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mhaselden

Mystery Uniform

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I know this isn't strictly-speaking an aircraft topic but I hope the wonderful experts here can help. 

 

I came across this chap in a photo that included a relative of mine.  The uniform is unfamiliar to me.  My initial reaction was American but I'm far from convinced.  I should point out that uniforms really aren't my "thing" so I apologise if this is a bog-standard uniform of well-known provenance.  Anyhoo...here's the main pic:

 

 

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Here's a close-up showing the collar and shoulder area - note the '17' badge on the shoulder.  

 

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Any ideas would be most welcome.  I'm hoping the uniform identification may help me locate where the image was taken (or, at least, rule out a few options.

 

Many thanks,
Mark

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Certainly looks like the United States Army Air Service of WW1.

Prop badge on shoulder might mean he's a mechanic

The 17 could be number 17th Aero Squadron who served with the British RFC/RAF. The 17th Aero Squadron trained in Canada with the British and Canadians before going to France.

 

See the similarity of the jacket in this example;

https://www.ima-usa.com/products/original-u-s-wwi-third-army-aero-squadron-tunic?variant=39715889093

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US Army 1917 Uniform Regulations authorized enlisted men of the Aviation Service to wear an embroidered patch on their right sleeve.

 - Enlisted men of the Aviation Section wore white embroidered crossed propellers with their squadron number above on a blue background.

 - Enlisted Aviation Mechanics were as above with a circle embroidered around the crossed propellers.

 - Enlisted Pilots wore embroidered double wings with crossed propellers with the squadron number above on a blue background.

 

As to why he is wearing it on the left shoulder, I'm not sure. A possible explanation could be that in late 1917/early 1918, when the Infantry Divisions began wearing shoulder patches, they wore them on the left shoulder and the Air Service followed suit.

 

Hope this was of some help.

 

Cheers,

Rich

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He appears to be wearing sheepskin or similar leggings/trousers.

Would this possibly indicate that he flies in some way in an aircraft or balloon or even an airship of some kind?

Or were enlisted men in the Aviation Service granted the privilege of warmer legs than the ordinary U.S. soldiers?

John 

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Non-flying squadron personnel were sometimes given familiarization flights if the squadron had a two-seater at their disposal.

 

Cheers,

Rich

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Gents,

 

This has helped greatly.  The original image was reportedly taken at Beaulieu which I never truly believed, not least because there's no record of my relative having any association with that airfield. 

 

I wondered if the American airman was from the 17th Aero Squadron but the next challenge was working out how my relative came to be in contact with the American unit.  I think I found my answer.  On 19 September 1918, 11 Sqn (my relative's unit) relocated to Very Galant, which is just down the road from Sombrin Airfield, near Doullens, where the 17th arrived just a day later.  It would make sense for the 2 units to get to know each other, given that the airfields were less than 25km apart.

 

I think my question has solved the exact problem I was trying to tackle.  

 

Many, MANY thanks,
Mark

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As others have pointed out the uniform is definitely American. The first dead giveaway are the scalloped pocket flaps. Next is the badging on the tunic and the shoulder flash is for the 17th Aero Sqn.

 

 

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The person to his left is wearing an RFC 'Maternity' Jacket. so possibly a"flying visit". A very regular occurrence.

 

John

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Yes, there are RFC/RAF personnel in the photo.  It was allegedly taken at Beaulieu (East Boldre) but I'm not sure I buy that scenario given the presence of the American. 

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17 Aero Squadron USAS was actually attached to the RFC/RAF, in the way the some of the other USAS squadrons were attached to the French Air Force. They shared airfields and duties and went on joint patrols

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Just for reference, here's the link to the whole pic (Source: New Forest Knowledge):

 

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My relative is on the left of the photo.  The chap on the right was the original owner of the image, Arthur George Simmons.  As noted above, the image was allegedly taken at East Boldre airfield but my relative has no connection whatsoever with Beaulieu.  I was wondering if it might have been taken at either Vert Galant or Sombrin given that my relative's unit, 11 Sqn, and the 17th Aero Sqn were based respectively at those airfields in September 1918.  

 

Frankly, I can't see a 17th Aero Sqn airman being at East Boldre any time before 25 Jan 1918 when the Sqn arrived at Romsey Rest Camp, Hampshire but it wasn't there very long.  The ground echelon sailed for France on 9 Feb.  

