Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Edwardina L. Lavoie, bugler, 1st Artillery, New York National Guard

Edwardina Lavoie, a female New York National  Guard bandsman, April 26, 1917. 

These photographs are interesting for a variety of reasons.

Unlike the Navy, which had just authorized regular female recruits, the Army had a longer history with women in service.  It's somewhat muddled, quite frankly, and its subject to misinterpretation, but as its muddled and subject to misinterpretation I won't go into it.  Be that as it may, what these photographs depict is definitely out of the norm.

Being a bugler was a combat role. 

And a vital one.

Radio had just made its appearance in the US Army in the field in the Punitive Expedition and field phones hadn't gotten too far as of yet, although they were definitely in use.  Buglers, therefore, going into the war, remained a critical field signaling role.

Not the only one, we might note.  Field phones, of course, have already been mentioned.  And dispatch runners, some mounted, some on foot, were very common.  But, at least in theory, it remained the case that a large variety of military signals were sent by assigned bugle calls.

It was a very dangerous combat role.

Maybe she was a bandsmen?

Well, the captions from the Library of Congress don't say that.  I trust, therefore, that she really was a bugler with the New York 1st Artillery.  But let's take a look at bandsmen for a second.

Being an Army bandsman wasn't the same a century ago as it is today, although being a National Guard bandsmen might have been, oddly enough.  In the 19th Century Army, much of the military culture of which remained at the start of World War One, being a bandsman was a field occupation.  That is units all had bands, at that time, they took them to the field.  The scene depicted in Little Big Man, for example, in which the 7th Cavalry Regiment's band plays Garryowen as the 7th charges at Washita is actually correct.  The 7th really did have the band strike up Garryowen in that frozen horror, which tells us a lot about how bands were treated at the time.

Not everything about them, however.  One thing that's commonly not noted about military bandsmen, except by some astute historians, is that they were used as stretcher bearers as soon as the need arose.  So they didn't just hang around and provide stirring music for the carnage.  They helped carry the wounded off, a job which we might note which was extremely hazardous.

I don't know when that practice ended.

Note, as we circle back to the bugler role, that she's dressed in a male uniform.  Artillery was a mounted service, along with cavalry, and she's wearing leather leggins and male breaches.  She's dress for riding, in other words.

A very interesting photograph.

I'm certain she didn't deploy with the New York National Guard to Europe.  But by this date she would have been mobilized (she likely wasn't yet Federalized, that oddly took quite a bit more time to occur in World War One than it would in later call ups requiring Federalization).  I suspect, but don't know, that her role with the Guard ended with Federalization.  She wouldn't be the only one, I'd note.  Federalization of Guard units, pretty much up to the World War Two call up (but not much after that) entailed a weeding out and reassignment process.  Men unsuitable for military service in the opinion of the U.S. Army were weeded out at that point, units that were one thing in their state assignments became another in the Army.  I don't know what happened to Pvt. Lavoie, but I suspect her role with the New York National Guard ended at that point.

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