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A.E. F. ‘Trench’ & Overseas Caps


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Sometime around the middle of July or the beginning of August in 1918, overseas caps finally began to be issued to soldiers in the U.S. The caps however, were only issued after the men had reached a large embarkation camp located near one of the twelve east coast POEs.

 

When a regiment received orders to move out from its training camp, the men literally had no idea whether they were heading to China, Berlin or the Mexican border. It wasn’t until they were issued certain articles which they knew were only needed in France, that it became crystal clear that they were on their way to the Western Front. One soldier noted this event in a letter dated July 25, 1918, sent from Camp Merritt, New Jersey, to the folks at home just days before he embarked on the big trip:

 

Well we are going for sure, I guess, we got our little overseas caps and our large hiking shoes.

 

Private Gordon Van Kleeck, Company F, 51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment, AEF

The regimental history for the 331st Artillery Regiment (86th Division) mentioned the endless inspections that occurred at the POE prior to sailing, as well as the fact that while at Camp Mills, New York, the regiment swapped its campaign hats for overseas caps in September 1918:

 

The much dreaded inspections, of which so much had been heard, began the same afternoon … The medical inspection was followed by the inspection of records, and on Monday morning came an inspection of equipment, followed by the submission of new requisitions. The next two days were busy ones, supply sergeants working from morn to night issuing overseas equipment and replacing unserviceable clothing with new … At the same time the campaign hat was superseded by the overseas cap, and for at least a day each man was wondering if he looked as foolish as he felt.

 

331st Field Artillery, United States Army 1917-1919, Waldo M. Allen, 1919, page 39

Photo No. 26: These African American Doughboys wear overseas caps that were likely issued at a stateside POE as they march through the British port city of either Liverpool or London on their way to France.

 

Photo courtesy of the New York Times

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‘Trench Caps’

In service from November 1917 until such time as regulation U.S. Army Overseas Caps became available in early 1918

By late autumn of 1917, GHQ had officially proclaimed that the Campaign Hat would no longer be worn in the trenches.

 

With General Pershing’s approval, the American soldier’s preferred head covering was struck from the list of the articles of equipment authorized for the AEF.

 

From that day forward replacement Campaign Hats were no longer shipped overseas to France. The reasoning behind that decision was partially because the Campaign Hat could on occassion be seen by the enemy when worn in the trenches:

 

It was found that the brim of the campaign hat interfered with sighting through the trench periscopes and that the high crown, in the case of tall men, could be seen above the parapets. The new cap was so low that it permits the men to move with the same freedom as when they are hatless.

 

Other reasons for the withdrawal of the Campaign Hat were that:

  • The hat quickly lost its shape due to a combination of the poor French weather and the rough conditions of the trenches.
  • There was no sensible method of restoring the tall fur felt hat’s rumpled ‘Montana Peak’ or of straightening its broad and often sagging brim in the front line trenches.
  • The hat was easily crushed when placed in storage and when it was carried.
  • The hat could not be folded or conveniently carried when the steel helmet was worn.
  • There was no practical place to store thousands of oversized hats in the front line trenches where the steel helmet was frequently worn.

As soon as the unpopular, but practical decision eliminating the Campaign Hat had been reached, a new form of headgear to wear in its place had to be devised. Information as to how the Campaign Hat’s replacement was decided upon or in what form the new martial headgear would appear, is at present unknown.

 

However, according to the following, the predecessor to the AEF’s Overseas Cap was a provisional garment, which in this particular instance was called a “Field Service Cap” – a distinctly British name. The so called ‘Field Service Caps’ were issued in November of 1917 to the troops of the 1st Division’s 7th Field Artillery Regiment:

 

During the few weeks that the regiment had been in France the old Stetson service hats had become frightfully bedraggled and as no new ones were available the garment presented a rather disreputable appearance. It was on that march that the field service or “overseas” cap was first issued to the regiment and its appearance was greeted with shouts of amusement.