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Patchy info from my book; a batch of USAS 'cadets' arrived in Liverpool on September 2nd 1917. They were based near Oxford.

Is Oxford near any of the paces you mention?

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Could be UK: there were many USAS personnel (officers and airmen) assigned to most UK stations from 1917, so though it might not be Beaulieu, it could be anywhere that your relative trained, or was posted in that period.  

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found another bit; USAS mechanics started training in England and Ireland from 'the fall'. Initially over 500, rising to 1500, then 3000 by November '17

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This might be a good starting point (note reference to 17th Aero Sqn):

 

Image1

 

Image2

 

Page 127

 

Page 128

 

I can't help for Beaulieu, but for example the first USAS troops arrived at Yatesbury, Wiltshire from the 37th Aero Sqn on 16 September 1917. This unit had initially been organized at Kelly Field in Texas on 27 May 1917 and embark for England on 23 August aboard the SS Baltic. The squadron disembarked at Liverpool on 15 September and then travelled by train to the Rest Camp on Southampton Common. From there much of the unit went to France, but the 37th Aero left a detachment of fifty men in England to train with RFC units.

 

There were many USAS units still in the UK in November 1918, awaiting a move to France and onwards.
 

Edited by Sabrejet

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By the way was Simmons and your relative with 55 TS or one of the TDS's? Most of the USAS personnel were assigned to TS/TDS units rather than active squadrons or squadrons working-up.

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10 minutes ago, Sabrejet said:

By the way was Simmons and your relative with 55 TS or one of the TDS's? Most of the USAS personnel were assigned to TS/TDS units rather than active squadrons or squadrons working-up.

 

That's all part of the mystery.  In comparing their service records, I can find no points of correlation where they served together, and yet clearly they did because so many photos of my relative, James Gamble, appear in the Arthur Simmons collection, including at least 5 images taken in Germany where 11 Sqn formed part of the occupation force based at Spich, a former Zeppelin base. 

 

James' early war record is unclear.  He enlisted as a fitter in Feb 1915 and appears to have spent most of his time at Farnborough.  Arthur Simmons enlisted Apr 1915 and he, too, likely spent some time at Farnborough, based on a couple of images in his collection.  Both were selected for pilot training.

 

James going to 8 TS at Netheravon then Witney on 13 Feb 1918 before proceeding to No.1 Fighting School on 3 Jul 1918 before being a staff pilot at No.1 School of Air Gunnery, at Romney Marsh, commencing 15 Jul 1918.  He was posted to France to 11 Sqn on 7 Sep 1918.  James remained with 11 Sqn until he was discharged in the late summer of 1919.  I have images of his logbook and there's no mention of his ever landed at Beaulieu, although he did overfly it a couple of times on reconnaissance training flights.  

 

Arthur having a definite connection with Beaulieu because he trained initally at 55 TS, then 1 TS before arriving at 29 TDS (which I believe was Beaulieu) on 27 Jul 1918.  On 8 Aug 1918 Simmons was posted to "RD" but I don't know what that means.  Then he went to France on 29 Sep 1918 before joining 20 Sqn 4 days later.  He joined 84 Sqn on 23 Apr 1919 before being discharged in Aug 1919.  The really odd thing about Simmons' record is that it makes no mention of his being qualified as a pilot.  The second page is almost as if another person's details, a rigger, were incorporated into Simmons' record.

 

I'm just really struggling to determine where and when some of these photos were taken, including the one that started this thread.  Since Arthur Simmons was at Beaulieu on 27 Jul 1918, was it possible that the American was also there undergoing training.  If so, he must have been sent back from France because the 17th Aero Sqn was fully engaged at that time.  The other alternative is that the photo was taken in France, perhaps at Vert Galant which was very close to the 17th Aero Sqn's base at Sombrin.  

 

'Tis a puzzlement....!

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Here's another part of my confusion.  The image below also came from the Arthur Simmons collection (Source: New Heritage Knowledge):

 

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We have Arthur Simmons on the left and James Gamble second from the right, wearing what looks like an American uniform hat.  The other 4 personnel are unidentified but at least 3 of them closely match personnel who did serve on 11 Sqn with James: the chaps 2nd left, right and, lastly, the one dressed for cold weather flying, seated right.  

 

If this image was taken at Beaulieu, I wonder what the odds might be for at least 4 and possibly 6 personnel, all of whom later served on 11 Sqn, being in this image.  

