WWI, Saint Nazaire, AEF monument

Captain A M DuBois, Mrs Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Monument at St Nazaire

This is somewhat of a strange blog. It is basically for my sister, Petey, and myself and has to do with our father with the US Army AIrForce, stationed in St Nazaire during the First World War. And then after the war with his involvement with erecting a monument that was sculpted by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney and placed in the harbor of St Nazaire as tribute to the American Forces that served in France.

It all started in Tyringham this June when I asked what had ever happened to our fathers military uniform, which after the war he had put with all his equipment in a trunk that ended in Petey’s Tyringham attic. Once a year our father had opened the trunk, we had looked through all the stuff and then we had closed it again. My sister after my question went upstairs and down came his two uniforms, made in Paris and still in good shape.

Our father, Arthur Mason Du Bois, was recruited by the Army in 1917 at the start of US involvement in France during World War I. He was ranked a first lieutenant, assigned to the Army AIrForce in the Paris Division, and assigned to run the Aviation Clearance Office in Saint Nazaire, a port city on the Loire River in the district of Brittany. I think this was a very necessary but not very exciting job for him. His rank was raised to a Captain and he initially had 12 men in his command. This was increased to 28 toward the end of the war.

The port of St Nazaire was improved at the start of WWI and became the main port in France to receive troops and supplies during the war. Our fathers job was to receive supplies sent to be used by the Army AIrForce and move them to base depots primarily at Romarantin. The primary plane used was the DH 4 (DeHavilland) with Liberty engines. The amount of aviation supplies and planes increased steadily during the war.

After the war was over, about 1919, a group of veterans who had served in St Nazaire during the war, formed an association to continue their friendships. This was lead by Brig General R D Rochenbach who was commander at St Nazaire. Several people felt that a memorial to the war effort should be raised in St Nazaire. Gen Rochenbach wrote to President Coolidge who supported the plan and the project was on. To do this funds of $100,000 needed to be raised. A committee was formed, called the Saint Nazaire Memorial Fund, Inc under the chairmanship of a friend of our fathers Major Roynon Cholmeley-Jones. Our father was made Treasurer and there were 12 other members of the committee. Money was raised and about 1924 a prominent New Yorker, who had been very involved in the war effort agreed to design the monument. This was Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney a very able sculptress.

Much of my information come from her papers that have been catalogued at The Smithstonian.

“New York art patron and sculptor, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (1875-1942), was the eldest daughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt II and Alice Gwynne Vanderbilt, and founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Whitney was born January 9, 1875 in New York City, the. She was educated by private tutors and attended Brearley School in New York. From the time she was a young girl, she kept journals of her travels and impressions of the people she met, and engaged in creative pursuits such as sketching and writing stories. In 1896, she was married to Harry Payne Whitney. They had three children, Flora, Cornelius, and Barbara.

In 1900, Whitney began to study sculpture under Hendrik Christian Anderson, and then under James Fraser. Later, she studied with Andrew O’Connor in Paris. From the time she started studying sculpture, her interest in art grew, as did her particular concern for American art and artists. In 1907, she organized an art exhibition at the Colony Club, which included several contemporary American paintings. She also opened a studio on MacDougal Alley, which became known as the Whitney Studio and was a place where shows and prize competitions were held. (She also had other studios in Westbury, Long Island and Paris, France.) Over the years, her patronage of art included buying work, commissioning it, sponsoring it, exhibiting it, and financially supporting artists in America and abroad. From 1911 on, she was aided in her work by Juliana Force, who started out as Whitney’s secretary, was responsible for art exhibitions at the Whitney Studio, and became the first director of the Whitney Museum of American Art.

The first recognition Whitney received for her sculpture came in 1908 when a project on which she had collaborated (with Grosvenor Atterbury and Hugo Ballin) won a prize for best design from the Architectural League of New York. The following year she received a commission to do a fountain sculpture for the Pan-American Building in Washington, D. C. She went on to do numerous other commissioned works over the next several decades, including: a fountain for the New Arlington Hotel in Washington D.C. (the design of which was reproduced in various sizes and materials, one cast being submitted to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition where it won a bronze medal and a later cast being installed on the campus of McGill University, Montreal, Canada in 1930); the Titanic Memorial (designed in 1913 and erected in 1930); the Buffalo Bill Memorial (1924) in Cody, Wyoming; the Columbus Memorial (1929) in Port of Palos, Spain; the Peter Stuyvesant statue in Stuyvesant Square (1939); and The Spirit of Flight (1939) for the New York World’s Fair. In 1916, she had her first one-man show at the Whitney Studio, another at the Newport Art Association, and a retrospective at the San Francisco Art Association Palace of Fine Arts. A traveling exhibition in the Midwest followed in 1918.

