing a Pvt. 1st Class patch in the photo, plus the addition of infantry regiment collar discs, he’s almost certainly Clinton.

Perry Ward

Perry Ward

Although it’s tough to make out in the scan, the soldier is clearly wearing a collar disc that depicts a set of crossed cannon.  This would indicate service in an artillery unit during the war.   Perry’s reference in the aforementioned Ohio WWI book shows that he served with the 52nd Coastal Artillery Company during WWI, which would be supplied with these exact collar discs.

WWI Artillery Collar Disc

WWI Artillery Collar Disc

At this point, I’ve been able to identify three of the four soldiers in the photo based on archival research, visual interpretation and identification of key pieces of military insignia, and a gut feeling.  The last soldier, shown sitting turned out to be a tough nut to crack.

John Ward

John Ward

Ok – so what do we see in the photo?

  • A seated male, appearing to be the oldest based on facial details
  • A 37th Division patch on the left sleeve
  • A discharge chevron and overseas service chevron
  • Corporal rank insignia on the right sleeve
  • Infantry collar disc

In essence, we have an older-looking corporal from the 37th division who served for at least six months (the service chevron) overseas in an infantry regiment.  A detailed search of the Ward’s who served from Ohio in WWI yielded the only possible candidate:

John Ward War Record

John Ward War Record

John Alvin Ward was a brother who separated from the family early in life (no idea why) and eventually rose to the rank of corporal in WWI as part of the 147th Infantry Regiment.  It was tough to parse out the details regarding his upbringing, but the following Social Security information confirms that he was indeed from the Ward family of Defiance, Ohio.

Social Security Records

Social Security Records

At first I was confused about the portion mentioning his father being identified as a William H. Ward, but upon further genealogical research it became clear that his father commonly switched his first and middle names; this is a common practice that becomes terribly difficult for researchers.

So, we have the older brother who left the family and posed with his brothers after returning home from war in 1919.  Sadly, the photograph was discarded at some point and made it’s way into the eBay chain; eventually ending up on the desk of an intrepid WWI researcher (Me!) who was able to bring some context to the photo using easily-accessible internet resources.  I hope I’ve inspired some readers to delve into their own collections of photos in hopes of giving a name to the faces sitting in photo binders and dusty drawers.

Interested in researching Ohio World War One veterans?  Check out the following book:

The Official Roster of Ohio Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines in the World War, 1917-18. Columbus, OH, USA: The F.J. Heer Printing Co., 1926.

Visualizing Shell Shock in World War One: Footage from the British War Archives


WWI has the dubious distinction of being the first modern war to be fought with the mass of industrial mechanization and production in close support.  To a lesser extent, this distinction is also often shared with the American Civil War.  The mental distress of the soldiers involved in this global war are well known to most schoolchildren enrolled in Social Studies or History classes.  The psychiatric distresses imparted upon these men during the massive artillery bombardments of 1914-1918 are best exemplified in the following video made available by the British War Archives.

Select section 3 in the left hand drop down menu.  Or watch the whole series!

Dogs of War: A Saint Bernard Mascot – 67th Coastal Artillery Company Veteran “Barney”


It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here to PortraitsofWar, so I’m taking a quick moment to add a recently acquired real photo postcard of a St. Bernard mascot from the 67th Coastal Artillery Company. He’s even sporting his own uniform!  Check out the 1st Army variant patch with the 67 denoting the unit number and a double overseas chevron for a year of service.  Good work Barney!

Mascot photos are one of my favorite avenues of WWI photo collecting. They are relatively hard to come by and are tough to research.  All the better for a unique challenge when trolling through the pages of eBay.

 

Barney the St. Bernard in WWI

Barney the St. Bernard in WWI

WWI Photo Post – Lincoln Leslie Loper w/ Gas Mask Returns Home From France January 1919


Lincoln Leslie Loper served in France with a military medical unit during the last year of WWI.  Born and raised in Iowa, Loper  eventually worked his way to Washington, living in Seattle as early as 1942.  It’s tough to trace an individual based on scant information, but I’ve been able to deduce that he passed away in 1972 based on his military records.

Lincoln L. Loper in a Gas Mask, 1919

Lincoln L. Loper in a Gas Mask, 1919

LIncoln Loper Postcard Backside

Lincoln Loper Postcard Backside

The Mystery of the German POW of WWI: A Photographic Study


It’s been a long month for us here at PortraitsofWar, and we apologize for a lack of posting since the last photo on April 3rd.  In today’s post we will be looking at a different side of the war than normally highlighted on this blog.  Normally focused on American portraits, photos, and slides, we will be dissecting the story behind a German prisoner of war being held in Marseilles, France in 1918.

