The Journey of the First Flag

1917
April 24

San Francisco Civic Auditorium

Thousands pack the Auditorium for the leave-taking ceremony organized by the Friends of France along with the recently-formed American League of California. Four Star Spangled Banners were presented to the Berkeley and Stanford students, the gift of the American League. Read more.

April 28

Oakland Mole Railway Wharf, CA

Kimber sets out on his journey with his precious cargo, destined to be the first officially sanctioned U.S flag on the Western Front.

April 29

Mount Shasta route into Oregon

The journey begins via Sacramento, Dunsmuir, Montague & Ashland, arriving in Portland (OR).

April 30

On Board

The train travels on continues via Spokane (WA), St. Maries (ID) Henderson (MT) & Butte (MT).

May 1

On Board

Through the remainder of Montana and, that night, North Dakota and on into Minnesota

May 2

Chicago

After travelling though Minneapolis (MN), then on through Wisconsin Kimber arrives in Chicago (IL). The next day he takes a tour of the P L Armour meat packing plant. That night he boards a train for Detroit (MI) via Indiana.

May 4

Detroit

Visits Ford motor-works in Detroit (MI). Then boards train for New York City, via Canada & Niagara Falls into NY state.

May 5

New York

Kimber arrives in New York where he prepares to set out with the First Flag across the Atlantic for the Western Front. He needs to wait until the 14th when his ship will be ready to set sail.

May 5

From West Coast to East Coast

Kimber had crossed the whole of the United States of America with the First Flag, from west coast to east coast, beautifully illustrated in this map drawn by Barbara Taylor.
May 9

Avenue of the Allies

The Crowds on 5th Avenue – temporarily renamed the ‘Avenue of the Allies’ – had welcomed the French and British war delegations of Joffre (9 May) & Balfour (11 May). The time is celebrated in Childe Hassam’s painting ‘Allies Day’ which hangs in the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

May 10

5th Avenue, New York

Kimber bears the First Flag down the crowded 5th Avenue in NYC at the head of an American Field Service parade, accompanied by volunteers from the University of California, Berkeley.

May 11

Theodore Roosevelt’s office, NYC

Kimber meets former President Theodore Roosevelt in his NYC office. Roosevelt had known and cooperated with Kimber’s clergyman father when the former was the city’s Police Commissioner in 1895/97.

May 13

Trinity Church, Wall Street

Before sailing for Europe Arthur Clifford Kimber takes part in church service at Trinity, Wall St. where the First Flag is displayed. Members of the congregation - and later the general public - file past, some touching and kissing the flag.
May 14

On board SS St Louis

Kimber boards his ship to sail to Liverpool in England en route to the Western Front. Recently fitted with five heavy guns, the liner later became the USS Louisville troopship.

May 16

On board SS St Louis

Kimber meets screen actress Lillian Gish, who is on her way to England to begin filming D.W. Griffith’s 'Hearts of the World’.
May 21

SS St Louis reaches Irish waters

With the increased threat of enemy submarines, the crew and passengers prepare for the worst, with lifeboats readied. He writes that ‘many people sat up all night and few took off their clothes’.
May 23

Liverpool and Merseyside, England

Kimber describes his first sight of England, comparing the residential right bank of the Mersey with the hustle and bustle of the docks and derricks on the opposite side.
May 23

On board train

Kimber takes train from Liverpool to London via Rugby, fascinated by his view of English towns and countryside through the train window.
May 23

London, England

Kimber arrives in London where he stays until the next day. His description of the city is sombre. 'I went down to Charing Cross Station and saw some wounded arrive. There was quite a crowd and they were cheered heartily. Then [when] an ambulance brought out the badly wounded the crowds no longer made noise for fear of disturbing the men, but quietly waved, and the game soldiers smiled and made feeble efforts to wave back.'
May 25

Paris, France

Travelling by train and then troopship, 'convoyed across the channel by destroyers and aeroplanes', Kimber arrives in Paris. His first stop is the American Field Service HQ in 21 rue Raynouard.
June 1

En route for the Western Front

Kimber leaves Paris for the Western Front with the First Flag - the last days of his precious responsibility.
June 4

Tréveray, Northern France

Colonel Collon of the 55e French Infantry Division ceremoniously passes the first officially sanctioned US flag, transported with such care by Kimber, to the 1st Stanford Unit in a field above Tréveray in northern France. Read more .
June 15

Champagne Sector in France, East of Reims

Kimber witnesses the aftermath of the ‘Battle of the Hills’, part of the Nivelle Offensive, now held by the 55e. We went thru a demolished village on the way. Enclosed is a picture of the ruined church….All along the road were little piles of French shells…We wandered around what were the first French line trenches on the 14th of April. They are awfully desolate looking places. I would rather do anything than live in them….Little groups of men and horses are constantly passing us, either going to the front or returning. All the French seem so tired and even the horses reflect the weariness. When the poilu asks how long we think the war will last, we all say only a short time, for if we tell him the truth about it, he seems absolutely broken in spirit.