Close Shave Circa 1918

I have a passion for items that were actually handled by soldiers, personal items. Shaving kits fall into that category. They are aesthetically appealing to me for some strange reason.  Seems like Gillette and Ever- ready had the market cornered on these baby’s! They came in several different styles, some were more elaborate than others. Soldiers relied on a close shave so that they could easily fit their gas mask in the event of a gas attack.

Some more history….

1917 GILLETTE works out a mega deal with the U.S. Armed Forces, which provides his safety razor and blades to every enlisted man or officer on their way to Europe as a regular part of their standard issue gear. This creates tremendous worldwide promotion and publicity opportunities for Gillette’s company and products.

1921 U.S. Army LT. COL. JACOB SCHICK is so inspired by the military’s repeating rifle, he invents a new type of razor called the MAGAZINE REPEATING RAZOR, which has replacement razor blades stored inside its handle. Users can change out an old blade without ever touching the new blade’s surface, thanks to Schick’s clever design. Blades for this razor were purchased in clips, which were inserted with ease into the razor. Schick also begins to develop his INJECTOR RAZOR, which would become an extremely popular shaver in the years to come.


The American Field Service in France…

VERDUNBelrupt – Poste at Haudromont
November 3, 1917 — December 8, 1917
Repose at Andernay
December 8, 1917 to December 27, 1917

 “Here we are at Verdun the most famous place in the history of the World. We came here to-day in two camions (trucks) It was the most wonderful ride down here that I’ve ever had. At 9 a.m. we pulled out of Bar-le-Duc; after about twenty kilometers we began to see what real modern warfare behind the lines is. As far as I could see was a long line of huge camions, troops on the march, huge 280 cannons, ammunition trains, revitaillement wagons, kitchen carts, and racy staff cars. Way back for miles and miles this seemingly endless column stretched till it dwindled completely out of sight on the horizon. To the right of our road five railroad lines packed with cars of every type from the ordinary freight car to the gigantic naval guns. Beyond these tracks was a large canal tightly jammed with enormous clumsy looking canal boats. Beyond this, the Meuse river. Aviation hangers, vast motor parks, artillery barracks, dug-outs, every conceivable shelter. Everything was camouflaged — from tiny staff cars to the huge caterpillar-wheeled motor tractors dragging immense cannon. There is more traffic here than in the busy sections of downtown New York. Everybody rushing to and fro. Mud-bespattered dispatch riders, tearing staff cars, rattling artillery trains rush along these roads. This is War all right. I’ve never been so impressed in all my life. The tremendous scale on which things are carried out is beyond all conception. The scenery is marvelous. Winding columns of men clad in their blue coats, weighted down with their heavy knapsacks, rifles slung over their shoulders were crowding every passage towards Verdun. Camions heavily loaded crept through the mud. We passed several dead horses lying in grotesque poses in the fields. Cultivation goes on to right up behind the trenches. Most of the houses are standing, as the Boches never got past Verdun. …………We are stationed in a huge wooden barrack about three miles out of Verdun itself. ………. …We live 20 kilometers back of the lines as they say the shelling is terrific. Eight cars — Fords — go out at a time. The abri at the post is electric lighted and steam heated. It was left by the Germans when they recently retreated in last September’s attack. Enormous 280 cannon fire right over our heads along the road. ………. There isn’t a square yard that isn’t pockmarked with shell craters. …. ……… The mud here is thick to say the least. We splatter through it in these dinky little Flivvers at a great rate. Horses, many vehicles, all are coated inches deep in the slimy stuff. ………)


Some pretty good reading:

An interesting M-1 Helmet….

I have had this helmet in my collection for many years and have no idea what it is! It appears to be a U.S. WW2 vintage M-1 steel helmet. It has a front seam and swivel bales, it also has it’s original OD paint as well as some unusual markings on both side’s. These markings were painted in white paint, like were painted on many airborne helmets. Are these tac markings? Divisional, regimental?? Who knows? Anyone? If you think that you might know or if you have any information, please let me know!

An interesting account….

WWI Memories of Cpl. Oscar Lubchansky, Co. G, 2nd Battalion, 313th Infantry Regiment, 79th Division, 1st Army, AEF, as recalled by his grandson Gene E. Fax of Newton, Massachusetts, after the passage of 50 years.

