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U.S. Army Brassards & Armbands 1898 to 1918 Part 2


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Photo No. 98: There seems to have been some consistency among the brassards worn by the enlisted fire fighters in the AEF. The driver of this fire truck from Fire Truck and Hose Company No. 319, operating out of Gieveres Loirs et Cher, France is also wearing a similar, if not an identical dark colored AEF Fire Company or French Fire Brigade or Fire Fighters brassard. However, he happens to be wearing the brassard on the right, rather than the left arm.

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Photo No. 99: In the United States, Army firefighters were identified as such by wearing a badge. The badges would typically be marked with the name of the post, armory, fort, training camp, etc. from which the firemen hailed. The example shown in the inset is from Camp Taylor which was located just outside of Louisville Kentucky. The camp was named after Zachary Taylor, the 12th president of the United States.

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Photo No. 100: Another interesting piece of gear worn by WW I era military fire fighters was an eagle headed fire helmet bearing the initials “QMC” for Quartermaster Corps. These firemen from Camp Dix in New Jersey are wearing a slightly different version of the eagle headed fire helmet shown in the inset.

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British Signal Service Armband

Photo No. 101: During the Great War, the British Army employed a white over blue armband for all members of the Royal Signal Service serving at the front. The British Signal Service Armband is worn by the English switchboard operator in the left hand photograph. On the right, two American Doughboys are also wearing British made Signal Service Armbands. The right hand soldier also appears to be carrying a British made gasmask, which is identified by the stud on the shoulder strap that was used to shorten the sling so it could be worn high up on the chest, in the alert position.

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Photo No. 102: The warmly dressed British ‘Tommy ‘on the left is wearing an armband similar to the Signal Service Armband shown in the inset. It’s very likely that the AEF and especially the troops assigned to the AEF, II Army Corps, which was under British command, employed a number of British style armbands. This would have been done because the British armbands would be instantly recognized by the Commonwealth troops whom the Yanks were fighting with.

The term “armband” is what the British Army used for what the Americans and French Armies called a “brassard”. The British army also called any armband/brassard that was narrow in width an “armlet”. The American’s however, would have referred to a narrow brassard as an “armband”.

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Photo No. 103: Three examples of U.S. Army Signal Corps insignia are shown in conjunction with that of the 1st American Army. At the left and right the orange lozenge or diamond shape symbol was used to represent the Signal Corps. The checkerboard placed between the legs of the 1st Army’s ‘A’ SSI was the emblem of the Signal Corps Telegraph Section. I’m not sure if the color is blue and white, mirroring the colors of the British Signal Service Armband or if it is orange and white, the branch colors of the Signal Corps.

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Unknown Chemical Corps Brassard

Photo No. 104: This NCO wearing a Chemical Corps collar disc on his overseas cap also wears a brassard whose purpose is unknown. The single colored brassard bears either a word or acronym that begins with the letter ‘A’, which is presumably embroidered in a contrasting color.

 

Does anyone know or care to speculate what this particular brassard might be?

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Photo No. 105: When it came to gas warfare, the War Department initially gave the Medical Department the responsibility of procuring and distributing gasmasks. The job of manufacturing and filling of gas shells fell upon the Ordnance Department. The Signal corps was tasked with devising gas alarms; while, the troops of the Corps of Engineers, specifically the 30th Engineer Regiment, were selected to operate all AEF gas delivery systems in combat. Because of this the Chemical Warfare Service wasn’t formally established until July of 1918. It was on this date that the 30th Engineer Regiment was re-designated as the 1st Gas and Flame Regiment.

 

Three examples of AEF Chemical Warfare Service SSI are shown here. First up, the Chemical Corps SSI was comprised of a shield that was diagonally bisected in blue and yellow, the branch colors of the Chemical Warfare Service. The second SSI is a hybrid insignia made up of a Chemical Corps blue and yellow SSI that has been embellished with the numeral ‘1’ to represent the recently established 1st Gas and Flame Regiment. Third is the official insignia of the 1st Gas and Flame Regiment (formerly the 30th Engineer Regiment). It too was comprised of the branch colors of the Chemical Warfare Service. However, the entire shield was made in yellow while the numeral ‘1’ was made in blue.

