Saturday, February 20, 2016

Camouflage Artist | Manley Dewitt Barber

Charles & Anna Drain House, Drain OR
Above Charles and Anna Drain House (1893-1895) in Drain OR, designed by George F. Barber, brother of Manley D. Barber. Wikimedia.

Anon, CAMOUFLAGE IN WAR BY DEKALB COUNTY BOY: Sergeant Manley D. Barber Of American Camouflage Section Describes Some of Strange Operations Employed to Deceive the Germans in the True Republican (Sycamore IL), March 8, 1919—

Camouflage, which has from the beginning of the World War been an important feature of the operations, is something entirely new as carried on in this war, and of more importance than ever before in warfare. Special troops have devoted all their energies to it, and the work of the American Camouflage Section both in the Navy and along the battle lines has excited wonder and admiration. A member of the American Camouflage Section, 40th Engineers, was Sergeant Manley D. Barber, former DeKalb boy and well-known in Sycamore being a relative of the pioneer David West and Love families of Sycamore. He describes some of his regiment’s camouflage operations in a clear and interesting manner in the Knoxville Journal, published at Knoxville TN, where he now makes his home.

After giving an account of the statement of his comrade Private Cooper the paper states: Sergeant Barber was with Private Cooper until February of 1918. He left Dijon and went to Nancy for training with the French. This training was similar to that which we received at home, only more practical and illustrated with frequent trips to the front, said Sergeant Barber. We had frequent air raids during the time I was at Nancy. After the training there, we were sent immediately to the Front. I was in the Toul sector. That was in the time of the old trench warfare, when the line was practically fixed and there was no rapid charging as in the Argonne-Meuse drive. Camouflage is really more effective in defensive than in offensive fighting for the reason that heavy camouflage material cannot be moved easily enough to keep up with a rapidly advancing army. We had to camouflage pill boxes, concrete protections for machine guns. These were sometimes below the surface, but often six feet above ground. We had to cover these with camouflage sheets in stair-steps; that is, there were a series of sheets, each smaller than the other and about five feet apart. This arrangement was made so that the shadow of the upper layers would be absorbed in the outlines of the lower ones, and no distance shadow would be cast by the whole. Sergeant Barber was in the Chateau Thierry drive and contracted trench fever. He was sent to a hospital behind the lines and reported missing for several weeks .

During the Argonne-Meuse drive there was one instance when camouflage men had to make a forest move, he said. A position was taken just behind a low hill, covered with a young forest, east of Fleiville. The guns were placed on the edge of the forest. The problem was to camouflage the guns and yet make no change in the outline of the woods as it might appear on the enemy's aerial photograph. The only thing to do was to move the forest back far enough to cover the guns and about 100 men in that particular unit, which was 20 or 30 feet. Trees were cut from the grove and stuck up in the mud thickly enough to make it look natural. The guns were covered with underbrush (real material being used wherever possible instead of manufactured camouflage) and the change in the whole when seen from an enemy plane would not have been noticeable. As a result, our guns there were never fired on. Camouflage in the winter is about as easy as in the summer. Of course the foliage on the trees helped to a certain extent in the summer, but then in the open the snow covering the nets stretched across the trenches or artillery centers aided quite as much. One of the greatest helps in the study of camouflage was the aerial photograph. That was what we had to deal with in regard to the enemy. In practicing the use of the different kinds of camouflage our own men made pictures of our work and let us see the real effect on an aerial picture. The pictures were usually made at a distance of about a mile and a half. Enemy planes hardly ever dared come any nearer than this because of the anti-aircraft guns.


There is online information about WWI camoufleur Manley Dewitt Barber at the 2007 Knox Heritage George Barber Homes Trolley Tour.  Manley Barber was the brother of George Franklin Barber, a prominent residential architect first in DeKalb IL, and then in Knoxville TN from 1888 until his death in 1915. By the end of the 19th century, George Barber’s architectural firm was the largest in the state. Thirty-five of his elaborate Victorian houses are still standing in Knoxville, with hundreds of others across the country, and in Canada, Japan, China and the Philippines. The Manley Dewitt Barber House (designed in 1905 by George Barber for his brother) is at 1620 Washington Avenue in Knoxville.

According to the online source—

After moving to Knoxville in 1903, Manley worked with George in the architectural firm of Barber and Klintz, and also spent time as a contractor and builder. Manley was best known as a collector of shells and fossils. He found many new specimens which he sent to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington DC to be named; three specimens were named after him and his collection is said to have been the largest in the United States in 1928.