Portraits of War: Two Mississippi Doughboys in France, 1918

Published: 3 March 2024

By Brennan Gauthier
via the Portraits of War website

Ernie Rayburn and Ollie Stiger Smoking Cigars in France, 1918

Mississippi Doughboys Ernie Rayburn and Ollie Stiger in France, 1918

Finding vintage photography to post to the site that has meaningful background history has been a tough mission the last few years. I was recently inspired to start posting to the blog more often from a group of friends who enjoy seeing great photography mixed in with background research. This site has always been a labor of love and I’ve neglected posting new material (but have updated older posts) since the global pandemic hit. I now introduce you to a new addition to the collection that showcases an underappreciated aspect of the the WWI US service experience.

The process of making these shots web-ready is a bit tedious but it involves the scanning, editing for dust and scratches as well as optimizing size for the web. It’s not a quick task but I like to take time to make these available whenever possible.

Ernie Rayburn and Ollie Stiger Smoking Cigars in France, 1918

This photograph struck me when I first viewed it for a few reasons. The role of African Americans in World War One has been touched upon in books, documentaries and museum exhibits but the photographic history of the common labor war worker has been eclipsed by the “fighting” units that are often depicted. These two men, Erie Rayburn of Coffeeville, MS and Ollie Stiger of Jackson of the same state have likely never been shown online. These postcard style shots were often taken to be sent to friends and family as a way of remembering a time where the normal day-to-day life of the 1910s was upended and normal guys were thrown into abnormal situations.

Ollie and Ernie in France

Both Ollie and Erie served in the same labor unit – the Depot Service Company No. II based out of Brest, France during the war. I’m unsure of what exact labor duty they would have been assigned to but it likely involved the moving of material onto or off of ships onto trucks or trains. More research will need to be done.

Read the entire article on the Portraits of War website here:

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