History of the 7th Field Artillery, 1929, no author, page 20, 21

A similar tale was told, only this time about a French made garment that was referred to as the “French Trench Cap”. It too was issued to replace the Campaign Hat:

 

The final blow came late in the autumn of 1917 when, by General Order from G.H.Q., the distinctive and typically American “Campaign Hat” was ordered to be turned in, and in its place was issued the little French trench cap.

 

The History of the A.E. F., 1920, Shipley Thomas, page 45

Later on January 28, 1918, members of the 26th Infantry Division were seen in the Neufchateau training area sporting the so called “trench caps”:

 

On the last Sunday in January the members of the division, together with French troops and peasants, were treated to an impressive spectacle. The 101st Infantry was lined up, the men all wearing new trench caps which had been secured by Colonel Logan, and General Edwards presented a stand of colors.

History of the Yankee Division, 1919, Harry A. Benwell, page 44

Later, General Orders No. 37, dated March 7, 1918, announced that campaign hats as well as a number of other clothing articles would no longer be sold to enlisted men at overseas post exchanges:

 

General Orders General Headquarters, A.E.F.

No. 38 France, March 7, 1918.

 

  1. 1. Par. 11 G.O. 38, H.A.E.F., September 17, 1918, is hereby amended so as to withdraw from sale to enlisted men the following articles:

Boots, field or trench pattern, Cloth O.D. wool, Gloves, lined horsehide, Hats, service, Overshoes, winter, arctic, Puttees, leather, Shirts, O.D. wool, Shoes, field, Slickers, Socks, woolen, Ornaments, collar, Underwear, woolen

With no accompanying explanation as to what the appearance of the above mentioned ‘Field Service’ or ‘Trench Caps’ actually looked like, and with the design of what the War Department eventually labeled the “Overseas Cap” still on a millinery designer’s drawing board … and some two months away from approval and production, the aforementioned Field Service and Trench Caps were likely olive drab, khaki or mustard colored cloth caps or copies thereof of the caps that were currently in use by the Allied armies of Great Britain, France, and Belgium.

 

Whether it was a regulation U.S. made overseas cap or a foreign made trench cap, many Doughboys were less than impressed with the newer and smaller head coverings ability to not protect their face from the elements. This fact led to a number of derisive nicknames being bestowed on the small caps; two of which were the ‘Rain in the Face Cap’ and the ‘Go to Hell Cap’.

 

Men of the 55th Artillery regiment left us this opinion of the new AEF headgear shortly after the small caps were issued in May or June of 1918:

 

Equipment and training of the troops went steadily on, except as there were delays due to temporary lack of material. Overseas caps were issued, and were uncomfortable to wear; one’s ears burned and peeled on sunny days, while the first shower led one to appreciate the popular nickname of the new head-dress, “rain-in-the-face.”

 

Quote from an unknown 55th Coast Artillery Corps Regimental history

One Doughboy recalled when his company was issued overseas caps. He also mentioned that for reasons unknown, they were allowed to hang on to their campaign hats:

 

In the afternoon we were issued overseas caps, but we still kept our hats. The caps we are issued are also known as “go to Hell caps” as they do not keep the rain & sun out of our faces. It is made so it can easily be carried in a blouse or breeches pocket when it is necessary to wear the steel helmet.

 

Unknown Doughboy, AEF

Photo No. 27: The Allied Army ‘Trench Caps’ that were likely worn by the early members of the AEF late in 1917 and early in 1918 include, counter clockwise from top, the Belgian Modele 1915 Bonnet Portefeulle, the French Modele 1915 Bonnet de Police, the British 1916 Field Service Cap, a commercially made variation of the French Modele 1915 Bonnet de Police with a concave or dipped turban, which was what the French called the turned up sides of their caps, and the French Model 1918 Bonnet de Police.

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Photo No. 28: These ‘trench cap ‘candidates were drawn by official AEF war artist Captain Wallace Morgan during the first quarter of 1918. In all likelihood, they were drawings of actual AEF officers wearing actual foreign trench caps. The caps shown are comprised of:

 

  • The scallop sided Belgian trench cap in the service of an AEF Signal Corps officer (left).
  • The tall crowned 1915 Bonnet de Police worn by an AEF aviator (center).
  • The French 1918 Bonnet de Police with its distinctive ‘twin peaks’ or ‘horns’ as donned by an AEF officer of the Quartermaster Corps (right).