Unteroffizier Grießbach as a POW in France

Unteroffizier Grießbach as a POW in France

Before delving into the biographical information hand inscribed on the reverse side of the image, we will inspect and identify the visual imagery captured on the obverse.  The first thing of note is the format of the image.  The photo was printed as a real photo postcard (RPPC) and was likely obtained in a pack of 6 or 12.  It’s not uncommon to see identical copies of WWI RPPC’s pop up on the market from time to time.  The consistent size, quality and subject matter of these images make them a highly collectable form of WWI militaria.

The three major identifying features present on the front of the RPPC will need some research using easily-accessible internet resources.

  • Buttons
  • Collar Insignia
  • Cap/Headgear

Buttons

Upon quick glance it’s clear to see that the buttons running down the center are a rimmed (see the raised edge along the outside of the button) with a crown in the center.   This type of button is widely known as the standard button of a WWI German soldier and were made to be removable to allow for the cleaning of the uniform. This was a common standard of many nations during WWI.

Rimmed Crown Button

Rimmed Crown Button

Collar Insignia

The next identifiable feature of the tunic is the visible decoration of the collar. Here at PortraitsofWar, we’re use to identifying WWI doughboy collar insignia, but had to rely upon outside sources to help with this particular post.  The first thing to call attention to the neck region is the disc on the left side of the sitter’s uniform.

Collar Details

Collar Details

The disc on the left hand side of the photo is known as an Non Commissioned Officer collar disc (sometimes as disk) and can infrequently be seen in period studio photographs.  A lengthy internet-based search only turned up a small handful of images, the best of which can be seen below.

NCO Discs

NCO Discs

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NCO Discs

Headgear/Cap

The third and final identifying feature of the obverse side of the photo is the headgear worn by the sitter.  It appear to be an easily bendable version of the Prussian feldmutz field cap.  This style of cap was popular with NCO’s and were easily folded or packed for transport.  WWII versions were popularly known as “crushers.”

Prussian Feldmutze

Prussian Feldmutze

Cap Cockades (Kokarden)

The circular insignia seen on the cap above are known as cockades, or kokarden in German.  Sadly, the photo we’re working with is in black and white, but typically each cockade color helps identify the unit type, region and era of creation.

Visual Observations

So what do we know just by viewing the front of the image?  We certainly know the soldier is an NCO in the German Army during WWI.  He’s sporting all the fittings associated with a non commissioned officer of the period, but doesn’t have all the extra tidbits normally associated with a WWI period phograph. Where are his ribbons, medals and weaponry?

Hand Written Reverse Side

In the world of identifying WWI photos, the really important research material is always included on the backside (reverse) of the image.  In this case, the German soldier oddly wrote in French to an unmarried friend or relative of his who was living in Dresden during the time. It’s very likely that he was writing to a girlfriend or close female friend, as the wording is very proper.  Please see below for a low resolution scan of the backside.

Photo Backside

Photo Backside

What does the backside tell us? 

Firstly, it’s clearly a real photo postcard created to be sent to recipients.  The CARTE POSTALE header is a clear indicator of it’s origin: France.  The sender of the postcard notes Marseille as his current location, and Dresden, Germany is the destination.  How do we interpret a real photo postcard without knowing anything else about the people included?  Isn’t it strange that the postcard doesn’t include a message?  This infers a close connection between the writer and recipient.  Perhaps she already knows about his wartime status.

Writer Section

This section is typically reserved for messages but, in this case, relays the status of the photographed soldier’s military situation.   His handwriting is careful and is strangely written in French without the normal stylistic handwriting nuances of Germanic writing of the period, it becomes easy to make out the passage.

“Uzfdir. Griessbach

pris. de guerre

6283, depit de Marseille,

detacbhment coulou

(Ceceille) france”

The surname of the sitter is uncertain at this point.  Is is Greissbach, Greissback, Greissbarf or possibly Greiss back?  The prefix Uxfdir. is short for Unteroffizier and can be easily related to a rank between corporal and sergeant most worldwide military rankings. It’s odd that an Unteroffizier would wear an NCO collar disc, but that is an issue best left to the armchair historians who browse this blog.

Who was it sent to?

“Frau Gerfrun Griecfsbahn

Dresden-U

Weinbergstraße 1/73 I”

Was this woman living in Dresden at the time?  Does Weinbergstraße 1/73 I correspond with an apartment number in the city?

If so, this is the location of the house the postcard was meant to be delivered to:

Weinbergstraße 73, Dresden

Weinbergstraße 73, Dresden

And is this the house that the card was meant to be sent?  I recognize the Audi in the carport! I used to have the same model.

Weinbergstraße 73

Weinbergstraße 73

I need the help of German speaking friends to help decipher the last names of the sitter and the recipient. Hopefully we can narrow down the search using the power of the internet.  If you have a clue that may help, please don’t hesitate to comment on this post!