The U.S. entered WWI in April 1917, thirty-three months after most other nations became involved. The U.S. Navy quickly engaged in protecting American shores and convoying supplies across the Atlantic, while the Army and Marines took a bit longer to engage. Both needed cadres of experienced officers and NCOs to train the volunteers and draftees that poured into their training camps.
The first American troops sent to France arrived in September 1917 and were there to show support more than to engage in battle. There were only 175,000 Americana troops in France by the end of January 1918, while nearly 1.4 million Americans rolled into France between May and September 1918.
Here's an almost 10-minute video of troop transports arriving and unloading in St. Nazaire, France, in 1917. (National Archives, 24941)
Still, the early arrivals needed to blow off steam, and one way of doing so was to play or watch a little football. The image below shows a play from a November 1917 game at Base Camp #1, close to the port city of St. Nazaire.
The image has several items of interest. First, the boys look like they are getting after it. The defender on the far right, whose face is all we can see, has a rather intense look. Second, the image clearly shows the ball was snapped along the right sideline with the ball being run off tackle left. Third, the doughboys fill the sidelines and either stand downfield beyond the end zone or have come onto the field for a better look.
Last, the players are in full football gear, none of which was available locally. So, it is interesting that football gear was among the supplies prioritized for the early troops sent to France.
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