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Paris Peace Commission Brassard

The Paris Peace Conference was what the series of meetings held at Versailles, just outside of Paris were called. The purpose of the commission, set up by the Allied victors following the signing of the Armistice on November 11, 1918, was to set terms for the defeated Central Powers. The conference attended by delegates from 27 nations opened on January 18, 1919 and came to an end nearly one year later on January 21, 1920. During that time, along with establishing the League of Nations, five peace treaties were ratified:

  • The Treaty of Versailles with Germany on June 28, 1919
  • The Treaty of Saint-Germain with Austria on September 10, 1919
  • The Treaty of Neuilly with Bulgaria on November 27,1919
  • The Treaty of Trianon with Hungary on June 4 1920
  • The Treaty of Sevres with the Ottoman Empire (Republic of Turkey) on August 10, 1920

Photo No. 106: The Paris Peace Commission Brassard was worn by American military personnel attending the conference. Two examples are shown here. One is fabricated from blue wool, embroidered with white thread. The other is constructed of blue silk that has been embroidered with gold bullion. Presumably, the higher quality, gold bullion brassard would have been worn by an officer, and the simple thread version would have been worn by an NCO or enlisted man, like the one worn by the soldier on the right. Note the absence of collar insignia and overseas service chevrons on the enlisted man’s service coat.

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Special Duty Armbands

In 1917, General Pershing noticed that line troops and work parties that were separated from their parent units in the British Army wore various colors of armlets (narrow armbands) on their left arm. Each color of armlets identified the specific task, function or duty that the soldier was to perform.

 

Photo No. 107: This section of ‘Diggers’ or Australian soldiers are identified as members of the Signals Service by the blue armlet worn on the left arm of each man.

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Photo No. 108: The purpose of the 1 ½ inch wide armbands was to inform officers, NCOs, MP and other soldiers that the wearer was away from his unit on official business. The color identified the specific nature of the official business. A red ‘runners’ armlet is shown next to another ‘Aussie’ wearing a similar armlet, as prescribed on the left forearm.

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Realizing the practicality of the British system of colored armlets, Pershing suggested that a similar set of armbands be adopted for use by AEF troops. On November 11, 1917, AEF General Orders announced the color, purpose and by whom the recently adopted “distinguishing marks” would be worn:

 

Arm Bands
I. The following distinguishing marks for specialists, and individuals detailed for special duties which, on occasion, separate them from their organizations, are hereby prescribed:

Green – Guides and Scouts
Red – Orderlies and Messenger (Runners)
Blue – Agents and Signalmen
Yellow – Carrying Parties (Munitions, Material, rations)
White – Trench Cleaners

Salvage Parties – Khaki Arm Band with “Salvage” in red letters

 

The bands will be one and one-half inches wide and, with the exception of orderlies to different headquarters, will be worn around the left fore-arm. Headquarters orderlies will wear the red band around the left upper arm.

 

Men equipped with wire cutters will wear a piece of white tape tied to the right shoulder strap.

AEF, General Orders No. 59, November 11, 1917

The armbands, which were unwittingly called brassards, were also mentioned in the uniform regulations published in 1918:

 

Brassards worn on the right upper arm are of the following distinctive colors: blue for agents and signalmen, green for guides and scouts, red for orderlies and messengers, white for trench cleaners, yellow for members of parties carrying munitions, material, food or water, khaki with the word “salvage” in red letters for members of salvage parties.

Uniform Regulations for the Uniform of the United States Army, 1918, page unknown

Photo No. 109: I don’t know the origin of this photo, but I’m pretty sure that the special duty armbands depicted are reproductions. Nevertheless, their general appearance would be similar to the armbands made in France for the AEF. The AEF armbands were constructed out of a heavy cotton material similar to canvas and were fastened by a two pronged buckle. The purpose of each armband from top to bottom was as follows:

 

The green armband, issued to scouts and guides was worn by soldiers sent to the front in advance of the company, regiment or brigade to find the exact position which they were to occupy. They would then return and guide the men to that location under the cover of darkness; presumably without getting lost while guiding the troops to their position at the front.

 

The red armband, issued to orderlies and messengers who were also known as ‘runners’ was worn by the Doughboys who carried important messages from the post of command (PC) up to forward units or back to HQ when they could not be contacted by other means.

 

The blue armband issued to agents and signalmen was worn by the men of the Division HQ Company signals section when they were dispatched to either lay new communication wire during an assault or when they were dispatched to locate and repair severed communication lines.