All three of these simple cloth trench caps were apparently borrowed by the men and boys of the AEF during the autumn of 1917, because each could be easily folded and stored in a service coat’s pocket, field pack or mussette bag when the steel helmet was worn.

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Belgian Bonnet Portefeulle Modele 1915

Said to have been worn by the AEF on a limited basis until other styles of Trench & Overseas Caps became available

Photo No. 29: Although I’ve never seen any photographic proof to corroborate the above fact, it has been mentioned in a number of AEF related reference books that prior to the arrival of an American issued overseas cap, early members of the AEF appropriated and donned tasseled ‘Trench Caps’ from the Belgian Army.

 

At center is an illustration of a Belgian soldier and his tasseled Bonnet Portefeulle drawn circa 1917, by Private C. Leroy Baldridge of the AEF. The word “portefeulle” loosely translates into “Wallet or Portfolio Bonnet”. To the drawing’s left is a Belgian Chauchat gunner wearing the Belgian Army’s cap which was also called Le Bonnet de Police. The right hand infantryman has donned a tasseled ‘wallet’ bearing a numeral which represents the third regiment. The color of the tassel and the piping along its side indicated the branch of service in which a soldier served.

Left and right photos courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection

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Photo No. 30: Although the Belgian caps were initially made from dark blue cloth, by 1916, the Belgian Army’s trench cap and the uniform with which it accompanied were both fabricated exclusively from a dark khaki colored wool.

This ‘subdued’ version of a Belgian Trench Cap displays a yellow tassel and dark piping. The Belgian caps worn by mounted regiments featured a leather chinstrap, while the caps issued to foot regiments did not.

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French Bonnet de Police Modele 1891/1915

Worn by AEF personnel from November 1917 until 1919

The French Army Bonnet de Police or “Police Bonnet” was first introduced in 1891, and was commonly referred to as a Calot, which is the French word for “Cap”. The cap was so named because it was originally intended to be worn only by soldiers who were in military police custody and confined to the brig. Despite its stigma as a convict’s cap, the Bonnet de Police grew in popularity and ultimately replaced the kepi as the preferred headgear of all off duty enlisted men.

 

The cap was composed of five pieces, two halves made up the crown; two more pieces composed the right and left sides of the “turban”, as the French called the cap’s flap. The turban had also been designed to fold down to over the ears. The fifth and final piece was a 45 mm wide white canvas sweatband. Two small metal hooks were sometimes sewn onto the cap’s crown. One hook placed on each side so as to engage a loop of heavy thread located at the apex of the turban’s curve.

 

The calot became so well-liked that it officially replaced the kepi on September 14, 1915. It was worn by all ranks of the French Army for the duration of the Great War.

 

Photo No. 34: The upper cap on the left shows a pattern 1915 cap in horizon blue as worn by a French Piolu. At right, this 1915 pattern cap has been embellished with a regimental number cut from dark blue cloth. The 1915 pattern cap’s deep crown crease has also been sewn together.

 

Below is a higher quality 1915 Calot bearing the rank of a General de Brigade. Note the crown’s deep ‘fore and aft’ center crease, which was one of the main traits of the 1915 Police Bonnet.

 

The two remaining caps at center and lower left are both made from olive drab wool. Because olive drab was not a uniform color worn by the French Army during WW I, it suggests that these particular 1915 style calots were manufactured for the AEF. Quartermaster Corps documents indicate that French manufacturers were contracted to fabricate olive drab trench caps for the AEF early in the war. Other than being made from olive drab wool, the early trench caps worn by the men of the AEF were identical to the horizon blue design that was worn by the French Army.

 

As the AEF had not yet designed a trench cap of its own, no regulations governing the insignia to be worn on the caps by American Doughboys had been written. Therefore, French trench and the later contract caps did not have the reinforced grommet found on the U.S. Overseas Caps made later in the war. Because of this, any insignia applied to an early Trench Cap would likely have been French made and fixed to the cap by means of either a pin or a pair of prongs.

