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The Latil trucks/tractors were originally made to tow 155mm guns, but they were retrofitted to accept heavy-duty winches to support the observation balloons used by the 20th Balloon Company.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:
- 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:
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?
- 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Collar Insignia
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
pris. de guerre
6283, depit de Marseille,
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
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:
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.
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!
A letter was delivered to Mr. Elmer Clark of 76 Maple Avenue, Barre, VT. in February of 1918. I’ve included a snapshot of 76 Maple in the photo below:
The letter provides the Vermont World War One historian with a wonderful snapshot of life in France in the early days of American involvement. Sgt. Edward Clark was a truck driver who delivered supplies to front line troops but had the security of rear echelon protection to write his letters. Please enjoy this transcription and try to put yourself in Ed’s shoes:
Just a few lines to let you know that I am well and feeling fine. We are stationed about 100 miles from the front and have to go up there every other day with supplies. To get back to when we first landed in France we received out trucks at a certain place and then drove them over land to General Headquarters. On reaching that place we were attached to that troop and have been with them ever since. The trip overland was about 400 miles so we had a good chance to see that part of the country. [Sgt. Clark appears to have refreshed his ink supply] From what I heard about France before I came over I thought that I would see greater things than we have in the States. But now if you should ask me I would say that France was 600 years behind the U.S.A. All there is to see is stone (Page Two)buildings two and tree stories high and the streets of Barre would make these streets look like a dump. When they talk about sunny France they will have to talk about it to someone else besides me.
I have received six or seven letters from Gin but none from you. What is the trouble, have you forgot that I am living? What is Elmer doing? From what I hear it must be a hard winter on him. We are in luck for one thing and that is we can go around part of the day in our shirt sleeves but in the morning and night we need our coats on. Not that it is so cold but it is damp and it goes right through you.
(Page Three) Is Royal staying with you yet? Gee it must seem good to him to get off the farm. How is Steve and all the rest of the folks? Well sis from the way things look over here we will be here for some time to come. Gee if I could only get back in the gold old U.S.A. They would never get me to come over here again. Well it is time for lights out so I will have to bring this to a close. Love to all. Write soon and often.
Sgt. Edward Clark
Motor Truck Co. 304
Want to read the letter in the original script?
YMCA Ladies were sent overseas to help bring a glimmer of American home life into the trenches in France and Germany. YMCA workers were attached to specific divisions and were tasked with putting on events, providing comforts of home, and entertaining the US soldiers with music and reading material. Interestingly enough, female YMCA workers were only selected from a pool of women ranging in age from 25-45 with a few older exceptions. No women whose parents were born in an enemy country could serve and women who were British or Canadian could not be sent to France. The YMCA was often criticized for price gouging US soldiers when charging fees for cigarettes, shaving material and everyday odds and ends.
Through a collecting friend and author I was able to obtain a nice side profile shot of a YMCA woman associated with the 9th Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Division. The uniforms for the female YMCA workers was designed by Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt and was a gray-green in color with a French horizon-blue collar. The pair of US triangles on the upper collar lapel were embroidered in silk and sported red-edged details. This particular woman is wearing an incredibly rare beret stye hat with a felt YMCA patch attached.
WWI Photos of Vermonters are hard to find and I continually search for superlative examples at flea markets and yard sales. This past May I was lucky enough to encounter a Vermonter dealer at a Massachusetts flea market. Low and behold, the seller had a fantastic image of a WWI Vermonter for sale! Herbert L. French is identified as being from Stratton, VT and as being a member of the 307th Field Artillery of the 78th Division.