eBay is a strange way to acquire antique photographs that have captured significant periods of world history. Here at PortaitofWar.com we strive to provide an interesting set of completely politically-disengaged weekly posts to highlight the importance of the first and second world war to a modern audience.
Two weeks ago I took a leap and purchased a photograph of a WWI foreign unit that I’ve been unable to identify until tonight:
The photograph above depicts a 23 man group of French Chasseur Alpine soldiers with the 159th Infantry Regiment. See below for close up shots:
It is never easy to identify someone from a photograph taken nearly 100 years ago, but it’s even more difficult solely based on obscure details from his/her clothing. In today’s blog post I will focus on a photograph purchased on eBay from a fantastic seller named Colleen ( eBay name: cacdivi) who recently sold me a superb French real photo postcard of an American chaplain posed in a studio during World World I (WWI). Here’s the shot:
The scene is fairly typical of what was common of the time period: WWI soldiers/sailors/marine/nurses posed in photo studios in far off places in order to document their experiences to send to relatives and friends. In this case, a currently-unidentified US chaplain (see the crucifix on his shoulder and cap?) strikes a chin-up pose for a French photographer. How do we know that the photo was taken in France?
French postcard paper during WWI almost always contains a central vertical dividing mark with CARTE POSTALE emblazoned across the top. I’ve noted a fair number of varieties likely due to differences in production, but the main bulk of French postcard paper of the period look very similar to the above scan.
What are we looking at? I’ve already mentioned that the man posed in the photo is a US chaplain in a French studio during the war. But what details have I been pondering while waiting for the photo to arrive in my mailbox? (Thanks to Colleen – you rock!)
Why is a photograph of a wounded chaplain posed in a wartime studio worthy of devoting hours of research to? According to a website devoted to military chaplains, the number of wartime chaplains during WWI was incredibly low:
In 1918, Congress passed an act that called for one chaplain for every 1200 officers and enlisted men. Bishop Hayes, in a letter to Cardinal Farley, informs Farley of the current number of chaplains overseas. As of June 1918 there were 301 chaplains in the Army, 30 in the Navy, 7 with the Red Cross, 2 interpreters, and 95 volunteer or Knights of Columbus chaplains.
This photo most likely represents an Army chaplain included in the above June 1918 census: any US chaplain who served at least six months service would’ve been present in France in June of 1918. And to have been wounded or gassed, our unidentified chaplain was likely present during the earlier battles of the US involvement of the war.
Okay, so we know our chaplain was wounded, was photographed at some point in the spring or summer of 1918 and likely served in an Army division that arrived early (for the Americans). His identity, based on date, is narrowed down to 1 in 301 – a pretty good number when it comes to identifying a photo taken 100 years ago. Also, based on rules, he has to be less than 45 years of age.
But what was required to be a US chaplain in WWI? Before researching this photo I had no idea of the low number of volunteers or the actual requirements for acceptance. My personal photo collection contains a half dozen photos of chaplains, which is a surprisingly high number based on the scarcity of the subject matter. I was lucky to track down a copy of the rules and regs of chaplainhood here: http://archnyarchives.org/2015/11/10/military-chaplains-in-world-war-i/
Requirements for Commissioned Army Chaplaincies
For now I have a good bit of information to extend my research with. Until then, stay tuned!
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.
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.
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.
According to Tweets from WWI, the American intervention in the war can be summarized as:
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.
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.
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.
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!”
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”.
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…
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…
The above snippit from a 1919 Burlington Free Press article reads:
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.
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:
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:
And here’s the guidon today (my big head is at the left edge of the frame):
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
Although Portraitsofwar of tends to deal with the United States during WWI, this video seemed like an interesting contrast and comparison between the European forces during WWI.
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?
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!
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……
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….
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.
Special thanks to the Transport Journal blog!
Check out this specific post to learn more about the Latil:
And another blog picked up the Latil story: http://justacarguy.blogspot.com.br/2015/11/ww1-observation-blimp-and-tow-truck-i.html
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.
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:
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:
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.
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……
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ok – so what do we see in the photo?
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 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.
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.