During the First World War, Whitney was involved with numerous war relief activities, most notably establishing and supporting a hospital in Juilly, France. She made several trips to France during the war, keeping a journal and eventually publishing a piece on the hospital in several newspapers. Her sculpture during this period was largely focused on war themes. In 1919, she exhibited some of these works at the Whitney Studio in a show called “Impressions of War.” In the years after the war, she was also commissioned to do several war memorials, including the Washington Heights War Memorial (1922) and the St. Nazaire Memorial (1926) commemorating the landing of the American Expeditionary Force in France in 1917.”

The monument that she sculpted shows: “With outstretched arms and a sword in his hand, a doughboy stands on the back of a giant eagle that has just landed.” This was to stand atop a stone column on the shore overlooking the entrance to the harbor.
The Monument was unveiled and dedicated on June 26 1926. Our mother and father were part of the dedication group along with Roynon Cholmeley-Jones. Our mother wrote a description of the event as follows

Of note: the Mr Rochenbach, was the brig general in charge of the port who had started the whole process for the Memorial! Also they had problems getting approval for the Memorial from The American Battle Monuments Commission, and an arrangement was made to add tribute to the US Navy in the plaque.

The plaque read:

Luckily, thanks to Mrs Whitney photos of the event were saved, one of which shows our father standing in a line of the dignitaries.

After this I do not think my father continued interest in what was happening in St. Nazaire. Between the wars the port was used for ship building. During WWII, St Nazaire was occupied by the Nazi regime and a very well fortified submarine base was built. (During the war a commando raid by the British disabled much of the port) The American Memorial was destroyed by the Nazi. After the war a group was formed to restore the Monument. Apparantly the original model that Cornelia Vanderbult Whitney did was in the possession of her daughter who arranged for it to be used by the Frence group.

16 thoughts on “St NAZAIRE, WWI

  1. michelcmahe

    How I am happy to discover your article “St Nazaire, WWI”. I read it with great interest.
    I am just beginning to write a serie of articles on the St. Nazaire memorial (in french, sorry).
    You can read the first two on my blog :
    Yours faithfully.
    Michel-Claude Mahé


    1. jsdubois28 Post author

      Thanks for your comment. My father was very involved with the original monument. Will follow your blogs. My French is minimal. In fact my Du Bois heritage is Dutch not French!!!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. michelcmahe

        The iconography research is a particularly difficult time and I saw on your blog some interesting photos. May I use some of them for a next article ? For exemple : “Mrs Wiithney with the maquette” and “people on the beach before the memorial”. I protect the photos with a watermark and a note indicating the source. I shall send you a copy before the publication. Sorry for my very bad english.
        Yours faithfully
        Michel-Claude Mahé


  2. jsdubois28 Post author

    Please. Use what you want. My blog was really done at the interest of my sister!! Your English is ten times better than my French!! Some day my wife and I need to come to St Nazare and see the new monument. Would love to meet you if and when we come!


  3. jsdubois28 Post author

    Michel. I don’t think either. I think they received supplies from the ships coming to St Nazaire and moved them to the Bases that were assembling planes etc. The “Air force” was a brand new division. At the start of the war it had been under the signal corps. I think a lot of the early Air Force was reconnaissance with balloons!


    1. jsdubois28 Post author

      This what I found on the Internet. She must have been very involved with helping those in need from the war.

      Letter “Out Here at the Front”: The World War I Letters of Nora Saltonstall Paperback – February 19, 2004

      Nora Saltonstall was just twenty-three when she left behind her privileged, upper-class life in Boston for volunteer service in France during the Great War. Nora’s mission began in 1917, and took her through waters prowled by German U-boats, to refugee, canteen, and dispensary work in Paris, and then, just before the decisive battles of 1918 got underway, to Mrs. Daly’s autochir, a mobile surgical hospital on the Western Front, where she served as quartermaster, driver, auto mechanic, and nursing assistant. Now Nora’s war correspondence – letters she wrote home to anxious family and friends from October 1917 to March 1919 – are published here for the first time. Written in a fresh, straightforward, and unpretentious voice, with an irreverent and charming sense of humor, Nora’s engaging and richly detailed missives tell of securing food and medical supplies, assisting refugees, preparing wounded soldiers for surgery, and packing and moving the autochir under the threat of enemy fire. They also tell of the experiences of the many young men in Nora’s circle, including her brother (and future U.S. senator) Leverett, who volunteered as ambulance drivers and soldiers, and of the momentous events during the last year of the war: the German spring offensive, the Allied counteroffensive, and the Armistice. Judith S. Graham’s incisive introductory narrative and editorial notes, which include information drawn from prewar and postwar letters and diaries from 1911 to 1919, describe Nora’s Boston Brahmin roots, educational background, social, cultural, and civic activities, and her participation in war relief work on the home front. She shows how Nora’s social advantages and family history, as well as her adventurous spirit, steadfastness, and robust health, prepared her for meeting the challenges of service in the war zone. “Out Here at the Front” gives the reader an intimate view of a young woman’s life in early twentieth-century Boston society and an Illuminating perspective on women workers behind the lines in wartime France

