Jonas Alson Shantz was born May 19, 1881 in what was then Berlin ( now Kitchener ), Ontario. In 1887 Alson and his family settled in Rochester, New York, and six years later he became a naturalized American citizen.
In April of 1912, Alson became one of the charter members of Troop H of the First New York Cavalry, part of the New York National Guard. He was commissioned as a First Lieutenant on September 13, 1915, and spent Thanksgiving and Christmas of 1916 with the New York Cavalry in McAllen, Texas, on the Mexican border, as part of Pershing's punitive expedition to retaliate for Pancho Villa's raids into the United States.
Alson was promoted to the rank of Captain on April 20, 1917, immediately after the United States entered the Great War. When the New York National Guard was called up for federal service in France, Troop H was reorganized. The Troop was split between the 106th Machine Gun Battalion and the 102nd Ammunition Train of the 27th Division.
In November of 1917, Alson became the Captain of Company C, 102nd Ammunition Train, which was then stationed at Camp Wadsworth in Spartanburg, S.C. Company C was comprised of the former Companies 5 and 6, and consisted mostly of enlistees from Upstate New York, primarily Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse.
The Company was sent to France in June of 1918 on board the SS “Czar,” arriving in Brest, France on June 27. Since Alson was from Rochester, and since George Eastman had been one of the original financial backers of Troop H, it is not surprising that Alson brought a portable camera with him, and these photographs were ones that were taken with that camera.
They trained near Bordeaux until August, when they were moved north. The Horse Battalion was sent by railroad and the Motor Battalion traveled overland in their Nash “Quads.” Ultimately, they arrived near Verdun at the outset of the Meuse-Argonne offensive. From September 16, 1918, to October 22, 1918, they were attached to the 33rd Division, and from October 22, 1918, until the armistice they were attached to the 79th Division, supplying both artillery and small arms ammunition.
After the armistice, the Company was primarily stationed in Montsurs, where they spent the Christmas of 1918, finally leaving for Brest at the end of February.
On March 3, 1919, the Company left Brest on board the SS “Mt. Vernon,” formerly the North German Lloyd “Kronprinzessin Cecile.” They arrived in Hoboken 8 days later and took part in the 27th Division’s Victory Parade up 5th Avenue on March 25, 1919. The headline of the New York Tribune on March 26, 1919, reads "Manhattan Rocked by Cheers of Millions As Victorious 27th Marches Up Fifth Avenue."
The accompanying photographs were found along with some other
war-related material in the attic of Alson's house in the mid-1970's
and have been scanned from the original negatives. Although they had
sat in an unheated Upstate New York attic for over 50 years, many of
the negatives were in reasonably good condition. However some were
damaged by the deterioration of the rubber bands which had bound them
together or by coagulation of the original developing chemicals.
Nearly every negative was accompanied by a small contact print, which
Alson had duly labeled. The photographs are labeled as closely as
possible to the labels Alson gave them. Since he often did not
identify himself, when I have identified Alson in a photograph, I have
added my own reference "- JAS" at the end of the file name. Even if I
thought I could identify others from the context of the other photos,
I have not done so."
Alson was honorably discharged on April 3, 1919, and returned to Rochester where he was involved in the Shantz family's business interests. He remained active in the National Guard until his death in 1960. His Company's account of their experience in France, "The History of Company C" is in the collection of the Library of Congress [LC Control #97210985]. Some of these photographs were previously published in that book.
Frederick Fane Shantz March, 2005