Over 100 years ago, an air base in Texas published a book entitled “Kelly Field and the Great War.” The cover showed two images: one of a pilot, the other of a biplane. The author’s intent was, of course, to remind the reader of the role of new technologies during “The War to End All
Over 100 years ago, an air base in Texas published a book entitled “Kelly Field and the Great War.”
The cover showed two images: one of a pilot, the other of a biplane. The author’s intent was, of course, to remind the reader of the role of new technologies during “The War to End All Wars.”
Readers in Effingham could have been reminded of the fact that their very own Illinois College of Photography may have had a role in the training of those flyers who guided the simple World War I aircraft that flew over enemy territory in Europe after the United States entered that warfare in 1917.
American citizens who kept informed about the news coming from Europe during the First World War certainly realized that military technology was changing the way battles were fought, whether it was by the introduction of new weaponry and products related to the war effort, or improvements to existing military material. The public became aware of chemical warfare, improvement of machine guns, submarines, tanks, flamethrowers, tracer bullets, depth charges, hydrophones, mobile X-ray machines, long-range artillery and, especially, airplanes.
Many individuals think only of the use of airplanes during the World War as being instruments of destruction with their machine guns and their ability for dropping bombs on targets below. They were significant for other reasons also, however. They could be used for aerial observation and map making. These tasks of course involved threat to the pilots due to the enemies’ ability to train artillery fire upon them. The information gathered through aerial photography allowed precision in directing artillery fire so shells would not fall short over the selected target. As a result, there was development of aerial observation departments at airfields in the United States, such as at the aforementioned Kelly Field.
The simple use of the eyes of the pilots to describe what was happening on the ground below evolved into another phase of observation as the military realized the value of the lens of cameras. Pictures could be taken from the air, then read by specially trained personnel who could identify and clarify the very fine points in the images captured by the photographer. This permitted more accurate direction of artillery fire on enemy targets.
The story of Illinois College of Photography’s involvement in this new technology is a fascinating one. The story is one that would not have taken place apart from the patriotic spirit that was part of Effingham’s college life, both from the perspective of faculty and student body. The story began at the end of 1917.
Students of history know that although World War I began in 1914, the United States did not enter the fray until 1917 when President Woodrow Wilson asked for a declaration of war against Germany and its allies.
America’s involvement in the conflict impacted Effingham’s photography college in at least three ways: One was that ICP in 1917 experienced a situation due to enlistment, or the draft, in which the student body had the largest percentage of female students compared to males in its history. Often this was because many wives sought photographic training to fill a void in “home studios” when husbands went off to war. A second impact was the College’s involvement in 1918 in the Red Cross Fund. Throughout the United States, including Effingham, posters showed a large Red Cross above easily recognized American landmarks, like the Capitol or the Statue of Liberty, that issued an appeal to the public, “Are you one of us? Add your bit to the Red Cross War Fund.” The Bissell Colleges (Illinois College of Photography and Bissell College of Photoengraving) certainly wanted the public to know they were on the side of the Red Cross. The fact that there was a Red Cross service flag on campus “indicated a good representation by the student body in the humanitarian organization.” The third impact was felt after the war when the demobilization allowed many former students to resume their studies at ICP and the two other Bissell Colleges.
The greatest relationship between the college and World War I, however, was the way in which ICP impacted the war. That came about when the United States’ military office of the Chief Signal Officer, in the Air Division of the War Department, in December issued a plea for more skilled workmen, including photographers, behind the lines abroad. Applicants had to be between 18 and 40 years of age.
The ad calling for photographers also made an appeal to patriotism as enlistment was an “opportunity presented (to invite) …those who can appreciate the chance to take part in the blood-stirring events that service in (the) country’s behalf makes possible.”
There was a specific enlistment process. To apply, the individual had to contact the Volunteer Bureau, 119 D Street, N.E., Washington, D.C., for an enlistment form to be filled in and returned. If accepted, the applicant was take the card received from the bureau to the nearest recruiting station to assure being enlisted, if physically fit, in the Aviation Section of the Signal Corps.
For the appeal to be successful at Illinois College of Photography, President Bissell had to lend his support to the effort. He did so quite fervently by hoping to persuade the federal government to establish an aerial school of photography in Effingham. The college noted his trips to Washington in the attempt to secure such a school beginning in April of 1918, then again in June. Bissell’s efforts were driven not only by his patriotism, but also by his desire to open opportunities for his students to find meaningful employment in a worthwhile cause.