      Rocroi     Dec. 16. [1917]
      Dear Family,
      It amuses me to think of the number of places
that have been my home of late. I am here for
about a week with Katherine Bigelow, the other
chauffeur, and we are working very hard with our
two cars doing evacuation work for the civilians. You
never saw such a dearth of means of transportation –
no train within sixty miles and very few camions
because the army has moved north and there is
very little traffic. The poor people are desperate trying
to get back to their homes — they all seem to have
been deplaced by the Germans and of course they
are anxious to get back as soon as they can.
Then there are those who are hurrying to see members
of their family from whom they have been separated
during the war, and then there are also the 
poor soldiers who are sent away on their permissions
but have no way of getting to the interior — Result,
naturally, many poor foot passengers on the roads.
      [Page 2]
      back to top
      Miss Causse, the member of our unit, who is in
charge here, is most awfully good, very conscientious
& Energetic. She has helped a lot in getting the 
people straightened out & now she is using us to
get one certain group of people back to their
village which is about 45 miles from here. She is
sensible in not trying to handle the whole problem
and she picks out certain definite things which
she considers within the scope of possibility, then
she goes right at it & accomplishes wonders. I don’t 
see how this town will Exist without her for
Every question Either of public or private interest
seems to be brought to her to settle. To-day we
had a man & his wife from Brussels lunch with us, quite
swells I imagine because he knew Hoover & Brand
Whitlock, talked good English, & was well enough
acquainted with history to joke with me about the
Mayflower & Plymouth Rock when he heard I came
from Boston — You might as well be in the wilds as in
this country as far as food in concerned, because
      [Page 3]
      back to top
      Except for your regular allowance which is Small Enough
      it is impossible to get. These people were naturally
      delighted to fall upon us, & they ate our corned beef &
      cabbage hash as if it were a filet of steak and fried
      potatoes. Miss Causse had a plum pudding left over
      because on Thanksgiving day she had forgotten to
      celebrate, so we regaled them with that & some bad
      brandy which was minus alcohol & therefore refused to
      burn properly, so that I think they really thought
      we were a clever lot to know so well how to take
      care of ourselves.

      Thursday I went 150 kilometres, Friday 80, Saturday
180 and yesterday 150, so To-day I have spent working
on the car. I never have had such a terrible time because
as the people and Especially the children have nothing to do
they all stand around and watch — that is bearable
because they get bored & you have usually a breathing
space but this P.M. Miss Causse was distributing clothes.
The mob was black & it was as bad as going to a
Harvard-Yale football game to move from one grease cup
to another. Every time my back was turned a bad
      [Page 4]
      back to top
      little boy would toot the horn which resulted in my
      dashing around the back of the car, scolding &
      losing my temper. If I Ever have to work under
      such conditions again I have decided that I will let
      the car run dry.

      I suppose you got the cable about my Croix 
de Guerre — it is all tommy rot, & we all feel silly 
about taking them. Agnes & Betty Blakeman got
them for the same thing as I, working under
fire in March (not true). Susan Ryerson Patterson,
Mimi Scott, and Mrs. Parrish also got them,
so you can see that I am far from being alone
in my glory. Mrs. Daly wanted very much to 
have her unit decorated and the medicin chef
wanted to show his appreciation of us. Now that 
the war is over there is a regular business of
appreciative Croix de Guerre going on because it 
is such a simple way of pleasing people. We
had a dinner the night we received them –
there was nothing formal about it, and the
      [Page 5]
      back to top
      medicin chef did not Even have the courage to
      kiss us on both cheeks; the doctors sitting on Either
      side of me did it instead so I felt as if it
      had been presented in the proverbial French

      I am much too sleepy to write any more
to-night. We start at 7 o’clock To-morrow for Rheims –
as luck will have it we have some families who want
to go there so you may be sure that we jump at
the Excuse.
      Much love from,


  4. michelcmahe

    Dear Sir,
    Could you send me a photo of Mrs Louise Dubois to illustrate my next article In which I included his narrative. I shall protect it by a watermark and indicate the photo credit.
    Yours faithfully,



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