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Photo No. 38: Three examples of AEF soldiers wearing olive drab overseas caps patterned after the French Modele 1915 Bonnet de Police. From left to right, a Doughboy in a French made cap whose crown fold has been opened to its fullest, an enlisted man’s cap bearing a French made collar disc, and a trooper from the 16th Engineer Regiment (Railway) wearing a cap whose crown fold has been sewn closed. Note the officer’s Corps of Engineers collar device worn by this man in lieu of a regulation collar disc.

Left hand photo courtesy of the Charles T. Thomas collection

Right hand photo courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection

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Photo No. 40: The officer second from right was the original owner, and is wearing the cap shown in the above photo. Note that the other three offices, all of whom are also from the Advocate General’s Department, also wear similar but slightly different styles of the 1915 Bonnet de Police. The two right hand officers appear to have sewn their cap’s crown fold together, while the other two officers have not.

Photo courtesy of the Dr Rambow collection

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Photo No. 41: All four of these AEF officers are wearing French made Trench Caps. The men at far left and right both appear to be wearing the taller Modele 1918 Bonnet de Police, while the first row and center left officers look to be wearing the Modele 1915 Bonnet de Police.

Photo courtesy of the National World War I Museum

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Photo No. 43: A commercially made variation of the French Modele 1915 Bonnet de Police was made with side flaps that were concave instead of convex. This style of cap was fabricated in horizon blue for the French Army and also in olive drab for the AEF.

 

Note the drastic difference in the quality and the color of the olive drab wool on the two French caps shown. The upper cap more closely conforms to the shape and color specifications established by the U.S. Quartermaster Corps for the regulation overseas cap. The color and quality of the woolen material used to make the lower cap indicates that this cap may have been made from British uniform cloth.

 

AEF documents show that at least 60,000 yards of a fabric called ‘tartan-drab mixture No. 5’ was purchased from Great Britain for the purpose of manufacturing caps in France.

 

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French Bonnet de Police Modele 1918: Horizon Blue

In 1917, a non-regulation style of Police Bonnet began to appear amongst the rank and file of the French Army. These commercially made caps were patterned after the cavalry caps worn during what French historians referred to as the ‘Second Empire’. Due to its striking martial silhouette and its association with the Grande Armee of Napoleon, this style of cap became wildly popular with the French Piolus.

 

As the so called “Empire Style” bonnet proliferated, French military officials made that style of cap official by adopting it on August 9, 1918.

 

The rectangular shaped, high peaked cap whose turban was deeply incised in the front and at the back was simpler in design, and thus cheaper to fabricate than the 1915 pattern cap.

 

It was composed of just four separate parts – a one piece crown folded in half, right and left hand turban pieces, and a white canvas sweatband. Even though the 1915 pattern caps remained in use, the 1918 model became the French Army’s most common off-duty headgear by the time the Armistice was signed in late 1918.

 

Photo No. 44: At top left is the Modele 1918 Bonnet de Police as issued. Opposite is a French Piolu wearing a similar cap with a curved notch cut into the turban’s front. It was not uncommon for the French soldiers to add non-regulation regimental numbers, rank insignia, and other symbols which indicated special duties onto the sides and front of the cap.

 

The lower left soldier wears the 1918 Police Bonnet with a small circular disc of colored wool on the front left turban. The color of the disc indicated the wearer’s branch of service.

 

To the right, the two dark blue chevrons on this cap specify that it belonged to a corporal. The numerals on its left side signify that the corporal was a member of the 158th Infantry Regiment. The yellow disc trumpets to all observers that the 158th was an infantry regiment. The red, green and white strip of braid points out that the corporal was a musician in the regimental band.

 

This sort of non-regulation embellishment likely inspired American Doughboys to decorate their Trench Caps and later their Overseas Caps in a similar fashion.

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Photo No. 45: Although I’ve yet to locate any photographic evidence to support this fact, it’s possibly that horizon blue Police Bonnets were borrowed and worn as Trench Caps on an individual basis by early members of the AEF while awaiting GHQs decision as to what type of headgear would be worn in lieu of the Campaign Hat.