My grandfather and his comrades had an insatiable desire for fresh eggs.
Whenever they were en route and a halt was called, the soldiers would crowd around the kitchen door of the nearest farmhouse shouting, “Oofs! Oofs!”
The farmwives would be frightened at first, but would soon figure out that the Americans wanted des oeufs and would pay for them. After that, all went well. [I have been able to partially corroborate this story. Bruce Bairnsfeather, the British war cartoonist, talks in his memoirs about the American soldiers’ astonishing capacity for eggs.]

My grandfather and another soldier were sent to reconnoiter the front line.
My grandfather happened to be wearing flared cavalry pants. He was lying on the ground observing through his binoculars when a German plane came over and strafed him from dead ahead. The ground exploded in dirt and noise, and my grandfather was momentarily stunned. He couldn’t feel any sensation below the waist. He asked his companion, “Look down and tell me if my legs are still there.” His buddy said, “Yes, but you won’t believe what happened.”
The German machine gun had shot the flares off both sides of his pants, but left his legs untouched. (He went through the war unwounded. According to family legend, immediately upon disembarking from his troopship back in the States, he was bitten by a dog.)

In the last days of the war, the German soldiers fought fiercely as long as they were protected by their trenches. As soon as an American soldier appeared on the parapet, however, they threw up their hands and shouted, “Kamerade.” At that point, they felt they had done their duty and only wanted to be captured so they could eventually go home. [This sounds true, because the German line in Lorraine, by late 1918, was held by static “trench” divisions, as opposed to the better-trained “shock” divisions, which had largely been expended in Ludendorff’s spring offensives. I can still see my grandfather, eyes wide and hands over his head, shouting “Kamerade” in a mournful voice.]

[I have been unable to corroborate the following story, and it sounds suspiciously like the kind of tale a veteran would tell his grandchildren.
But it’s good, so I have always chosen to believe it. There are no real châteaux in the Verdun sector, but there were several freestanding fermes on the battlefield that Americans might have referred to as “chateaux.”] A squad (section, to the British) from my grandfather’s platoon was told to take over a ruined chateau in no-man’s land to use as an observation post.
They went forward and occupied the place without incident. Upon settling in, they found that the wine cellar, which had apparently been covered over by shellfire earlier in the war, had been opened up in a recent bombardment.
They proceeded to occupy the wine cellar and get royally drunk. While they were there, a German patrol came forward and occupied the first floor, not noticing the unconscious Americans beneath them. When the main American forces attacked the next day they chased off the Germans and found their soldiers, still drunk, in the basement. The squad members were arrested and brought before the Major General, who asked his adjutant what he should do.
“I see two choices,” said the adjutant. “You can have them court-martialed for dereliction of duty and drunkenness in the face of the enemy, and possibly shot. Or, you can give them medals for holding their position in the face of an enemy attack.” “Which is less paperwork?” asked the general.
“The medals,” said the adjutant. “Fine, give them medals,” replied the general.

The Model 1918 U.S. Tunic

In order to conserve, and due to a shortage of material, the Model 1918 tunic was introduced. The difference from previous models was that there were no exposed pockets and usually they can be found with no lining in the tunic.  John J. Pershing himself had a hand at the design of this tunic. There can also be found  British contract tunics in the Model 1918 design. They will contain the British broad arrow marking in the lining. They are considerably rarer and harder to find than Model 1912 tunics or Model 1917 tunics. The design was historically significant as it was only produced from 1918-1919.

The French M-1877 Canteen

I’ve always been facinated by the french canteen. Maybe it came about as a kid, watching movies like Beau Geste and being fascinated by french uniforms and equipment. The Bidon is either a 2-liter or 1-liter canteen, covered with horizon blue or later khaki wool cloth. Both types had two spouts, a large and small, that were stopped with either wood or cork which was secured to the canteen itself with string. Often two bidons were worn; in the assault, one bottle typically contained wine (pinard) mixed with water, the other coffee and tafia spirit. Many Americans chose to carry a french canteen due to their capacity.

