This is a printed silk handkerchief from WWI, with an Italian aviation theme. This handkerchief features four early WWI aircraft plane models, two of which are seaplanes. The inner field of the handkerchief is pale blue and contained by a black three-line waving border. The outer field is medium blue, with a darker blue at each corner. A white and black fasces rests in each corner. The center of the silk features a golden spread-wing eagle. Above the eagle’s head floats a gold crown. The eagle’s talons grip a shield printed with the Savoy arms, a white cross on a red field. Two gold fasces adorn either side of the shield.
The Savoy arms has a very interesting iconographic history, following the development of the pre-Italian state during the 18th, 19th, and mid 20th century. The Kingdom of Sardinia was the name given when Sardinia was awarded to the House of Savoy to compensate Duke Victor Amadeus II for the loss of the crown of Sicily to Austria, which made him a King. In 1860, Nice and Savoy were ceded to France as price paid for the French consensus to unify Italy. 1861 saw the Kingdom of Sardinia become a founding state of the new Kingdom of Italy and ceased to exist after this date. From 1848 through to 1946, the Kingdom of Sardinia and then the Kingdom of Italy flew a tricolor flag, in green, white and red, with the Savoy arms, a white cross on a red field, centered on the white middle field.
In most historical accounts of the early days of military aviation, our reverence for the activities of the American Expeditionary Force and its French and British companions-in-arms on the western front has led us to overlook the immense Italian contribution to the formation of airpower doctrine. The first aerial force projection occurred on Nov. 1, 1911, when Lt. Giulio Gravotta, flying a German-built monoplane, dropped one bomb on Zard and another on Taciura -- in Libya -- during the Italian-Turkish War. This event occurred just a little more than a year after the first flight of an Italian-designed and built aircraft.
At about the same time, Gianni Caproni, a young Italian engineer with a passion for innovation and a vast admiration for the Wright brothers, built his first flying machine. By May 23, 1915, the day Italy entered World War I, Caproni had become Italy's leading aircraft designer and manufacturer. Caproni designed and built a multi-engine bomber with range and bomb capacities to make it a potent offensive weapon. On Aug. 20, 1915, two of these Caproni three-engine bombers attacked the Aisovizza aerodrome with explosive and incendiary bombs, a preview of the most sustained, effective air offensive of the First World War. By early 1916, regular raids against Austro-Hungarian targets were being conducted by seven squadrons of Caproni bombers, with some 540 bombing missions flown by the year's end. Missions were on the increase, both in distance to targets and number of aircraft involved.
In late 1917, due to the lack of suitable training facilities in the United States, a contingent of some 500 Americans were sent to Foggia, Italy, to learn military flying. After completing their training, the new pilots were commissioned in the Army Air Service, and the majority of them were sent to France to serve with the American Expeditionary Force. About 75 remained in Italy under the command of Capt. Fiorello LaGuardia, who simultaneously held office as a Congressman from New York, and later served as Mayor of New York City. These "Foggiani" were attached to Italian bomber squadrons, mostly at San Pelaggio air base near Padua, to gain experience in bombardment and augment the understrength squadrons. These missions marked the first combat bomber operations by members of the U.S. Army Air Service and were flown in Caproni bombers. American participation was very active and several airmen received Italy's highest decoration, the Medaglia di Oro, for their combat heroism. Similar to this handkerchief, these gold medals of honor featured the coat of arms of Savoy with laurel branches, the royal crown, and the words "al valor militare" (for military valor).
Multinational designed Allied forces flags and pennant like this example exist from WWI, produced during the surge of patriotism of the war or in the wake of the resulting victory. While the government published thousands of posters and printed propaganda during WWI, many of the smaller flags and silk bandanas from that time were hand-printed by the general public, to gift to soldiers or sweethearts going to war.
Each small flag and bandana, no matter the size, was truly ephemeral, not designed to last beyond the war. Nevertheless, these items were tucked away into books, drawers, and attics, saved as mementos of the special occasion. Each patriotic silk that survived is special, a unique connection to the individuals and families of the past that have made our country what it is, from its founding to today.
Printed silk handkerchief. Good condition, considering age and use. Small stains along outer printed margins. Yellowing near eagle at center. Horizontal folding creases present. Small tear in upper right border. This handkerchief has been archivally presented, floating on a dark background, in a custom built black and silver wood frame. Framed dimensions: 26" H x 27" W x 1 ½” D.
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