Remembering the Forgotten

Posted in Artifacts, Photographs, Uncategorized on January 15th, 2018 by Administrator

2017-18 marks the 100th anniversary of the United States involvement in World War One. Very little seems to being done officially to commemorate the events and the veterans who took part in them. Some time ago I was curating a proposed exhibit that highlighted the contributions made to the war effort by African American soldiers and sailors from California. Ultimately this exhibit never came to fruition but I thought I’d share the story of one of the soldiers who was to be highlighted in the exhibit. I used well established research techniques along with a good dose of what I have learned over the past 20 years as a genealogist to piece together the life of Sergeant Edwin Mosely Thompson of the 25th Infantry and 805th Pioneer Infantry.

Above: Private Edwin Mosely Thompson while stationed in Hawaii c. 1915 with the 25th Infantry Regiment. He wears the cotton khaki 1911 pattern summer service uniform and has an old style army sharpshooter badge pinned above his left pocket. Photo: Courtesy of the California State Library, Sacramento, California; World War I Soldier Photographs.


Edwin Mosley Thompson was born on May 8, 1898 in Sacramento California being one of five children of William Joshua Thompson and Sarah Mosely. The elder was a plumber by trade. Little can be discerned regarding Edwin’s youth prior to his enlistment in the army. He was not yet seventeen when he volunteered in November 1914 and was assigned as a private to the 25th Infantry Regiment which was performing garrison duty in Hawaii which was till a U.S. Territory. While the World War was already raging in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and the Far East, America had not yet been drawn into the fighting and duty in Hawaii must have been of the preferred postings for army personnel.  The 25th Infantry was one of the famed “Buffalo Soldier” regiments of the regular U.S. Army and would remain garrisoning Hawaii throughout the war.


With America’s entry into the war on April 6, Edwin Thompson volunteered for combat service in Europe. He was one of a cadre of 25 veteran members of the 25th Infantry – many of these “old soldiers” like Mosely not long out of their teens – who were assigned to newly raised units of volunteers and draftees and by their example were expected to impart a steadying influence on the new raw recruits. Mosely was assigned to Company G of the 805th Pioneer Infantry then being organized at Camp Funston, Kansas, Nicknamed the “Bearcats” , the 805th was a white officered but otherwise all black unit made up of men primarily from Missouri and Mississippi.

Above: The front and back of Edwin Mosely Thompson’s California War History Committee war service card which was filled out by his mother while he was still in Europe. It contains a wealth of personal information – much more than usual – and was vital in reconstructing not just Thompson’s military career but his entire life story. Photos: California State Library, Sacramento, California; California, World War I Soldier Service Records.


The Bearcats arrived in France in July 1918 and were assigned to the Department of Light Railways and Roads. Something of a hybrid regiment, the 805th like all pioneer infantry were generally detailed to engineering and construction duties but were also expected to act as regular infantry as the need arose. Edwin Thompson had qualified a s an expert marksman while still in Hawaii and this skill must have been of more than a passing value while in France.


While at the front, G Company was detailed to protect, repair and maintain a two kilometer section of the Avocourt-Esnes Road near the French town of Avocourt. On at least one occasion G Company was subjected to a German poison gas attack but suffered no casualties. In the unit’s official history – Victory: History of 805th Pioneer Infantry, American Expeditionary Forces – on moonlit nights the company was also subject to German aerial bombardment. In total the Bearcats would serve a total of 39 days at the front.


With the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918, Thompson and the 805th were stationed at Chateau de Chatel-Chehrey while awaiting their place on troopships home. To pass the time they busied themselves with various entertainments including inter-regimental baseball games between the Bearcats and other black units. Under the management of Captain George M. Bragan the team kept a perfect 10-0 record. The team’s perfect record was no doubt helped by the presence of several “ringers” in the lineup. These included William P. “Plunk” Drake, High R. Blackburn and Otto C. “Jay Bird” Ray, all of whom would go on to post war professional careers in the Negro Leagues with the Kansas City Monarchs. Colonel Chauncey Benton Humphrey, proudly claimed that his Bearcats had “the best Jazz band in France,” “the best vaudeville show in the American Expeditionary Forces, and the best baseball team of any outfit in France.


In July 1919 Edwin Thompson along with the rest of the 805th returned to the United States on board the USS Zeppelin. At some point prior to his discharge on June 4. 1920 Thompson was promoted sergeant.


Thompson returned to live with his parents who were now residing in Los Angeles and found employment as a civilian cook with the U.S. Army – possibly at Fort MacArthur in San Pedro. He was married by this time with his wife’s name being Beatrice.