ICP’s president was joined in his efforts by other members of the college staff who served in the military, including Professor C.C. McCorkill, a Canadian who was the author of several books. Charles Gallagher, a former student (1904) and instructor during 1907 and 1908, joined the army in 1918, serving as a sergeant and instructor in the aero squadron, Camp Brookfield, San Antonio, Texas. He was then ordered to New York City, stopping in Effingham to visit the college on his journey to the new location. LeGrand Flack, who served for many years as secretary of the college and then as president, enlisted in the medical Corps, stationed in St. Louis. A. Penrod, former instructor at the college, after serving as an instructor at an eastern naval school took a position as instructor in the government photographic school, a department of Columbia University. In early fall of 1918, Latshaw, a former instructor at the college, paid a visit to the school indicating he was entering the service, leaving his successful studio in the care of others.
Student involvement in World War I was clear both among those who were current, as well as former students.
Three brothers — Amos, Fred and John Viera — who were students in 1916 all went into the Army Signal Corps, Photography Division. Moody Dawson of Houston, Texas, part of the Class of 1907 served as first lieutenant in the aviation corps, having secured his commission based on his ICP diploma. He worked in Washington, D.C., in the Office of the Chief Signal Corps Officer, with the rank of captain. Dunbar and Philpot, who were part of the school of engraving, decided to join the Army. The whole college went with them to the railroad station as part of a very cheery departure in February.
In March of 1918, Sgt. Russell Penglase, Class of 1916, passed through Effingham on his way from a camp in New York City. A member of the Signal Corps, he was on official Army business, having a group of soldiers in his charge. He became an instructor of a group of soldiers in the U.S. School of Cinematography at Columbia University in New York City. Scottow, Klaver and Montgomery joined the Signal Corps Photographic Department. All were former ICP students.
Frederick C. Lee, Class of 1916, engraving department, visited Effingham on April 1, as he was leaving for Camp Grant and joining the Army. R.K. Wilmarth, from Wisconsin, Class of 1915, wrote the college early in 1918 that he was somewhere in England, expecting soon to be in France “in the greatest fight for liberty of the ages.” Later, in a letter written to Professor Lillen, Wilmarth stated he was one of the passengers rescued from the Tuscania, and that he had recovered from shock. The Tuscania was a luxury liner of the Anchor Line, a subsidiary of the Cunard Line and named after Tuscania, Italy. In 1918, it was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat while transporting American troops to Europe. A total of 210 lives were lost. In June of 1918, Hermon Fichweiler, Class of 1913, visited the college while on a short furlough before leaving for France. He wore a new uniform with a badge of promotion to the rank of master engineer. J.B. Whitcraft Lassen, 1915, and George Hunt, Class of 1917, both entered military service and were in attendance at the aerial school at Rochester, New York. Both of them were rapidly promoted based on their credits from ICP. Roland Ribbe, Class of 1912, became a member of the Signal Corps and served in France. The service to which he was called necessitated knowledge of the use of “three color” that he obtained in Effingham. A.E. Philpott, Class of 1917, college of photo engraving, served as a gunner in the English or oil artillery somewhere in France, doing his part toward getting “The Beast of Berlin.” Mark Baughman, Class of 1918, was stationed in Camp Sherman, Chillicothe, Ohio, anticipating entrance into the Signal Corps.
Throughout 1918, several former students wrote to the college asking for recommendations for the Photographic Department of the Army. Many of them wrote to say they were entering the Signal Corps. In like fashion, several of the students who were still enrolled at ICP said they had become members of the student body because they wanted to prepare for service in the Signal Corps.
World War I’s influence on the Illinois College of Photography did not end once the war was over. President Bissell rejoiced in the fact that many of the former students returned to complete their courses of study. Because the rate of the demobilization was so rapid, several World War I veterans resumed their study of photography. Lieutenant I. Snodgrass; Oscar Brindley, a Canadian student; D.T. Hyde, also from Canada; and Thomas F. Dillon of Philadelphia were among those who returned. Harry Burke, Chicago, and Lin Wa Sun, Hong Kong, China, were among the new students. Bissell believed that 1919 would be one of the best years in the history of the Bissell Colleges. The roles played by World War I soldiers who had been trained in special skills at his schools certainly provided reasons for him to be proud.
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