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USA : The Merci Train : Shields and signs

Updated : July 01, 2015

"The Merci Train" - "The Gratitude Train" - "Train de la Reconnaissance Francaise"

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On this page :
40 coat-of-arms - American eagle - Logo - US-state - Banner

Shields and signs

The 49 "Merci Train" boxcars were in France decorated with 5 different items :

  1. 40 coat-of-arms.
  2. Shield with the American eagle.
  3. Logo - symbolic sign with locomotive.
  4. US-state-plate designating the individual boxcar to a specific state.
  5. Banner.

The Herald Dick magazine ➚ [ in French ] has an excellent article about the shields and signs on the "Merci Train" boxcars.

These 5 items were not standard SNCF railroad signs, but specifically created for the 49 "Merci Train" boxcars.

The 49 boxcars did have some visible original railroad signs, and some not so visible signs.

  1. 40 coat-of-arms
  2. The 40 coat-of-arms were designed by the well-known French artist and heraldist Robert Louis, see more below , who also designed the sign with the American eagle.

    You can see his signature on this photo from a coat-of-arms from the Maryland boxcar :

    signature robert louis

    The coat-of-arms were made of an early form of particleboard / chipboard. Normally ordinary wood or plywood would have been used, but in the years after WW2 there was a shortage of lumber - especially in Europe, so chipboard was used :

    coat of arms detail - chipwood was used

    If you look closely on the left side of the photo, it would appear that the actual coat-of-arms was printed on some kind of sheet and then glued to the chipboard, perhaps given a final coat of protective varnish.

    At least it would make sense that Robert Louis didn't paint all 40 x 49 ( = 1960 ) coat-of-arms.

    To be researched. To be researched

    40 French regions - provinces

    The 40 coat-of-arms are from the, in 1948, 40 French regions / provinces :

    1. Alsace
    2. Angoumois
    3. Anjou
    4. Artois
    5. Aunis
    6. Auvergne
    7. Béarn
    8. Berry
    9. Bourbonnais
    10. Bourgogne
    1. Bretagne
    2. Champagne
    3. Comté de Foix
    4. Comté de Nice
    5. Comtat Venaissin
    6. Corse
    7. Dauphiné
    8. Flandre
    9. Franche-Comté
    10. Gascogne
    1. Guyenne
    2. Île-de-France
    3. Languedoc
    4. Limousin
    5. Lorraine
    6. Lyonnais
    7. Maine
    8. Marche
    9. Navarre
    10. Nivernais
    1. Normandie
    2. Orléanais
    3. Picardie
    4. Poitou
    5. Provence
    6. Roussillon
    7. Saintonge
    8. Savoie
    9. Touraine
    10. Vendee

    The history behind the French regions is interesting but very complicated.

    Regarding the "Merci Train" it would suffice to just accept that the 40 different coat-of-arms represented the above mentioned 40 French regions in 1948.

    The design of the coat-of-arms was made especially for the "Merci Train" by Robert Louis, as his personal gift to the "Merci Train", although the design was re-used for the French stamp-serie "Coat-of-arms" ( from 1943 to 1955 ), that Robert Louis also designed.

    You can compare the coat-of-arms from the stamps and the ones from the "Merci Train" :

    1. Alsace
    2. Angoumois
    3. Anjou
    4. Artois
    5. Aunis
    6. Auvergne
    7. Béarn
    8. Berry
    9. Bourbonnais
    10. Bourgogne
    1. Bretagne
    2. Champagne
    3. Comté de Foix
    4. Comté de Nice
    5. Comtat Venaissin
    6. Corse
    7. Dauphiné
    8. Flandre
    9. Franche-Comté
    10. Gascogne
    1. Guyenne
    2. Île-de-France
    3. Lanquedoc
    4. Limousin
    5. Lorraine
    6. Lyonnais
    7. Maine
    8. Marche
    9. Navarre
    10. Nivernais
    1. Normandie
    2. Orléanais
    3. Picardie
    4. Poitou
    5. Provence
    6. Roussillon
    7. Saintonge
    8. Savoie
    9. Touraine
    10. Vendee

    Robert Louis chose a "standard" title-ribbon-shape for the name of the regions.

    How the coat-of-arms were placed on the boxcars

    coat hanging device On this photo you can see in detail how a coat-of arms was hung on the boxcar on 3 "hooks".

    You can also see that the French numbered the places where the coat-of-arms were placed. This would logically mean that the French had a special order in which the coat-of-arms were placed on the boxcars.

    From the numbers that can be seen on the Maryland boxcar, it would seem that the French numbered the coat-of-arms on each side of a boxcar going from upper row left to upper row right and the bottom row right to bottom row left no matter whether a row went upwards or downwards.

    Most of the boxcars today do not have the original coat-of-arms. A few, however do; i.e. Maryland.

    It is very difficult today to document any particular order in which the coat-of-arms were placed on the boxcars.

