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WW1 photo postcards French troops, by Albert Bené (San Francisco)

$40.00 CAD

– Sold Out

Albert Bené was a San Francisco photographer who had a studio at 2128 Filmore St. San Francisco. Of French background, during WW1 he went over and enlisted in the French Army. His wife and daughter remained in San Francisco, and he returned to them after the war.

He was given the French Croix de Guerre for his heroism. He was at Verdun, the Somme, and Aisne, three of the bloodiest battles of the war.

The two postcards are identical, one is a bit more over-exposed in one area. Both show a large group of French soldiers, in varied uniforms. They are standing behind a tall brick wall, and there are soldiers behind bundles of sticks piled above the wall.

In the front row is a medic with Red Cross armband, the man to the right is pouring out of bottle into his cup, and beside that man another medic with scissors stuck into his coat. No identifying location or regiment.

Based on 'AZO' photographic paper used, dates from 1904-1918

Embossed at the bottom:


PC #1 has horizontal crease, and a band on back where paper was not toned.

(Red text is an electronic watermark that is not physically part of the photo for sale)

…The footlocker belonged to Albert Bene, who lived in San Francisco but fought in the French army. The items include a complete French army uniform, military decorations, canteen, gas mask, mess kit and helmet as well as shrapnel labeled with the names of the battlefields from where the shell fragments came. There’s also a German helmet with both entry and exit bullet holes.

The footlocker also yielded many letters Bene sent home to his wife, Maria, while he was serving overseas. “The correspondence is written in French, and I am in the process of having it all translated so I can know what he said,” said Lowenstein, who has done extensive research about Bene’s life. The dates and locations on the letters show Bene was at Verdun, the Somme, and Aisne, three of the bloodiest battles of the war. Lowenstein hopes a French teacher at Serra, and perhaps a student, will help her translate the letters.

Still unknown is whether Bene was an American or French citizen when he enlisted and fought for the French for the duration. His wife and daughter remained in San Francisco, and he returned to them after the war, living the rest of his life in the Bay Area. At the time of his enlistment, Bene was a professional photographer.

Lowenstein discovered that Bene’s time in the army involved serving in a listening post, a forward position that brought him within 50 yards of the enemy. He was wounded but remained in his post for weeks to provide information about German movements.

“He was given the Croix de Guerre for his heroism,” Lowenstein said. “The medal is in the footlocker along with other medals he was awarded. A San Francisco Bulletin newspaper article celebrated his return home and described how he earned the medal.”

Bene recounted for the reporter how he became a forward observer. He was told “to crawl along on my belly to this hole and stay there. I did not know at this time that I would be in it four months.” An abandoned trench in no-man’s-land became his home where he communicated by telephone to the French forces. His food was limited and he lost a great deal of weight.

The Bulletin newspaper article published in February of 1918 said Bene’s 6-year-old daughter, Marie, marched around with her father’s war souvenirs during Bene’s first day home, which was on her first day of school. She begged her mother to let her miss school but was told: “Your father went to fight the Germans because it was his duty. Your duty is to go to school.”


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