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Are we sure it's the 17th and that there's not another numeral hiding on the chap's shoulder?

 

I only ask because there were several USAS units in the 170-180 number series in the UK at the right time; the 170th was at Beaulieu - there is evidence in the form of letters from there having passed through the British censor. I've seen some source (a webpage?) suggest that there might have been a 177th Aero Squadron at Beaulieu (East Boldre), although records for that unit appear to be patchy and a quick scan of Mr Google causes some doubt as to whether the unit in fact activated.

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20 hours ago, XV107 said:

Are we sure it's the 17th and that there's not another numeral hiding on the chap's shoulder?

 

I only ask because there were several USAS units in the 170-180 number series in the UK at the right time; the 170th was at Beaulieu - there is evidence in the form of letters from there having passed through the British censor. I've seen some source (a webpage?) suggest that there might have been a 177th Aero Squadron at Beaulieu (East Boldre), although records for that unit appear to be patchy and a quick scan of Mr Google causes some doubt as to whether the unit in fact activated.

 

It could be something other than 17 but I'm still struggling with Beaulieu as the location.  Is it realistic to think that between 4 and 6 people in the same photo trained together at Beaulieu and then all ended up on the same squadron together?  That seems unlikely to me.  Even if it is Beaulieu, I can find no logical connection between my relative and that airfield, unless he popped over for a weekend...but that still doesn't explain the other 3-5 personnel in the photo who were on 11 Sqn.  

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22 hours ago, XV107 said:

Are we sure it's the 17th and that there's not another numeral hiding on the chap's shoulder?

Given the alignment of the visible 1 and 7 with the propeller badge below with the 7 being in line with the vertical propeller blades (ie central on the badge) I'd say that's highly likely.

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15 minutes ago, Dave Swindell said:

Given the alignment of the visible 1 and 7 with the propeller badge below with the 7 being in line with the vertical propeller blades (ie central on the badge) I'd say that's highly likely.

I think it's hard to tell given the fabric fold where the propeller badge sits.  One thing is clear, that the left-hand edge of the squadron number is directly in-line with the front edge of the epaulette.  I've tried to find other examples of this badge (with no joy, alas) to determine whether a 3-digit badge would line up with or be in front of the front of the epaulette.  If anyone has any other pics that might show this feature, I'd be interested in seeing them.  

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I was looking at the alignment of the squadron badge with the propeller badge, the left hand edge of both are in pretty close alignment.

The 1 sits over the left horizontal prop blade and the 7 sits over the vertical blades

If the badge is 17 squadron, this puts it off centre in relation to the prop badge, not impossible, but central alignment wouold look much better.

If the badge is 17? squadron, this would make it pretty much centrally aligned with the prop badge, with the ? numeral (out of view due to curve of the shoulder) sitting over the right hand horizontal blade of the prop.

As we can only see the front half of the epaullette, the rear edge of a 17? squadron badge would also line up pretty well with the rear of the epaullette.

A 17 squadron badge with equal margin either side of the numerals would be off centre in relation to the epaulette when the left front edges line up.

Note also the sargeant's stripes align centrally with the propeller badge, for the squadron badge not to be aligned would look distinctly odd.

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I can see what you're saying, Dave.  The challenge for me is the ripple in the fabric where the propeller badge is located, which means the vertical blades aren't straight, which (to my mind) makes it really hard to judge exactly what lines up with what.  I believe I'm seeing the vertical prop lining up between the 1 and the 7.  One other thought...if a 17? badge were to be centred on the epaulette (which makes sense...most such badges are aligned in that fashion), then I think it would have to be a rather broad epaulette.  To my eye, the width of the epaulette with 17 centred on it looks "right" (whatever that means...it's all subjective "eye of the beholder" stuff). 🙂

 

It would be really cool if one of the cognoscenti on here had other photos of US personnel with these squadron badges so we had some thing to compare against.  I've tried googling with zero success.  Perhaps my google-fu is weak.

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Did a bit more digging and if the man second from left in the photo at Post #18 is who I think it is (Arthur William Wallace), then the date is sometime after 11 Nov 1918 (assuming we are seeing some personnel from 11 Sqn).

 

The chap at far left, Arthur George Simmons, served on 20 Sqn until Apr 1919 and then moved to 84 Sqn.  As far as I can tell, neither unit was based close to 11 Sqn so, alas, I'm no further forward in my quest to identify the location.  

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