 

The yellow armband issued to carrying parties were worn by the men that were detailed to go back to the field kitchen, water point, ammunition dump, etc. to obtain any supplies that were urgently needed.

 

The white armband issued to trench cleaners, was worn by specially trained men who were sometimes referred to as ‘gas fanners’. These men exited the safety of an underground dugout long before ordinary troops in order to fan lingering gas that had collected in low lying areas out of the trenches. In addition to special fans, they also utilized a French hand pumped sprayer worn on the back or scattered lime powder to disinfect any area or any equipment that might have been contaminated by gas.

 

The khaki armband was worn by troops who were detailed to follow behind the attack and gather up all of the equipment that had been lost, abandoned or damaged during the assault.

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Photo No. 110: Virtually all of these British assault troops carry either conventional wire cutters or wire cutters mounted on their rifles. The sergeant in the foreground and the soldier at the rear left are both wearing a white armlet of their left upper arm. I don’t know what the white armlet signified in the British Army. However, in the Canadian Army, a white armlet was worn by mopping up parties.

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Photo No. 112: All of the special duty armbands in the AEF were to be worn on the left forearm, except for the red armband which was worn on the upper left arm like an MP or Red Cross Brassard. These signalmen from the 2nd Division are all wearing the blue agents and signalmen armband as prescribed.

 

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Photo No. 113: This photo shows what must be two special duty armbands, both of which are worn incorrectly on the upper, rather than lower arm. The armband on the left is either white, signifying a trench cleaner or yellow which would indicate that this III Corps soldier was a member of a carrying party. The blue armband on the right is that of an agent or signalman.

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Photo No. 114: To commemorate their “special duty” service, the men who wore the various color armbands during the war often sewed a strip of the respective colored cloth on the sleeve of their service coat in the form of an armband. On this 33rd Division service coat, green has been used to represent the fact that its original owner was once a scout or guide.

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Recruiting Service Brassard

Photo No. 116: The U.S. Army utilized a white on blue Recruiting Service Brassard to identify the personnel on duty with the Recruiting Service. Three period examples are shown along with a surviving example. Note that each brassard appears to be nearly identical.

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Photo No. 117: In addition to the brassard, the Army Recruiting Service also had its own insignia. Some of the Recruiting Service insignia was comprised of a screwback enlisted man’s garrison cap device in gilt for the dress blue uniform and bronze for the olive drab service dress (top row center); an officer’s cut-out style bronze collar device and an enlisted man’s bronze collar disc, both comprised of the initials ‘R’ and ‘S’ (bottom row, left and center); and a gilt, pinback, enlisted man’s collar device for the dress blue uniform.

 

The left hand photo shows the gilt enlisted man’s insignia as worn on the dress blue uniform. I can’t make out what the insignia on the garrison cap badge worn on the right is.

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Fire Company Brassard

Photo No. 118: The QTMC established military fire fighting companies at every training camp and military installation to combat any blaze that might break out. The fire fighters of Truck and Hose Company No. 309, based at Camp Zachary Taylor, near Louisville, Kentucky, are identified as such by what can only be a Fire Company Brassard worn on the left arm. The dark brassard, which is either black, blue or red in color bears the initials ‘F’ and ‘C’ in what looks to be white for “Fire Company”. It is not known if the Fire Company Brassard was issued Army wide or if they were procured by individual fire companies to herald their status as firemen.

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Gold Star Mourning Brassard

Photo No. 119: Gold Star Mourning Brassard: The right hand photo shows a wounded veteran wearing a non-regulation black wool brassard with a pleated middle section, bearing a five-pointed gilt brass or gold star in the center. Wearing this type of brassard indicated the mourning of a son or brother killed in service.

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Mourning Brassard

Photo No. 120: Black Mourning Brassards were not issued by the U.S. Army. However, soldiers mourning the loss of a loved one during the war were allowed to wear the plain black wool brassard on their service dress during the mourning period. Due to the highly contagious Spanish Flu pandemic that afflicted some 25% of America’s population in the fall of 1918, the black mourning armband became a familiar sight among the ranks of America’s military.

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Non Military Brassards

Photo No. 121: Depicted here are two brassards worn by Doughboys that were not Army issued. On the left is a Veteran of Foreign Wars Brassard comprised of the initials, ‘VFW’. The right hand brassard was obviously issued to by the District of Columbia Police Department to Army personnel that assisted them in some regard.

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