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.
“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.