Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Official War Photographer William Fox (Western Front, 1918)

Although they shot thousands of feet of footage you hardly see them on film: the official cameramen of World War I. By a stroke of luck we recently found a rare movie scene that features one of these war photographers: William Fox, commanding the Photo-Unit attached to the 5th Division of the American Expeditionary Force.

Official Photographer

William Fox in Mexico, 1916

William Fox was mentioned in an earlier weblog. He was a press photographer who worked for Underwood & Underwood in New York City. In 1916 Fox was attached to General Pershing's forces as the only official accredited cameraman to cover the Punitive Expedition into Mexico. The National Archives and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. have a collection of pictures taken by Fox in Mexico at that time. Here is a selection of these photographs which were uploaded on our photo channel.

Thanks to Harry Kidd's excellent photographic research on the U.S. Signal Corps World War I cameramen we could trace some additional background information on Lieutenant Fox's work after the American entry into the First World War. First, we found two pictures taken by Fox in June 1918 at Newport News, Virginia, when he was covering troop transports to France. Either Fox stayed in the United States to take additional pictures, or - this seems more likely - he was sent to Europe around this time to direct the pictorial coverage of the 5th Division, A.E.F. Here is a link to one of his photographs, from Harry Kidd's photo channel on Flickr. 

"The Red Devils"

Nicknamed "The Red Devils", the 5th Division was activated on December 11, 1917, just over eight months after the American entry into World War I, at Camp Logan, near Houston, Texas and began training for deployment to the Western Front. The entire division had arrived in France by May 1, 1918, and the units were soon deployed into the front line. Battle honors to the Fifth Division were earned for its participation at the St. Mihiel Drive and Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

In October 1918, Lieutenant Fox and his photographic unit reached the Meuse river while the 5th Division was driving the German army out of the Argonne area. Their picture was taken on October 19, 1918, near Montfaucon.

Signal Corps photographic unit attached to the 5th Division, 1st Army. Personnel, left to right: Sgt 1cl A. J. Mann; Cpl J. G. Jones, S.C. Motion Picture Photographer; 1st Lt. Wm Fox, S.C. Still Photographer: Cpl. Paul Bogart, Ass't; and Master Signal Electrician Gare Schwartz. Fayel Farm near Montfaucon, Meuse, France. Photographer: Lieutenant Wm. Fox, S.C. Location: Montfaucon, Meuse, France. Date October 19, 1918. Courtesy Harry B. Kidd

Harry Kidd's research at the National Archives has produced additional references to Fox and his camera crew. On October 22, 1918, he was filmed having lunch with members of his photographic team, as well as with officers of the 5th Division at mess. Here is a download link to the 'dope sheet' movie cards, describing these two scenes. Part of this footage we also found in the collection of the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Footage Found at the Imperial War Museum

On October 25, 1918, three days later, Fox again was filmed inside the city of Cunel, when he was setting up his movie camera in front of a church that supposedly had been used by the Germans as a cinema. When Fox was filming Cunel had just been evacuated by the retreating Germans, but it seems the place was still dangerous because Fox appears to be running away from shell fire in the film scene that we found in the collection of the Imperial War Museum.

With special thanks to Harry Kidd for his research and input on this weblog



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