A deeper look into two Third Army photographs, ca. 1919
by Alexander F. Barnes
When I originally planned to write a short analysis of two ca. 1919 photos of a US Army hospital staff in Germany, I thought the story line would be pretty simple. I thought it would center on a few unusual aspects of the photos themselves. Little did I know, the article should really be titled: “With a little help from my friends.”
That being said, let’s take a look at these two photographs. The two came together and rightly so — both of the real photo postcards (RPPCs) were taken at the same German location. In the first photo, judging from the officers’ collar insignia, most appear to be medical staff. With very few overseas stripes in evidence, we can assume this was one of the late-arriving hospital units. A few of the officers appear to wearing US Third Army patches. This helps identifying them as part of the Army of Occupation in the German Rhineland.
The photograph of the ladies has two significant differences from the photo of the male staff. Of minimal importance, two Doughboys in the nurses’ photograph took the opportunity to “photo-bomb” by standing in the window on the right of the picture — something they hadn’t done during the officers’ photograph. More importantly, the United States flag which had figured so prominently in the officers’ picture is not included in the ladies’ photograph. The absence of the flag and any form of army service markings on the ladies’ uniforms leads us to believe these women are German Nursing Sisters and not US Army nurses.
I found it interesting that in both photographs, one of the participants appears to be looking off in the wrong direction. It was after I shared these photos on the “Third Army in WWI” Facebook group page that the analysis really took off in a new direction.
One of the Third Army group members, Armin Bode-Kessler, recognized the doorway in which the groups were standing. He pointed out the building still exists today and is a Catholic hospital called “Brüderkrankenhaus St Josef.” He also indicated that the Third Army’s Evacuation Hospital No. 16 used this facility for their hospital in Coblenz.
So now, this is more than just some “devil is in the details” photo-archeology, we are getting into some real research! With a unit identification, I could look for more information.
The doctrinal mission for Evacuation Hosptials was to serve as the medical linkage between the combat hospitals in the battle area and the more formal Base or Camp Hospitals located in the Services of Supply areas of responsibility. By looking up Evacuation Hospital No. 16 in the Army Medical history reports of the period, it was noted that in March 1919, the longer-serving Evacuation Hospitals started to be replaced by more recently arrived Evacuation Hospitals. In this manner, No 16 replaced Evacuation Hospital No. 14 on 3 April 1919. So, absent a date on the photo, the Army personnel in the picture are either from Evacuation Hospital 14, or most likely No. 16.
Further research found a slight date contradiction to the medical history. The Occupation Commander’s report shows Evac No 16 arriving on 15 February 1919 and No. 14 relieved from duty on 28 March 1919.Ultimately, that date and unit distinction matters little because, as noted by the Army Medical records, the Commanding Officers and senior medical staff of the relieved Evac units stayed on with the new units to maintain continuity.
And best of all for our research, Armin’s friend Erich Hümmerich, took pictures of the building as it stands today and shared them. They certainly tie the story together of the two medical staff photos and show the incredible opportunities for shared research that the new social media give us.
A formerly unidentified unit and location can now be exactly tied to a specific location and a fairly clear unit identification can be made. It’s time to go digging for more unidentified photos and put some places and names to them. “The truth is out there.”
Alexander Barnes is the author of “In A Strange Land: The American Occupation of Germany 1918 - 1923” and “To Hell with the Kaiser: America Prepares for War.”