Beatrice had died by 1930 when Thompson had moved to Kansas City where he was employed as a valet at a theater. Perhaps he was bitten by the acting bug because in 1931 he had returned to California to marry Miss Claire Marie Countee Fields and the occupation he listed on the couple’s marriage license with that of actor though it does not state whether the acting was on stage or screen. The couple does not appear to have had any children.


Former sergeant Edwin Mosely Thompson passed away at the age of 56 on July 20, 1954 and was buried with full military honor at Golden Gate National Cemetery, San Bruno, California.

To All Whom It May Concern

Posted in Artifacts, Photographs, Uncategorized on January 6th, 2018 by Administrator

I am and easy mark for a research project – doubly so when it is a cheap one. Not long ago I came across this World War One vintage U.S. Army discharge certificate in an online auction and picked it up for under ten dollars. Looking it over prior to purchase I realized it offered interesting possibilities since the subject – one Charles Edward Dukes – had enlisted in the U.S. Cavalry a good two years before America’s entry into World War One.

Duke’s discharge certificate in remarkably detailed and complete probably due to the fact that he enlisted pre-war as opposed to being a draftee or later volunteer. Based on the information provided on his discharge certificate as well as other primary sources the following outline of Duke’s military career and life has been complied.

Above: The reverse side of Duke’s discharge certificate  showing the remarkable amount of detail included in this single document.

Charles Edward Dukes was born at Millville, Delaware on October 15, 1895 to son of Curtis F. Dukes. A mariner and Pauline Lynch. One of the hardest parts of researching an otherwise unknown historical subject is the period of their childhood and Charles Dukes was no exception with only a brief mention of him appearing in the 1900 Census where he was listed along with his mother and father as living in the home of his paternal grandparents Thomas and Elizabeth Dukes.

Charles Dukes enters military records when he enlists (serial number 1,908,620) at Fort Slocum, New York on December 5, 1915. He was assigned to “H” Troop of the 22nd Cavalry. I have not found any information regarding the 22nd Cavalry unless the reference is to the 22nd Cavalry Division. This is uncertain, and Dukes soon found himself along the Mexican border in the wake of Francisco “Pancho” Villa’s attack on Columbus, New Mexico on March 9, 1916.

Above: In pursuit of Villa – U.S. Cavalry in northern Mexico – 1916.

In response General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing assembled an expeditionary force which entered Mexico in pursuit of Villa on March 15, 1916.  According to his discharge certificate Dukes entered Mexico soon after on March 18. He remained in Mexico until May 3 when he returned to the U.S. He redeployed to Mexico on June 7 and remained there until February 5, 1917. Since most U.S. personnel had been withdrawn from Mexico by January Dukes must have been amongst the very last to recross the border. Dukes was entitled to the Mexico Service Medal for duties performed with the Mexican Expedition

Dukes remained in the cavalry being promoted to private 1st class on July 12, 1917 but was reduced to private on October 13. 1917. On October 20 he was assigned to the headquarters company of the 328th Infantry, 26th “Yankee” Division. He was promoted corporal on October 27, 1917 only to be reduced to private again on February 1, 1918. Wartime needs being paramount and his prewar experience counting much in this new and very green army, he was promoted sergeant major on April 23, 1918.

On May 1, 1918 Dukes and Headquarters Company departed Boston, Massachusetts on board the SS Grampian for France, the 328th being reinforcements for the 26th Division which had been in France since late 1917. On July 17, 1918 Dukes was reduced to sergeant. He would see a fair amount of action (in as much as being assigned to a headquarters company would allow) and he would be entitled to the “Defensive Sector”, “St. Mihiel” and “Meuse-Argonne” battle clasps for his World War One Victory Medal.

Sergeant Charles Dukes returned home on board the SS Scranton from Bordeaux, France on May. 9, 1918. He was appointed supply sergeant on June 14, 1919. He received his final discharge on June 4. 1920 at Governor’s Island, New York. At the time of his discharge his character was described as excellent which may imply that his various ups and downs rank wise were not the result of disciplinary actions but as a response to the needs of the service during wartime.

Above: Additional records helped to complete Dukes’ story. This is his Pennsylvania Veteran’s Compensation File Card which lists his dates of promotion.

After discharge Dukes made a living variously as a mill worker, farmer as salesman, The 1940 Census does inform us that Dukes had completed his high school education prior to enlisting in the army. He married Caroline Matilda Cranska on February 10, 1938. The couple would become parents to twins. He was a member of the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Massachusetts.

Charles Edward Dukes passed away at Douglas, Massachusetts on February 23, 1986.

