Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Exploring My Family Tree: Not Forgotten - World War I

As I had written before, my great grandfather Victor Kuck had burned his hand severely in college which required him to apply five times to join the military before he was accepted and only then with a waiver from Washington D.C.  He joined the 106th Aero Repair Squadron out of Des Moines after being sworn in at Denver, Colorado and sent down to Kelly Field, Texas. He trained for two months there before being sent to Garden City, New York where he left for Liverpool, England arriving there on Christmas day 1917. (On a side note, it is recorded that their first meal in England was eaten aboard the boat and was tripe, marmalade and tea. Later that evening for supper they feasted like royalty on salt herring. It makes modern day MRE's sound gourmet.)  Victor in Liverpool only four short days before shipping across the channel to  Camp De Coetquidan which was 45 miles inland from St. Nazaire and Camp Neucon where the 1rst and 4th aero observation schools were maintained.

Once in France, the squadron spent a long time in quarantine for mumps and measles and were also recommissioned from the 106th four days after this picture was taken to the 800th Aero Repair Squadron. They spent a lot of time with their French counterparts learning all things relating to repairing airplanes but also evidently spent time with this off the field. This picture talks of a football game between 16th Foreign Detachment Cadets and my great grandfather's squadron that ended up tied and was described as the "best game of the season." When not spending time with the French, the squadron spent a lot of time doing drills  and the 800th Aero Repair earned the reputation as the "best drilled squadron in France."

Judging from the two pictures above, Victor must have spent a good share of his time in office duties though my grandfather says he was mostly a mechanic.

According to the book "History of the 800th Aero Repair Squadron", each of those tents slept twelve men. During winter, the men often converted used bacon cans into stoves to keep them warm. I have never seen canned bacon and I'm not sure I would ever like too. I'm sure it tasted as bad as it sounds.

The above two photos of 'chow' time really drive home the fact that war is a young man's fight directed by old men. Most of the 'men' in the photos look to still be in their teens. It appears that all men were issued frying pan like plates and tin cups that they were responsible for bringing to the mess hall to eat their meal on. Now a days, we fly in companies like McDonalds and Pizza Hut directly to the war zone to cater meals.

I'm guessing these two pictures were slated to be sent back home to reassure Victor's parents that he was doing well or perhaps to impress my great grandma Grace back home whom Victor knew from when he was in college and whom he married a few months upon returning home in 1919.

This picture really caught my attention because it emphasized to me the fact that airplanes were only 15 years old at this point if you subscribe to the Wright brothers being the first pilots. (They were actually beat to the punch by Gustav Whitehead who flew higher and further three years earlier but due to a signed contract with the Smithsonian in exchange for displaying the Kitty Hawk, no one can declare otherwise.) It took some research but I believe this plane is a Farman "Shorthorn", a French plane built beginning in 1914. It was a push model with the prop in the rear because the device to time machine gun bullets so they didn't take out the prompt hadn't yet been implemented. Four years later, planes were already looking closer to their modern cousins and my great grandfather Victor was describing the Farman as "old and almost forgotten."  According to the book on the 800th, my great grandfather's squadron received six of these planes by rail in a state if disarray and after considerable fixing, they were flown by a handful of the most skilled pilots and were nicknamed the "Galloping Geese."

I love this picture though I don't know the context of it at all other than it was taken during the same time frame as the others during World War I. If I had to guess, I would say this was taken on the boat ride across the channel from Liverpool on their way to Le Havre, France. That trip was on a steam side-wheeler called Mona's Queen and was described as very crowded, stuffy and full of sea-sick men. I think that picture certainly matches that description but I have a hard time explaining how my great grandfather took that picture when he was on it.

This picture is almost the classical view of France during World War I. Bombed out buildings. According to 
the notation on the photo, this is somewhere in Reims, France. The Red Cross trucks stuck in the mud below also strike me as a classic war photo that you look at and say oh, World War I.

I'm not sure what the subject is of the above photo other than the one word on the back of the picture saying it is a shrine. I'm guessing it is France. I wish it had been in better shape. Any clues?

I think this final picture is a little bit of humor from my great grandfather as he poked fun of the manual style of threshing grain.


R. Sherman said...

Great photos and history! In the Movie Big Red One, there are two scenes which occur in France, near Reims at a prominent landmark known as "Christ On The Cross." I wonder if your shrine is connected to the fictional movie?

I'm glad the stories behind the photos are preserved. Make sure they stay in good shape.


Vince said...

You are very lucky indeed to exist at all. In less than a year the officer corp of the US managed to lose 250,000 men. A prodigious achievement even by the standards of truly incompetent generalship exhibited in that conflict.
Pershing and his staff believed that it was a question of backbone and not Maxim designed Spandau delivering the equivalent of 100 rifles of which there was 50,000 holding the fortress at Verdun. So they believed that one huge push would do it. And push they did. Pushing hundreds of thousands onto rolling hills before an army equipped with a modern mowing machine and with no compunction about using it.
They went down like barley before a combine harvester.

It should not be that difficult to discover where the 800th was stationed. The cross is another matter entirely. That style, on the cross pomme, tends in France to be in areas that have a profound connection to the crusader lands. And that area south of Reims had more connection than most. But it could be anyplace in the north of France above a line from Bordeaux and Lyons. But this is a play on the design

Ed said...

R. Sherman - That is certainly why I have been putting them here on the net because it seems to have a way of preserving things.

Vince - The more I dig into genealogy, the more I realize just how fragile life is. I have found several dozen ancestors with scrapes that could have easily killed them and thus I wouldn't exist. Yet another reason to celebrate life!