WWI Artifacts and Memories: Joseph Garneau Weld
In the early years of the war many Missourians went overseas as drivers for the fleet of ambulances operating across France to carry the wounded from the front lines to hospitals. Among famous World War I ambulance drivers—including Walt Disney and Ernest Hemingway—was St. Louisan Joseph Garneau Weld. Weld, who went by “Garneau,” was born in Baltimore in 1897 and grew up in St. Louis. He joined the American Field Service, an American volunteer ambulance corps under the French Army, in October 1916. Weld was an ambulance driver in Section Sanitaire Etats-Unis 1 (SSU 1) for nine months until the United States joined the war, when the American Field Service was incorporated into the American Expeditionary Force.
After the U.S. Army absorbed the American Field Service, Weld enlisted as a private in the United States Army Ambulance Service (USAAS) and was assigned to SSU 625. With SSU 625 he was awarded the French Croix de Guerre (war cross) in April 1918, Second Citation in September 1918, and the French Field Service medal. During his service Weld saw action in 1916 in the Argonne, 1917 at Verdun, the 1917 Champagne Offensive, the 1918 Seicheprey Defensive, the Montdidier-Noyou Defensive, Aisne-Marne Offensive, and as a part of the army of occupation after the war.
Among Weld's artifacts in the collections of the Missouri Historical Society are a French M-2 gas mask carrier and gas mask, which he inscribed with some of the battles at which he served. The inscriptions are barely legible, but some of them can be made out including “Argonne Nov-Jan,” “Ippecourt,” and “Verdun.” Weld’s gas mask is currently on display in the Museum’s Reflections gallery. The collection also includes a pair of “hate belts,” which are military belts with insignia attached to them, purportedly taken from slain enemy soldiers.
During World War II, Joseph Garneau Weld’s son Henry would follow in his father’s footsteps and volunteer with American Field Service Unit IB 60. Weld continued his association with American Field Service in World War II as well, serving as a Missouri representative. He passed away July 12, 1970, in St. Louis.
To explore the Missouri Historical Society's World War I collections, visit our cross-collection search here.
—Patrick Allie, World War I Curator