by Alexander F. Barnes
In recent Military Trader articles, we took a look at some of the details in a Third Army motor pool and then a Third Army barracks. In this short photo essay, we turn our analysis and magnifying glass on one of the “day rooms” that the soldiers visited while serving in the German Rhineland from December 1918 to February 1923. In this case, we are viewing the soldier recreation center belonging to Company D of the 1st Engineers of the American Forces in Germany (AFG).
Company D trained at Camp Humphreys (today known as Fort Belvoir) but deployed to Europe after the war was over. Originally intended to be part of an international peacekeeping force as part of the U.S. Army “Silesian Brigade,” Company D arrived in Coblenz in November 1919. Soon their after arrival, however, the United States’ participation in the Salesian Plebiscite was cancelled, and the units assigned to bolster the AFG occupying the German Rhineland. Company D was initially stationed in Thur, Germany, and built barracks, stables, mess halls and any other structures needed by the other newly arrived units.
By 1920, the original 250,000 doughboys in the Third Army had been reduced to some 20,000 soldiers serving in the AFG’s three infantry regiments (8th, 5th and 50th), a battalion of field artillery, and the associated, combat support, combat service support and aviation units. In October 1920, Company D was re-stationed in the Coblenz area in the Engineer Compound at Steinstrasse. The compound most likely included the building seen in this photograph.
Perhaps the one great advantage of black and white photography is that it gives the pictures of this period a level of detail that color photography (until the digital era) could not match. Those of us interested in the history of the period are thankful for this lucky coincidence that provides so many opportunities for study.
If some find this level of analysis rather mundane and wonder about the value of “deep dives” into these old pictures, it is understandable. However, sometimes the ability to see the contents of a 1920 bulletin board or understand how functional all the parts of this day room truly are, can give us better idea of what was important to the U.S. soldier of 1920.
What is also interesting is how very close in form and function this “day room” is to the same type of facilities U.S. servicemen inhabited in the intervening 100 years and still do today. Whether in Pusan Panama City, Naha, Nuremberg, Arifjan, or the Azores, the view would be pretty much the same. And that is a good thing.