    However there is no doubt that the coat-of arms were placed 20 on each side of a boxcar with 10 on the upper row above the banner with "Gratitude Train" [ English side ] or " Train de la reconnaissance Francaise" [ French side ] and 10 on the bottom row below the banner :

    • 6 coat-of-arms on the left side of the boxcar
    • 8 coat-of-arms on the sliding door
    • 6 coat-of-arms on the right side of the boxcar

    There is very little photographic evidence from 1948-1949 regarding the order.

    Anne-Marie Max Paris 1948 The picture with Anne-Marie Max shows the English side "Gratitude Train" of a boxcar in Paris in October / November 1948.

    Comparing various newsreels and photos it appears that the coat-of-arms were placed in the same order on all 49 boxcars.

    This is how the coat-of-arms were placed originally, according to my preliminary research. Grey background shows where the doors of the boxcar are.

    Champagne
    Champagne
    Anjou
    Berry
    Maine
    Lorraine
    Lorraine
    Corsica
    Corsica
    Anjou
    Berry
    Maine
    Guyenne
    Guyenne
    Île de France
    Ile de France
    Normandie
    Normandie
    Anjou
    Berry
    Maine
    Flandre
    Flandre
    French
    Train de la Reconnaissance Francaise
    French
    Navarre
    Navarre
    Saintonge
    Saintonge
    Artois
    Artois
    Gascogne
    Gascogne
    Auvergne
    Auvergne
    Touraine
    Touraine

    Vendee
    Bourgogne
    Bourgogne
    Lyonnais
    Lyonnais
    Alsace
    Alsace

    Orleanais
    Orleanais
    Aunis
    Aunis
    Comté de Foix
    Comte de Foix
    Bretagne
    Bretagne
    Bourbonnais
    Bourbonnais
    Poitou
    Poitou
    Dauphine
    Dauphine
    Béarn
    Bearn
    Marche
    Marche
    Limousin
    Limousin
    English
    Gratitude train
    English
    Rousillon
    Rousillon
    Comtat Venaissin
    Comtat Venaissin
    Provence
    Provence
    Comte de Nice
    Comté de Nice
    Franche Comte
    Franche Comté
    Lanquedoc
    Lanquedoc
    Picardie
    Picardie
    Savoie
    Savoie
    Nivernais
    Nivernais
    Angoumois
    Angoumois

    Coat-of-arms during transport

    From the pictures of the loading onto the Magellen in Le Havre and the unloading in Weehawken, it would appear that the coat-of-arms were not removed during this initial transport.

    Pictures and newsreel footage from the "Marci Train" during its route through the USA would indicate that the coat-of-arms were left on the boxcars also during this transport.

    The "Merci Train" boxcars were of course guarded all the time untill the gifts inside had been unloaded.

    Once a boxcar was unloaded there were different approaches.

    The coat-of-arms were, from time to time, taken off the boxcar simply for safekeeping. Some were just left on the boxcar.

    There are several newspaper reports regarding the coat-of-arms beeing "stolen" - most likely by youngsters / college students.

    Coat-of-arms destiny

    Most boxcars today do not have the original coat-of-arms.

    There is no doubt that weather and perhaps a inferior chipwood quality ( being made in the hardship times just after WW2 ) has taken its toll.

    Some coat-of-arms were stolen or simply disappeared.

    The replicas made by various volonteers are of varying quality, and it can be taken for granted that they are not placed in the original position. The original mounting system has also mostly disappeared during the various restorations.

  3. Shield with American eagle
  4. The shield was designed and painted by the well-known French artist and heraldist Robert Louis, who also painted the 40 coat-of-arms, and "A. Herry" who apparently was an artist, especially known for wood engravings.

    Robert Louis chose to not use the typical American "Bald Eagle" with the white head, but use the "heraldic" eagle with the same color for the eagle's body and head.

    As with the coat-of-arms the eagle shields were made of an early form of particleboard / chipboard. Normally ordinary wood or plywood would have been used, but in the years after WW2 there was a shortage of lumber - especially in Europe, so chipboard was used :

    merci boxcar eagle sign detail

    The shield with the American eagle was placed on each side of each of the 49 boxcars.

    The eagle shield was placed in diagonal with the logo sign :

    • French side : top left.
    • English side : top right.
    american eagle om Maryland boxcar
    Original shield from
    the Maryland boxcar.
    american eagle om Maryland boxcar
    Original from :
    Herald Dick magazine

  5. Logo - Symbolic sign
  6. merci train boxcar sign
    Original : Herald Dick magazine

    The sign, the logo of the "Merci Train", shows a front view of a typical European-style steam locomotive under steam with 3 different flowers in front and artwork below in blue, white and red colors.

    Around the locomotive is written :

    "Train de la reconnaissance Francaise" - "Au peuple american"
    "The French Gratitude train" - "To the American people"

    Not surpricingly the colors RED - BLUE - WHITE are used, since they are found in both the French and the American flag :

    french flagamerican flag

    It is stated on the French Wikipedia Train de la reconnaissance française ➚ , that the locomotive is a type "141 R", and I have no reason to dis-agree.