Stretching History

Posted in Despatches, Uncategorized on December 22nd, 2017 by Administrator

One of those interesting examples of forgotten fragments of history that exist right in front of people’s eyes.

Revolt at Toronto

Posted in Artifacts, Photographs, Uncategorized on December 19th, 2017 by Administrator

Inscribed “Yours very faithfully, Walter Alves.” This c. 1918 real photo postcard provides us with an outstanding portrait of a member of the British West Indies Regiment.

Often confused with the long establish West India Regiment, the British West Indies Regiment (B.W.I.R.) was raised specifically for duty during World War One and was made up of black volunteers from the British West Indies as well as British Honduras and British Guiana. With the regiment eventually increasing to ten battalions in strength the B.W.I.R. saw its 1st and 2nd Battalions serve in Egypt and Palestine against the Ottoman Empire with the other battalion seeing service in France, Flanders and Italy.

While often relegated to secondary roles, the B.W.I.R. drew a mention from Field Marshal Douglas Haig who said: “[Their] work has been very arduous and has been carried out almost continuously under shell-fire. In spite of casualties the men have always shown themselves willing and cheerful workers, and the assistance they have rendered has been much appreciated by the units to which they have been attached and for whom they have been working. The physique of the men is exceptional, their discipline excellent and their morale high”.

With the appalling casualty rates suffered by front line troops, members of the B.W.I.R. did see combat proved themselves equal to the task and were recognized with the award of including five Distinguished Service Orders, nineteen Military Crosses, eleven Military Crosses with Bar, eighteen Distinguished Conduct Medals, as well as 49 Mentions in Despatches

At wars end the entire regiment was concentrated at Toronto in southern Italy for demobilization. Discontent began to arise with the B.W.I.R. when a post war pay raise being granted other British troops was denied them. Also contributing to the rising ill-feeling was the endless fatigue duties that were assigned the regiment. These included the loading and unloading of cargo ships in Toronto’s harbor to the cleaning of latrines for the Italian Army. Resentment finally boiled over when members of the B.W.I.R.s  9th and 10th Battalions refused to do any additional work until their grievances were addressed. These points were put forward in a letter signed by some 180 sergeants of the regiment. Violence broke out which lasted three days before being put down by elements of the Worcestershire Regiment which were also in Toronto at the time. One white British officer – the very one who had ordered his men to clean the Italian latrines – was attacked and one black sergeant shot and killed a private of the B.W.I.R. in self-defense before what became known as the Toronto Revolt was suppressed.

In the wake of the revolt some 60 members of the regiment were court martialed and received prison terms ranging from three to twenty years. One man faced a firing squad.

The animosities and resentments that brought about the Toronto Revolt and the circumstances of its aftermath would centrally figure in the Caribbean independence and self-rule movements that began to spring up not long after the end of the war.

Not much has come to light concerning the soldier in our photograph. His regimental number being 2443, Private Walter Alves was a member of the B.W.I.R.s 3rd Battalion which did not take part in the revolt. As a member of the 3rd Battalion Alves would have served in France and Flanders prior to the end of the war and being transferred to southern Italy. Alves’ service records have not been found (apparently destroyed during WWII) but his medal index card as well as his entry in the British War and Victory Medal Roll have. These two sources confirm his service number and battalion and state that he was entitled to both of these medals. Interestingly both of these official sources show Alves’ medals going unclaimed and being returned to the War Office. Of the twenty members of the B.W.I.R. listed on the same page of the medal roll seven show their medals going unclaimed. One might assume that there may have been a statement being made by these men.

Alves himself cut quite a soldierly – and very young – appearance in this photograph. He wears the regulation uniform of the British Army at the time a sports a quilted tropical helmet on his head which reflects the warm and sunny Mediterranean climate of southern Italy. On the cuff of his left sleeve is an armband which shows he had been appointed to the regimental military police. In his hand he hold the ubiquitous “walking out stick”. Often called a swagger stick and associated with officers, these were in fact carried by all ranks with the main purpose being to keep a soldiers hands busy – nothing was considered more unsoldierly as a soldier with his hands in his pockets.

On the reverse side of the postcard Alves dedicated it to “Mrs. Pennington, with complements.

Through a Glass, Darkly

Posted in Artifacts, Photographs, Uncategorized on December 15th, 2017 by Administrator

One of a series of about ten original early 20th Century glass plate negatives depicting a member of the Dorsetshire Regiment performing duties of a mounted infantrymen. Taken outdoors by an unknown photographer possibly soon after the end of the Anglo-Boer War, the images depicts the same man in various poses both mounted and and on foot.