I think that the French canteen defined the french Poilu of WW1.  It was kind of iconic to the French soldier.

At the start of WWI the Metropolitian troops were using the 1 Litre Modèle 1877 Bidon, which was covered in dark blue cloth while those forces in North Africa were using the 2 Litre Modèle 1877 Bidon which was also covered in a dark blue cloth. The French military had thought that 1 liter was enough water to carry while on campaign as they could get re-supplied with water easily but as the war went into trench warfare re-supply became an issue and getting water to the front became difficult so then by 1915 ALL French forces started to get issued the 2 liter version.
Covers came in many different color and variations depending on the years they used, in 1914 dark blue was the norm; 1915 dark blue was still popular but as they were starting to go to a new horizion blue uniform, this color of cloth was also started to be used on the bidon themselves but other colors were also used with the ersatz type uniforms that were being used during this period such as brown courderoy, blue-gray or dark blue-gray. Colonial troops were starting to get their moutarde (khaki) uniforms during this period so covers were made in this color. Now during this period it was not uncommon for the bidons to be painted in a variety of colors listed above as well. In 1916 things started to become more uniform, horizion blue for metropolitan and moutarde for colonial troops, so covers were made in these cloth and issued which went all the way to the end of the war in 1918.

Part Twa….

I was sad to leave Marre and the french countryside, but it was off to our next destination. After bidding goodbye to our host in Marre we programmed Eve for Bayeux, France. We figured it would be about a 6 hour drive, if we left at 7:30 we would be there by around 1:30. We made pretty good time until we hit Paris, I have been to New York and a couple other large cities, but Paris was the biggest city I have ever seen!! It took us about an hour just to get through the city. I white knuckled it the whole way too! Tons of traffic and motorcycles buzzing in between cars, trucks etc. It was pretty nerve-wracking driving through Paris! We did drive past the Eiffel Tower though!

We finely made it through the city and were on the open highway heading for Normandy. We decided to stop for lunch and to rest a bit. We stopped at a very nice rest stop that also had a restaurant. Another hot meal! I noticed what appeared to be a U.S. school tour. Lots of American kids running around and a couple of teachers speaking French to each other with intermittent English thrown in. I’m sure they were on their way to Normandy as well. After our rest we gassed up and got back on the road. One thing I really like about France is that the roads are well-marked and also historical locations have pretty big road signs. We passed several large Chateaus and other neat looking historical locations. I remember driving through El Bouff, I mentioned to my wife that this is where Eddie Slovak deserted. He was the only U.S. Soldier to be shot for desertion during WW2.

We drove through Caen, at that point I knew we were almost to Bayeux. Here’s some WW2 history of the city:

In sector Gold beach in Normandy, the objective of the British troops at the end of 6 June was Bayeux. Around 7:35 am the first units of the 50th Infantry Division set foot on the beaches : the 231st Brigade on Jig beach sector, the 56th and the 151st brigade on the King sector. In the evening of 6 June, the 8th and 9th Durham Light Infantry, and the 2nd Essex stopped around Sommervieu; the 2nd South Wales Borderers reached Vaux-sur-Aure. The 2nd Gloster halted in front of Magny-en-Bessin, patrols were sent to enter north-east of Bayeux neighbourhoods; the British distributed cigarettes to the Bayeusains and promised to return the following day. The next morning, Bayeux and Saint-Vigor-le-Grand were liberated by the British without fighting. Later on 14 June, General de Gaulle, commander of the Free French Forces, walked again on the soil of France, in Bayeux he made a speech celebrating the real fighting France, and restored national authority.

We entered Bayeux right on schedule. We found our hotel with no problem, the Hotel Reine Mathilde. We checked in and unloaded our baggage. Bayeux was beautiful! We were right across the street from the Cathedral de Notre Dame. We had to park in a lot about 2 blocks away which allowed us to do some walking and sight-seeing. I was really overwhelmed at the beauty of Bayeux. We went to our room , stowed our luggage and went out to see the town. We did a good deal of walking through the narrow streets. This was a really lively little town, lots of tourists, but it still kept its charm. We walked as far as the entrance to the British cemetery and checked out shop’s etc. along the way. After a couple of hours of walking and site – seeing we went back to our room and prepared to have dinner downstairs in the hotel restaurant. I was excited as I had heard they had very good food! After a great meal and a couple “Afflegem’s” (this is a belgium abbey beer) we decided to do some more walking. Tired and ready for the next day, we went back to our room , relaxed and drifted off to sleep.