    The 141 was a USA-built European style locomotive that the USA gave especially to France after WW2. France received over 1300 such locomotives.

    The French railways were in a bad shape after WW2, simply because the British and the American Air Forces had been bombing the railways, thous also destroying many locomotives.

    It is therefore not correct if it is claimed that the US-soldiers in WW1 or WW2 were transported by such locomotives.

    However - the US-soldiers in WW1 were transported in boxcars like the ones used in the "Merci Train".

    There are 3 flowers; blue, white and red.

    The flowers should be :

    • Blue cornflower [ French : bleuet ]
    • Daisy [ French : marguerite ]
    • Poppy [ French : coquelicot ]

    They are flowers typically found in the fields in Northern France, where many US-soldiers would have seen them in WW1, and where they now would blossom on the battlefields and cemetaries.

    The logo was chosen by the French "Comité du Train de la reconnaissance Francaise" and the sign was placed on the side of each of the 49 boxcars.

    It is not known who designed the logo. To be researched. To be researched

    The logo was also used on the label that was attached to each single gift in the 49 boxcars :

    merci boxcar logo label

    Found for sale
    on the internet.

    merci boxcar logo label

    Original :
    Herald Dick magazine

    The sign was placed in diagonal with the eagle sign :

    • French side : bottom left.
    • English side : bottom right.

  7. Sign designating recipient state.
  8. merci boxcar eagle sign detail

    The sign is made of metal - presumably brass - and screwed on the boxcar wall with 4 ordinary screws.

    There is 1 sign on each side of the 49 boxcars - each sign with the name of the individual state.

    It is unknown what the sign on the 49th boxcar said : "Washington DC" and / or "Hawaii" ? To be researched

    The text on the sign says :

    Boxcar used in the 1st World War
    presented by the French National Railroads
    to the State of

    "NAME OF STATE"

    in gratitude for the help given to France
    by the American people

    The sign was placed on the left bottom part of each side of a boxcar.

  9. Banner
  10. On each long side of the 49 boxcars a sign, in 3 sections, ( banner-type ), was placed :

    "Train de la reconnaissance francaise" on one ( the French ) side.

    "Gratitude Train" on the other ( the English ) side.

    Some newspaper reports claim that the banner was painted on the sides of the boxcar.

    It is however quite obvious that the banner is NOT painted, but mounted on the sides of the boxcars.

    It is however not certain whether the banner was made from metal or wood.

    Newspaper reports state they are metal - but the banner on the Maryland boxcar is made from wood.

    The banner was striped in 3 colors. From top: blue, white and red - like the French and the American flags.

    The sign was placed diagonally on the sides of the box cars.

    The "Train de la reconnaissance francaise" going from top left corner to bottom right corner.

    The "Gratitude Train" going from the bottom left corner to the top right corner.

    The sign was divided into 3 parts :

    • 1 part on the left side of the boxcar
    • 1 part on the sliding door
    • 1 part on the right side of the boxcar

    The "Gratitude Train" text was centered on the part that was on the sliding door.

    The "Train de la reconnaissance francaise" text was divided in 3 sections :

    • "TRAIN DE LA"
    • "RECONNAISSANCE"
    • "FRANCAISE"




    Robert Louis

    The coat-of-arms and the American eagle were designed and the originals painted by Robert Louis ( 1902 - 1965 ), a famous French artist known for designing and drawing many French stamps especially with heraldic themes; i.e. the French coat-of-arms ( armoiries / blason ) stamp series.

    The 40 coat-of-arms were also his personal gift to the Gratitude Train.

    Herald-dick magazine

    Although Robert Louis is quite famous and renowned, there are some heraldic scholars that argue whether Robert Louis is a heraldic scholar or "merely" an artist that paints heraldic pictures very well.

    There is no doubt that the designs for the 40 coat-of-arms, that Robert Louis made especially for the Gratitude Train, were simplistic.

    Robert Louis had tried to cut away many of the ornaments that were added at the time of the Renaissance.

    Why - because the coat-of-arms originated from the time when the knights had vizors that covered their faces so they used the coat-of-arms on their shields so they could recoqnize friend from foe.

    In modern internet times you would call them "icons" which had to be easy recoqnizable and therefore without too many ornaments and whatnots.

    But this "back-to-basics" approach was not popular with some heraldic scholars.

    There is no doubt that design-wise Robert Louis was one of the great artists.

    In 1952 he was the co-author of "Les Armoiries des provinces françaises : historique de chaque province. Compositions graphiques enluminées modernes d'après les documents anciens"

    On a side-note - if you are searching the internet - the french words "blason" and "armoiries" are both used for the stamp-series.

    Robert Louis also designed the special commemorative stamp issued by France on May 14, 1949, celebrating the friendship between France and the USA :

    France USA stamp timbre 1949
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