A great rarity in that all of these fragile glass negatives survived in an associated group (albeit with two plates being cracked during shipment) it is assumed that the negatives were given to the subject after the end of the photographic session which led to their survival.

This soldier wears scarlet home service pattern tunic with an 1888/89 pattern bandolier over his shoulder and a brown waist belt with snake type clasp. On his head sits a plumed slouch hat the type of which became popular during the Anglo-Boer War and now most closely associated with Australian troops. In the 1900 edition of Dress Regulations: For Officers of the Army (Including Militia) 1900 this type of head wear was described as a “Terai Hat”. The Dorsetshire Regiment’s sphinx collar badges – commemorating the regiment’s predecessor the 54th Regiment of Foot’s campaign against Napoleon in Egypt and century before – adorn his collar.

Each of the original plates measure about 4 3/4 inches by 6 1/2 inches (approximately 12cm x 16.5cm). A positive version of the original glass negative produced via Photoshop is shown below.  All were taken outdoors in natural light. Note the simple cloth backdrop used in this photograph.

Below: A second negative from the group along with a positive version of the same soldier this time mounted and fully armed and equipped for home service. He has forgone the slouch hat for a field cap.

Of the Highest Quality…

Posted in Photographs, Uncategorized on July 7th, 2014 by Administrator

Two of the most interesting eras in American military history (in my opinion) are the two inter-war periods between the end of the Spanish-American War and the beginning of World War One and that between the end of World War One and the beginning of the Second World War.

Both time periods saw the downsizing the U.S. military forces to ridiculously low levels and numerous small but little heralded military actions in Central America, the Caribbean and the Far East. And while the military changed drastically during both these eras since there were no major wars being fought it receives far less attention that it should.

This real photo postcard come from the first of these time periods and depicts a private from the Michigan National Guard. He wears a 1902 pattern service hat which was creased fore and aft with blue infantry hat cords. His uniform is the cotton khaki 1908 summer service uniform. He seems to be wearing a version of the 1907 web field equipment which was possibly a variation particular to the Michigan National Guard. He is armed with the M1903 Springfield Rifle and associated M1905 bayonet.

The photograph it of superior quality and we owe a debt to the unknown photographer who created it circa 1910. It is of remarkable clarity and contrast and in many ways harkens back to the finest quality of photographic images created during the glass plate days of the American Civil War. The painted backdrop may actually date to the earlier period and when examined closely the base of Civil War era cast iron head rest stand be seen behind his feet. In fact the image appears more like a high quality tin type that it does a paper photographic post card.

During the American Civil War the tin type and carte de visite photographic formats became almost ubiquitous and during the early 1900s the real photo post card tended to fill the same niche low cost and affordable photographs. Generally they are not of the highest quality suffer in composition often having a look of careless rushing on the part of the photographer. This image bears all the hallmarks of a superior studio image and belies an otherwise mundane format.  


Politically Incorrect Fireman

Posted in Artifacts, Uncategorized on April 21st, 2014 by Administrator


First off this little Art Deco artifact has nothing to do with firefighting even though the term “fireman” is used in the title. Politically incorrect? Well that has to do with the fact that the item in question is an ashtray and to some these days anything having to do with tobacco is pure and unadulterated evil. I suppose the word “fireman” is in these same people’s minds just as bad since it is sexist and should read “fireperson”.


The object here at hand is actually one of those little gems that once I saw one for the first time it became inevitable that I would end up buying one. Produced in the late 1920’s and early 1930s the “Iron Fireman” ashtray was a marketing premium offered by the firm Iron Fireman (still in existence) which produced coal fired (gasp – more political incorrectness) furnaces and heaters for homes and businesses. This ashtray was used to promote an automated coal feeding system which offered a much welcome alternative to heaving coal by hand is the basement during cold winter months. The little robotic stoker – the Iron Fireman – was the personification of this patented system.


The Iron Fireman is reminiscent in some ways of the Tin Man from the classic 1939 film The Wizard of OZ and there is something from the Steampunk genre in him too. Actually quite small the streamlined Art Deco base measures about six inches wide (approximately 16 cm) with the Fireman himself being a separate piece attached to the base via two small bolts. Both the base and the Fireman are cast in a zinc based alloy. This example while oxidized to a certain degree does not appears to have ever been used for its original intended purpose. I have seen examples for sale which have a fairly bright polish to them but I suspect that this finish has been applied recently and it not how they appeared originally.





That Which Was Lost…

Posted in Despatches, Uncategorized on March 27th, 2014 by Administrator

Above: A period photograph of T. E. Lawrence’s base in the desert of modern-day Jordan. Note the Rolls-Royce armoured cars and their British crews which were used to great effect against the German-allied Turks. Also note the distinctive conical hill in the background which proved vital in pinpointing the camp’s location.

