This scrapbook and photo album has two purposes: to partially document the encampments and circumstances of the American troops occupying the Rhineland and the demilitarized zone established by the Treaty of Versailles, and to depict scenes showing the devastation, mostly that suffered by the American Army, during and following the great Rhine flood of 1920.
The album is in worn condition, with bare spots on its black faux-leather covers and along the edges, bent corners, missing grommets and a new dark brown shoelace functioning as a tie at the binding. The album is 12” X 9”, and has 20 pages (the insides of both the front and the back cover are also utilized) all of which contain cutouts from some sort of Army publication and, in the back of the album, 49 photos, including a number of large-format, professionally-produced photos of the great flood.
The album begins with a number of cutouts from some military publication, carefully scissored out and glued to the heavy brown construction paper of the pages. Perhaps unintentionally humorous, the first cutout shows Major General Henry T. Allen, “commanding American forces in Germany,” within a shape that seems to mimic a hot air balloon, with General Allen firmly ensconced in the balloon, and not the basket. Also, intriguingly, penciled on the inside cover, next to the general’s photograph, is this notation: “From G. D. Hold this for me.” What follows are a number of thin, horizontal panoramas of American forces engaged in various activities: field artillery in formation, a “retreat at maneuvers,” “the machine gun battalion in camp,” other Army scenes, and views of Koblenz, maneuvers at Winningen, a parade ground at Mayen, and a panorama of Andernach. Several of the panoramas are long enough that that lap over a page, and the continuation is folded over and glued to the next page. The images in this initial section are as noted, clipped from some military publication.
Two striking original photos of victims of the Rhine flood interrupt the the scrapbook cutouts, and then there are more publication cutouts of various army activities, often showing photos of soldiers at play, jumping horses at a horse show, the champion baseball team of 1920, a photo of the “Y.M.C.A. girls’ baseball team, soldiers playing tennis, boxing, and practicing golf, and most especially, playing football.
The album concludes with 16 doubled-sided pages containing large format photos of the Rhine flood. The photos fall roughly into two sizes: 9 ½” x 7” photos (one is slightly smaller) each of which occupies a full page, and photos measuring roughly 4 ¾” x 6 ¼” to 6 ¾”. The smaller photos are mounted two to a page, and the album must be turned 90° to view the photos in the proper landscape orientation. There are 16 of the large format photos, and 30 of the smaller photos. A 17th large plate photo has apparently been the victim of an unsuccessful attempt to remove it from the album; all that remains is a small piece of emulsion and other glued down bits of white backing.
The photos (with one exception, which shows a view of Bendorf-on-Rhine, with a great industrial grouping of smokestacks in the distance) depict numerous flood scenes, beautifully-framed and carefully exposed. Most of the photos show scenes of devastation suffered by the American military, though some also show the suffering of the German people brought on by the flood. Notably, they seem to be suffering in good spirits.
55-gallon drums are the star of the large format photos. One may hope the drums were empty at the time of the flood; in the photos they have bunched up into enormous clots. Pity the poor soldier who was told by his commanding officer: “Go clean up those blankety-blank drums.” They appear here by the thousands.
All in all, this album presents a brief, incomplete record of a forgotten period of American history, yet another occupation of a foreign country, yet another ultimately unsuccessful attempt to keep the peace. Why do we keep hearing this story?