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Interesting WWI photo archeology

A study of "Drinking in the Big Red One?"
Most likely taken in the spring or early summer of 1919, the soldiers gathered here are enjoying some of the local wines and beers at an outdoor table. Although there is nothing written on the back of the photo, several of the soldiers have visible 1st Division patches thereby giving identity to  the group.

Most likely taken in the spring or early summer of 1919, the soldiers gathered here are enjoying some of the local wines and beers at an outdoor table. Although there is nothing written on the back of the photo, several of the soldiers have visible 1st Division patches thereby giving identity to the group.

As we have noted before in Military Trader articles, one of the great things about WWI-era photographs is the amount of detail that can often be seen. High-quality scans allow us to dig even more deeply into the photos and uncover interesting information that might otherwise go unnoticed. The subject of this photo-archeological dig is a photograph of some 1st Division soldiers serving in the occupation of Germany after WWI.

As part of the U.S. Third Army, the 1st Division was assigned to the U.S. III Corps along with the 2nd Division and the 32nd Division. These combat-experienced units led the march into Germany after the November 11, 1918 Armistice. On Dec. 13, the units of III Corps crossed the Rhine River to take up their assigned sectors on the west side of the Rhine. From that date, until late August 1919, the Big Red One served in the area around the German town of Montabaur and protected the “Neutral Zone” between the Allies and unoccupied Germany. For the most part it was pleasant duty and many of the 1st Division Doughboys developed a congenial relationship with the German population. Forbidden by Third Army regulations to drink “strong” alcohol, the soldiers were allowed to purchase and enjoy the locally made beer and wine.

These two hard-looking characters seem to find nothing amusing in having their drinking interrupted for a picture. The sergeant, standing, displays a wound stripe on his right arm while the seated soldier appears to be slamming his hand on the table.

These two hard-looking characters seem to find nothing amusing in having their drinking interrupted for a picture. The sergeant, standing, displays a wound stripe on his right arm while the seated soldier appears to be slamming his hand on the table.

The 13 U.S. soldiers appearing in the photograph, obviously taken at a local German “Gasthaus,” appear to be veterans of some long service in the division. There doesn’t appear to be any of the recent replacements who may have joined the outfit. Since there is no way all 13 could sit around the same small table, it can be surmised that some of the standing soldiers were seated elsewhere until the picture was taken. That belief is reinforced by the fact that there are only two bottles of wine and one bottle of beer on this table – certainly not enough to account for all the wine and beer seen in the glasses.

This group of five soldiers is the most interesting – mainly because one of them has chosen to pose with a small deer; perhaps the pet of the restaurant/bar where they are drinking. Both of the two soldiers seated in the front have four overseas stripes, while the one on the right must be holding the record for being the oldest soldier in the unit.

This group of five soldiers is the most interesting – mainly because one of them has chosen to pose with a small deer; perhaps the pet of the restaurant/bar where they are drinking. Both of the two soldiers seated in the front have four overseas stripes, while the one on the right must be holding the record for being the oldest soldier in the unit.

The seated soldier on the right has four overseas stripes and is ignoring the two soldiers toasting behind his head. The pipe smoking soldier on the left has leaned his tin of pipe tobacco (recognizable as Prince Albert tobacco) and box of matches against a wine bottle.

The seated soldier on the right has four overseas stripes and is ignoring the two soldiers toasting behind his head. The pipe smoking soldier on the left has leaned his tin of pipe tobacco (recognizable as Prince Albert tobacco) and box of matches against a wine bottle.

*Alexander F. Barnes is a former Marine and retired Army Warrant Officer. His most recent book “U.S. Army Depot Divisions in World War I.”, co-written with Pete Belmonte, was released November 2021. He currently serves as the Virginia National Guard Command Historian. 

 

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