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Private Albert David Smith-World War One

I recently added three postcards to my small military history collection of post cards. I especially like to find the ones that have a name and address and a message. It gives me the opportunity to do some INET research and see what I can find out about the person. There is also the chance that some relative of the person on the postcard might stumble upon my entry and want the postcard for their family history. In such a case, I would be happy to send it to them. Below are pictures of the postcard.

For a Good Cause

The postcard is a good example of early colorization. It probably was a bit more expensive than the black and white postcards that are far more common. The time period suggests the World War One period-a fact verified by the post mark on the flip side. The theme and title, For a Good Cause, speak of the leaving of the soldiers and saying good-bye to their sweethearts.

Prominent with the soldiers is the distinctive campaign hat of American World War One soldiers. The hats would not be worn in the trenches of France since they provided no protection to the head. American soldiers on the front lines in France would wear a steel helmet that was very similar to the British helmets of the period.

The picture also shows the soldiers with their rifles symbolizing the fact they were off to war. The most common rifle issued to American soldiers in World War One was the 1903 Springfield bolt action rifle. The rifle would see service well into World War Two until replaced by the M1 Garand.

The dress of soldier’s sweethearts is a snap shot of the styles of the 1918 period. The characters have been super-imposed on a park like background.

To Private Albert Smith

The card was sent to Private Albert Smith who appears to be in basic training at Camp Jack Johnson in Florida. He is in a receiving company numbered twelve, meaning he is just starting his training. I am uncertain as to what the “Rd Reg” means but I am assuming it is the training regiment that Co No 12 belongs to. I am certain that Camp Jack Johnson is actually Camp Joe Johnson, named for the Confederate General during the American Civil War. The camp was in service from November, 1917 to May, 1919. According to the notes I found the camp specialized in training quartermasters-key players in logistics and supply.

The card is postmarked August 19, 1918 stamped in New Burgh, New York. The post mark helped me track down Private Albert Smith who I believe is Albert David Smith of Orange County, New York.

Before I move on to Private Smith and what I discovered I want to write a few words about our army in World War One.

The United States was unprepared for a major war when Congress declared war on Imperial Germany in April, 1917. Our standing army was tiny and the National Guard (and US Marines would make up a large portion of our early contributions to the war in France. However, by the end of the war in November, 1918 the United States had 2,000,000 men in France, most of whom were drafted!

The US did not win the war alone. The British (and Commonwealth countries) as well as France had been fighting for three long years prior to our entry. Every major power was exhausted by the carnage. It can be said that the US entry into the war sealed the fate of Imperial Germany since 2,000,000 more allied soldiers were more than enough to break the stalemate. Private Albert Smith would be one of the hundreds of thousands who were drafted.

My wife and I worked to transcribe the message and this is what we came up with.

FR-Albert Rec (received) card with many thanks glad to hear from you, everything is about the same in New-B- (New Burgh), you are having the time of your life traveling, tell WM Hagen (William Hagen?) I was asking for him From your Fr-F Spn.

The first mystery to unravel is who is Fr. Initially, my wife and I thought Fr stood for father. We thought that would be inconsistent with the front of the card that shows soldiers kissing their sweethearts. I thought maybe the Fr stood for Fran or Franny, a common name for women at the time. The bottom line is we just don’t know for certain.

The second mystery was to see if I could find Albert Smith’s draft card. I had done similar research in my family history and found that the draft card could give you some details. I got lucky on Family Search and found three Albert Smiths from Orange County who registered for the draft in 1918.

One Albert Smith was born in 1876 and that would have made him 42 in 1918, too old to be called to the colors. Another Albert Smith was born in 1893 and that would make him 25 in 1918. It was possible he was who I was looking for. I had researched my own family history though and found that one of my grandfather’s older brothers had also registered with the draft in 1918 and he was born in 1893. He was never called up. Maybe it was because he was married.

The second Albert Smith was from Goshen, New York which is in Orange County, but it’s not New Burgh so I ruled number two out as improable.

Albert David Smith was born in 1899 making him 19 in 1918, the most common age for a draftee of the period. On Albert David Smith’s draft card it was recorded that his closest relative was Bertha Smith of Slade Hill, Orange, New York. I believe Bertha to be Albert’s mother. I am fairly certain that Albert David Smith is indeed the serviceman on the postcard. It does not seem that Fr on the card is Bertha but who knows.

I did run searches on find a grave but the only close match did not have the right birth month in 1899. That doesn’t mean it could not be Albert David Smith since mistakes are often made. However, the grave stone and entry had no new information except for the fact that the Albert David Smith died in 1982 and was buried in Florida. The age of death for a World War One veteran would be about right and it’s interesting to speculate that Albert retired to Florida after being trained there in the far away days of 1918.

For a God Cause

Another reason the post card resonated with me is because of the two model vignettes above. They are part of my collection of model soldiers in 54mm-60mm scale, These particular models are from Briton’s a well known manufacturer in the UK. The two models were part of a series of three. I have the German soldier saying goodbye to his sweetheart and I have a Scottish soldier saying goodbye to his. The one missing is a French soldier saying goodbye to his. I kick myself for not getting the French one when I had the chance years ago. The series was of a limited production so getting the French one now would be quite expensive.

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