Photograph of an Arab American Military Intelligence Officer

Ward Photo 1919.jpg


This 1919 photo of Gabriel Ilyas Ward accompanied a press release announcing his new memoir, The Syrian Soldier in Three Wars (Kitab al-Jundi al-Suri fi-Thalath Hurub in Arabic). Ward’s memoir includes a personal account of his time as a military intelligence officer in Europe and the biographies of dozens of other Arab American troops who fought for British, French, and American forces. He is seated in profile to obscure injuries to his left hand and eye, incurred in a gas attack in 1916.


Gabriel Ward (Jibraʾil Ilyas Ward) was originally from Tripoli, in present day Lebanon. A machinist and wholesaler, Ward left the Ottoman Empire for New York City in the 1890s. Most Syrian migrants in the United States retained their Ottoman nationality but Ward was granted U.S. citizenship after he enlisted in army and serviced in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War (1898). Intensely critical of the Ottoman Empire’s alliance with Germany and entry into the First World War in 1917, Gabriel Ward was frustrated with America’s neutrality. In 1915, he left New York City for Montreal and enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces. Canada’s draft laws excluded Ottoman nationals from military service but welcomed the volunteerism of Syrians who had already naturalised in the United States. Ward deployed to Europe with a small group of Syrian contemporaries and was sent to the French Western Front in early 1916. In his memoirs, he detailed trench life and his unit’s role in the battles of Chateau-Thierry and the Somme. The book also compiles his letters home, which recount the challenges Arab American troops faced when fighting for the Entente. In mid-1916, Ward was exposed to nerve gas which robbed him of an eye and the use of his left hand. He spent the rest of the war in London, working in military intelligence to surveille the city’s Syrian and Turkish communities for pro-German sympathies. Ward also maintained a regular correspondence with al-Huda newspaper in New York City. This image is courtesy of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.