Three rare WWI A.E.F. Air Service items: The Wing Slip cadet newspaper, Boxing broadside & match ticket
Three rare WWI items originating from the Second Aviation Instruction Center (2AIC) in Tours, France, during training by the U.S. Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces. Collected by an unidentified service member and boxing enthusiast, the items reflect less heralded aspects of AEF and YMCA soldier training.
(1.) Large orange broadside poster, 32 x 24 inches, promoting the “Brown v. Hennessy” YMCA boxing rematch exhibition at the A.E.F. 2nd Aviation Instruction Center on June 16, 1918.
(2.) A single issue of the cadet-run weekly paper published in Tours [and]
(3.) A torn ticket stub from the first Brown v. Hennessy match on May 15, 1918.
(1.) Large orange broadside poster, 32 x 24 inches, promoting the “Brown v. Hennessy” YMCA boxing rematch exhibition at the A.E.F. 2nd Aviation Instruction Center on June 16, 1918. Printed by Deslis Freres and Co, Tours. The main event was a rematch between K. O. Brown and J. Hennessy, who fought a 6-round draw the previous month—and would go another 8 rounds during this match. The event also featured windup matches Abie Bernard vs. Shorty Oliver (“two scrappy bantams”), Joe Driscell vs. Porkey Hanna, and four other matchups promising to “give you all the fun you want.”
The fights are chronicled in The Wing Slip, a weekly cadet-run newspaper: “Both fighters put up a clean scrappy fight. The crowd showed its sportsmanship by applauding impartially—a good blow being appreciated no matter who made it.” Such was the “fighting spirit” stoked within soldiers, who were further guided by publications like Hand-to-Hand Fighting: A System of Personal Defense for the Soldier, authored by a YMCA Army Camp Physical Director, which directly tells soldiers where the sportsmanship of boxing and wrestling yields to the savagery of war. “The soldier must remember that [wrestling] is a sport whose climax is the placing of a wrestler's shoulders to the mat while the subject matter of this volume constitutes a deadly system whose climax is nothing less than the destruction or crippling of the opponent. It should be further emphasized that many of the acts barred in clean wrestling are essential parts of the system and indeed are the most effective means of doing away with an opponent.”
The YMCA is broadly credited for providing extensive welfare work both at home and to soldiers abroad during WWI, though their direct military influence may be underrepresented in popular histories. Woodrow Wilson eagerly availed the military of the YMCA’s assistance with physical training. Their programs of boxing instruction developed the skills and appetite for fighting, stoking an inherently savage “manly spirit” that was needed for hand-to-hand trench combat, but that military leaders were finding had been “civilized” out of the majority of recruits (Park, 399). In the meantime, the YMCA-led boxing matches changed attitudes about boxing amongst citizens at home, where the unsavory (and in some states, illicit) sport became transformed into a symbol of righteousness and patriotism in a renewed wave of popularity for “Muscular Christianity”--though the specific emphases on taking out your opponents’ eyes whenever possible, and being sure to stomp on their neck (“Don’t kick but jump on it with the full weight of the body” (Marriott, 13) was left out of public appreciation.
(2.) The Wing Slip. No. 13, Monday June 24, 1918. A single issue of the cadet-run weekly paper published by Pericat in Tours. “Edited weekly by the Cadet Aviators in France”-- namely, “Buck” Weaver, “Grub” Clover, and “Gravy Owen.”
The chaotic development of the American Expeditionary Forces upon US engagement in WWI is well documented: a shortage of planes, bottleneck of aviation cadets against limited facilities and personnel for training, delays in communication and constantly shifting strategies contingent on the state of aviation resources and the course of the war itself.
A standout article in The Wing Slip gives a first-hand account of the delays from the perspective of Howard L. Montgomery, “Cadet History… Space Limits Proper Account of Birth and Death of Out (sic) Unique Organization.” Montgomery was an early recruit who would eventually rise to the rank of First Lieutenant but languished as one of the first group of cadets sent from Mineola in New York to train in France in 1917:
“Historians of Americas's entry into the World War will, if they have any sense of humor at all, have to devote at least part of a chapter to that hybrid military species which cropped up in the Aviation program in the early stages of its existence… he should dip his pen in a mile vein of satire and write slowly, for their ‘evolution’ was as wild and chaotic as a kaleidoscopic dance.”
He goes on to chronicle the deployment to France (“Conceived in Patriotism, and Obliterated at a stroke of a Field Clerk’s pen”) and the hodge-podge developments in training and facilities that left the men in a holding pattern while newer recruits training in the United States were able to advance.
“In those pioneer days it took some time for an order to move through those proverbial ‘military channels’ so that the newly elevated ‘cadets’ found themselves posing more or less gracefully, first in one status and then in another; and being most of the time in an official quandary as to their rights and privileges, they ran the gamut of army existence… Meanwhile back in the States men entering the service long after the men over here, favored with better conditions, had finished their training and been commissioned. And in some cases had come over here to be put in charge of their former camarades.”
His humor captures the farcical aspects while articulating the frustration of men who “have earned their bars and the right to be looked upon as officers.” And, having finally been commissioned, he contemplates the end of “Cadet days” as the chaotic spectacle his cohort experienced—and that allowed for the publication of this paper, which was to cease now that the boys were off to the action.
Notable literary contents include the rallying affirmations of “I am Morale” (unattributed): “I am the resulting component of the Spirit of many individuals… The driving force of Democratic Armies… My light burns brightest in the hearts of men whose enlightened reason shows they fight for right… This makes me impervious to enemy attacks from the front…” and a poem by John Stone, “Good By, Wing Slip:” “Grieved are we lo toll the parting bell / And bid our noble Wing Slip Au Revoir… Where sons have come and gallantly have wed, / The Maiden of the clouds that holds the shield. / Where friends are made, the kind that has no end, / Unless it be above the German lines...”
Cameron, Rebecca Hancock. Training to fly: military flight training, 1907-1945. Air Force History and Museums Programs, 1999.
Denfeld, Duane Colt. “Boxing for Combat and Entertainment During and After World War I.” HistoryLink.org Essay 20475, 2017
Marriott, Arthur E. Hand-To-Hand Fighting: A System Of Personal Defense for the Soldier. New York: Macmillan, 1918.
Park, A. (2019). “Fighting Spirit”: World War I and the YMCA's Allied Boxing Program. Religion and American Culture, 29(3), 391-430.