 

The best example that I can provide is the blue Police Bonnet in the service of a female YMCA worker (right). At left and center is an officers and an enlisted man’s Modele 1918 Bonnet de Police.

 

Right hand photo courtesy of the CW Norma collection

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Photo No. 46: Commercially made French caps were often piped in the color matching that of the wearer’s branch of service. Three of the French soldiers in the background photo are wearing 1918 pattern caps with the non-regulation piping. The inset shows a piped 1915 cap and a piped 1918 style cap made from mustard colored wool that was worn by an American Doughboy.

Mustard cap courtesy of the Doyler collection

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French Bonnet de Police Modele 1918: Moutarde or Mustard

Caps in a mustard shade of khaki were worn by some AEF personnel from November 1917 until 1919

Photo No. 48: In order to distinguish French colonial troops from those of the regular French Army a khaki uniform similar in design to the horizon blue uniform was adopted in 1915 for wear by the personnel of all non-French regiments.

 

Authorized headgear for the French colonial uniform included both the Modele 1915 and 1918 Bonnet de Police. Initially the caps intended for colonial regiments were made from British khaki uniform cloth, but by 1917, both the cap and uniform were made from a yellow shade of khaki known as moutarde or “mustard”.

 

The mustard shade Bonnet de Police at left is worn here at a gravity defying angle by a French Algerian soldier. At center is a Yankee serving with the 101st Infantry Regiment of the 26th Infantry Division. Note that his mustard Trench Cap bears a set of French made, brass regimental numerals on the left side of the crown. Pinned on the opposite side is the crescent emblem worn by French zouave and tirailleur regiments, both of which were raised in the French colonies of Algeria and Morocco. The reconstruction of an African American Doughboy from the 93rd Infantry Division on the far right depicts him wearing an unadorned mustard colored French colonial cap.

 

Center photo courtesy of Brennan Gauthier, PortraitsofWar.wordpress.com

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Photo No. 49: Three additional images of what appear to be French mustard caps, all of which are worn by members of the 26th Infantry Division – two from the 101st Infantry Regiment and one from the 102nd Infantry Regiment. Note that the left hand Yankee is also wearing a crescent insignia on his cap, as well as a pre 1917 musician’s cap badge instead of a regulation collar disc.

Photos courtesy of Brennan Gauthier, PortraitsofWar.wordpress.com

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French Bonnet de Police Modele 1918: Olive Drab

Tailor made and AEF contract caps of this pattern in khaki and olive drab were worn by AEF personnel from November 1917 until 1919

The French cap with a tall crown and pointed corners made from either mustard, khaki or olive drab shades of wool can be seen topping the heads of AEF personnel in numerous period photographs dating from the autumn of 1917 all the way through to the summer of 1919.

 

This attests to the fact that the French Model 1918 Police Bonnet de Police must have been deemed as an acceptable form of headgear by General Pershing, GHQ, and the AEF.

 

Like so many other essential AEF garments, it is not known whether or not if the Quartermaster General of the AEF signed contracts with French clothing firms to manufacture Trench Caps of this pattern made from olive drab cloth to help meet the AEFs ever growing clothing needs overseas.

 

Nevertheless, French Pattern Overseas Caps, whether commercially made, tailor made or made under contract for the AEF, show up in a bewildering variety of shapes and styles, and were fabricated from numerous shades of khaki and olive drab woolen material.

 

Amongst the variations caps with tall, medium and short crowns can be found. In addition, the shape of the cap’s corners will vary between pointed, clipped, rounded, and even with the points intentionally turned inside.

 

Just as the shape of the cap’s crown varied, so too did its turban. In addition to the turban being fabricated in various heights, its distinctive front notch could be V-shaped, gently scalloped, deeply rounded, or have no notch at all.

 

Photo No. 50: Shown here is a run of the mill French Pattern 1918 Overseas Cap and an extreme example of how vastly different the shape of a similar cap made by another manufacturer could be. Flanking both cap designs are American Doughboys wearing similar, yet different French pattern caps.

 

Doughboy photos courtesy of the John Adam-Graf collection

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