Rare photos document first Americans on front lines in World War I (Photos)

WASHINGTON — Last week marked 100 years since the U.S. declared war on Germany, officially entering the first world war.

But years before the first American “doughboys” landed on the shores of Europe, hundreds of Americans had aided the Allies by signing up to serve in the American Field Service, the famous ambulance corps that operated at the war’s French western front.

A rare collection of photographs documents the experience of one such American ambulance driver from his arrival in France to the arrival of U.S. troops and the end of the war.

The Statue of Liberty taken from Poquebot Espagne June 9, 1917. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)
The Statue of Liberty taken from Poquebot Espagne June 9, 1917. Note: The Poquebot Espagne was a liner converted to a troopship. This was the photographer’s trip from the US to France. The liner was attacked by a U-boat en route, and the Espagne’s gun fired on it, putting it to flight. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

Poquebot Espagne. French Tricolor at Stern. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

Poquebot Espagne. View of Steerage deck during Submarine attack on June 16, 1917. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

Poquebot Espagne. Running thru Sub zone with life boats swung out over side after being attacked. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

First view of France taken from The Espagne on the Gironde River below Bordeaux. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

Mansion at 21 Rue Raynouard The Home of the American Field Service. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

Barracks at American Field Service with Eiffel Tower in Background. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

Front of American Red Cross Military Hospital No 1 formerly The Ambulance Americain which passed into Gov’t’s hands on July 22nd. (Courtesy Maine Military Historial Society)

Ambulancier in dress uniform holding_Sammy — a 2 month old Fox and mascot of Section O.C. My-Panhard- Ambulance is in the background.

Section O.C’s line of French ambulances, twenty in all. Section O.A. also has twenty cars on the other side of the parking space. (Courtesy Main Military Historical Society)

Outer court of the Museum of the Invalides, showing trophies captured from the Germans and French and German aeroplanes. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

A ‘close up’ of a German bi plane shot down by the French on the Champagne Front. Notice the German Cross on the tail. At the right are two German 420 cm shells. (Courtesy Maine Military Historial Society)

A very poor likeness of one WF True in company of a German 420 shell. This will give you some idea of the size of projectiles used. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

One of our occasional visitors, a French dirigible flying over Paris. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

Inspection of American Ambulances by Gen. Dubail on June 28, 1917. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

The American Contingent marching by the Magasins du Louvre on July 4th. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

America’s First Expeditionary Force, 16th Regiment U.S. regulars marching thru La Place de la Concorde on July 4, 1917. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

Side view of the Cathedral de Rheims. Under German fire from Sept 1914 to Oct 1918. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

Decorations of the Flag of the Sanitary Service of the 22nd French Division. It carries a Croix de Guerre with 3 palms, 2 gold stars, and a silver star. (Courtesy Maine Military Historial Society)

Chaplain of 22d Division of Infanterie du ligne et les officers et sous officers de la SSU 642. (Courtesy Maine Military Historial Society)

Battle Wagon. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

Christmas dinner in preparation, Juvigny, Dec. 23, 1917. (Courtesy Maine Military Historial Society)

Juvigny, French infantry going into line. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

Juvigny — 1917-1918 Town in ruins under the snow. Note: Juvigny was a town on the Soissons Front, taken and retaken several
times through the war.

(Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

Juvigny, February 14, 1918, Infantry of 26th U.S. Division passing thru. Note: The 26th Division was a National Guard division from New England, nicknamed the “Yankee Division.” It was the first complete U.S. division to arrive in France. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

Bit of Camoflaged road on Chemin de dame, May 20th 1918. Note: The Chemin des Dames — translated as “Road of the Ladies” — ran along a ridge near Soissons, offering exceptional ground for military purposes. In the spring of 1918, it was held by British, French, and American units. It was where the U.S. 26th “Yankee” Division first saw action. It was overrun in the German spring offensive.

(Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

S.S.U. 642 ‘En repas’ waiting for the Champagne attack to start. Sept 20th 1918. Note: Sept. 26th marked the beginning of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive; the ambulances were prepped for this action. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

Wounded coming into Louain Sept 26th 1918 — Champagne. Note: Casualties from the beginning of the Meuse-Argonne.

(Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

Loading an Ambulance at Louain Sept 27 1918 — Champagne. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

G.B.D. poste de Secours. Ferme Navarin. German second line trenches. Champagne — Sept 28, 1918. Note: “Poste de Secours” stands for “aid station” in common parlance. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

German prisoners carrying in French wounded at Louain, Sept 28th 1918 — Champagne attack. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

The Statue of Liberty taken from Poquebot Espagne June 9, 1917. (Courtesy Maine Military Historical Society)

The photo scrapbook first found its way into the hands of Brig. Gen. Albert Greenlaw, who served in France with the Maine National Guard. The collection eventually ended up at the Maine Military Historical Society in Augusta, Maine, First Lt. Jonathan Bratten told WTOP in an email.

Bratten, the command historian for the Maine Army National Guard, co-wrote an article about the treasure trove of photos in an article in The Washington Post last week. WTOP reached out to the historical society for more of the rare photographs. The captions accompanying the photos are the original captions from the back of the photos, with some additional notes provided by Bratten.

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined WTOP.com as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at Nextgov.com, part of Government Executive Media Group.

Like WTOP on Facebook and follow @WTOP on Twitter to engage in conversation about this article and others.

© 2017 WTOP. All Rights Reserved.

More from WTOP

Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up