Utilizing a long lost map drawn by a long forgotten British RAF pilots roughly sketched map researcher John Winterburn has located the camp from which T. E. Lawrence – known to history as Lawrence of Arabia – launched his attacks on Turkish forces during his World War One desert campaign.

Winterburn made use of such varied sources as Google Earth, that old 1818 vintage hand drawn map and photographic forensics to pinpoint the precise location of camp that Lawrence himself only described as “behind the toothed hill facing Tel Shahm station”.

Above: A recent photograph of the conical hill which also appears in the photograph at the beginning of this post.


The full story can be found here at the Daily Mail Online:


So long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehn, Goodbye

Posted in Photographs, Uncategorized on March 15th, 2014 by Administrator

Germany, like all major powers in the late 19th Century joined in the scramble for overseas colonies albeit rather lately when compared to the old hands at empire building like Britain and France.

The imperial pickings had grown rather thin by the time this photograph was taken and Germany had only managed to acquire areas a Southwest and East Africa, a few concessions in China and some remote Pacific islands. This remarkable uniformed solider was a volunteer for service in Deutsch Südwest Afrika or German Southwest Africa. These troops were known singularly as schutztruppe and schutztruppen in the plural. Schutztruppe can be literally translated into “Protection Troops”.

This photograph bears the caption “Auh Wiedersehn!” and is typical of the images taken of these volunteers just prior to their departure to Southwest Africa with this specific example dating from the 1904-07 time period. This coincides with the rebellion of the Herero people against their German overlords which was suppressed with great brutality by Lieutenant-General Lothar von Trotha.

Wearing the Shutztruppe’s characteristic gray 1896 pattern Kord Waffenrock uniform which was piped and trimmed in blue. On his head he wears a gray felt Südwester hat with it distinctive upturned right hand brim which was held in place by a large cockade bearing the Imperial German colors of red, white and black. Since all schutztruppe’s acted as mounted infantry his boots are outfitted with spurs. Held at the ready is his Mauser Infanteriegewehr 98 rifle, an outstanding weapon versions of which had been used to great effect by the Boers against the British during the recently end Anglo-Boer War and by the Spanish against the United States during the Spanish-American War of 1898. His ammunition pouches are leather and of the pattern common with troops deployed as reinforcements to Southwest Africa in 1904.

The painted backdrops depicts a rather romanticized view of Southwest Africa and shows what appears to be Herero warriors at left beginning an attack on a German encampment. The painted stone bears the name of the colonial capital of Veste Windhoek. The numbered card to the right of the soldier was probably a reference for the photographer which allowed him to match the photograph to a specific client. The photographer was R. Schubert of No. 3 West Potsdamersrtasse, Berlin.


When The Highlanders Took Tacoma

Posted in Photographs, Uncategorized on February 26th, 2014 by Administrator

While it is a historical fact that the United States and Canada did nearly come to blows in the Pacific Northwest once upon a time, the title of this post in actuality simply notes the rather unusual combination of subject matter and location exhibited together in this early 20th Century photograph.

Dating from sometime after the turn last century the photograph depicts a member of what was in all likelihood a Canadian Highland Regiment who at some point in his career managed to find his way across the border of the United States, in uniform, to have his portrait taken in Tacoma, Washington State. My assumption as to this soldier being Canadian – besides the photographer’s proximity to Canada – is the lack of collar badge on his uniform. All Highland regiments associated with the British Army had and still have (in the case of todays single Royal Highland Regiment) very distinctive collar devices.

The Canadian Highland regiment raised closest to Washington State are the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada which where first organized at Vancouver, British Columbia in 1910. This photograph dates from around that time even if the soldier’s uniform looks a bit earlier than that, perhaps the 1890s. In some ways the photograph looks like an older image that may have been re-photographed by Tacoma based photographer F. J. Lee. If this the case this soldier could have been a member of another Canadian Highland regiment or battalion who had relocated after his years with the colours to western Canada or even the United States. If F. J. Lee had the soldier pose facing the other direction all of this pondering would be a moot point since we would be able to see the regimental badge on his glengarry cap.

This soldier appears to be wearing a scarlet, seven button tunic with what was probably a dark blue or black collar, He also appears to be wearing his whitened buff leather equipment harness which may have been of the Valise or later Slade-Wallace pattern. On his head is a regulation glengarry ace with a red and white diced band which probably also sported a standard red pom.

I performed a rather cursory online search and have decided that this photograph could not be the r