The next day (Wed.) we went to Coleville-sur-mer and Omaha Beach. I was a little anxious to see the beach as it was something I had wanted to see my whole life.  The beach was well preserve’d and monuments abound. There was also a few concrete bunkers, one of them had some sort of graffiti about Adolph (Hitler). All I could make out was “ADOLPH”. Trenches spiraled through the high ground to the beach and I tried to imagine GI’s battling their way up the hills that lead to these trenches and bunkers, it must have been real Hell! We sae the 5th ESB monument as well as the 1st Division monument and headed for the visitors center. They had a few artifacts and were showing a few films about the battle. They had a “Rupert” doll as well as other things that were indicative of D-DAY, like the life belts worn by all invasion participants. We left the visitors center and made our way down the slopes and back to the beach, exploring inside some of the bunkers on the way. We walked the beach for a while, it’s funny how calm everything seemed to be now and it was hard to imagine the carnage of war on the beach, Kids were playing in the sand, people were sailing sand cruisers on the beach all was quiet.

We left the beach and decided to find some souvenirs for the kids, so we headed back into town.  We went to a few shops on the outskirts of town and bought my daughter some things, but could not seem to find anything for my 10-year-old son. We went back to the hotel for some dinner and picked up some brochures to read while we were eating. We decided that it might be neat to go to Arrowmanches, besides seeing the mulberry’s and Gold beach there was a militaria shop that would hopefully be the answer to my sons souvenir! We finished our dinner and headed for Arromanchez! It was about a 10-15 minute drive to the coast. Wow we were pleasantly surprised. What a neat little town this was! We headed to the militaria shop before it closed, I spotted my sons souvenir in front of the doorway. A French WW2 Adrian helmet. He loves military helmets and this would be perfect! I grabbed the helmet and we entered the shop. He had a pretty good selection although the American stuff was really expensive! I bought a french WW1 canteen (I have a thing for WW1 french canteens!) and we bought my son a book about military uniforms and equipment used during the invasion. I was now satisfied! We headed toward the beach to look at the Mulberrys, these were large concrete artificial harbors built so that we could easily transport supplies to the landing beach.  We took some pictures and looked in some shops, then decided to go back to Bayeux to spend our last night walking the town again. We went inside the Cathedral de Notre Dame, it was amazing to think that this huge structure dated back to 1077! We have nothing that old in America! It was a relaxing night as we strolled the streets. We stopped back by the hotel so I could enjoy another beer and decided to go see where the tapestry was. After walking a bit more we decided it was time to head to our room, so that we could get some sleep, tommorrow we had to travel back to Paris.

Thursday morning we checked out of our hotel in Bayeux and bid goodbye to the lovely town. We were headed for Paris and our Fancy hotel, The Pullman. I was very sad to leave and didn’t want my stay in Bayeux to end. After a 2 hour trip back to Paris we headed for the airport first so that we could return our BMW and Eve. We returned the car and took a shuttle bus to our hotel. It was a very nice hotel, but I prefered the French Countryside, I prefered the farm-house in Marre with all of its rustic charm and the small hotel in Bayeux. The french seem to be satisfied with so little, small comforts that we in America would not understand. I guess we have the mentality that “bigger is always better”, but I so enjoyed the simple life in the country and miss it to this day.

We had some lunch, went for a swim in the pool and headed back to our room. Later we went to the bar for a drink and snack then headed back to our room to prepare for our travel home the next morning. Our travel home was pretty uneventful, we laid over in Iceland for 7 hours and spent that time wandering the airport and eating. Soon we would be back to America and the kids and my dream would be over.

We were greeted back at Dulles airport by my children who had both made welcome home signs and were waiting in the international receiving area! My in-laws had driven them to the airport so that they could see us when we arrived. It was great to be home and I was very happy to see my Kids and dogs again, but I feel a piece of my heart will always be in France…….c’est bien fini…