The Field Service and the French Army

"Doc" Andrew with the Puaux brothers

In early March, 1915, Robert Bacon, head of the American Ambulance and former colleague of Piatt Andrew in the Taft Administration, appoints Andrew "Inspector of Ambulances". Through Gabriel Puaux (whom Andrew had met while studying German at Jena in 1898) and his brother René, Andrew finds his way to the appropriate officials in General Staff Headquarters of the French Army and from there to the man in charge of the automobile services in the east, Commandant de Montravel. The Commandant agrees to a "test" section---the future S.S.U. 3--- whose subsequent success brings about the formal attachment of "Foreign Sanitary Sections" to the French Army in the field, marking the official beginning of the Field Service.

A. Piatt Andrew. Letters Home from France in the First Half of 1915.

January 7, 1915.
To-day I lunched with M. and Mme. Puaux and Gaby's wife. They were very warm-hearted toward me, said I was doing what Lafayette had done, etc. [...] My little friend "Gaby " has been for five months in the trenches, as a captain of infantry. He was in the battles of the Marne and the Somme and most of the other great engagements. But about two weeks ago he was taken over on the General Staff and now is with General Joffre at the Grand Quartier Général. His family hopes that he may get home for a few hours this week, in which case I shall surely hope to see him. René is in the aviation corps just outside of Paris, and I shall arrange to see him too before we go to the front.
January 15, 1915.
Dear old M. Puaux, who has three boys at the front, bade me an affectionate good-bye yesterday, and gave me a sermon in French to read "at the front." He seems as gratified and pleased at my doing this work as he would be if all America had come over to fight for France.
January 17, 1915.
To-day will live long in my memory, for I drove out to and spent several hours with my friend of years ago, Gabriel Puaux, who is now on General Joffre's staff. It is not supposed to be known, although everybody knows it, that the General Staff have been quartered for some time in -----, which is about thirty miles from Paris. [...] Gaby was quite resplendent in his fresh sky-blue uniform, and he had many wonderful stories to tell of his five months in the trenches. I also saw another friend., André Tardieu, who once lectured at Harvard and who is also on the general's staff. Gaby took some pictures which one of these days he will send to me.
March 2, 1915.
As for myself, the ambulance committee have promoted me and I am now a staff officer, with the title of general inspector of the field service. An automobile has been put at my disposal, and I am hereafter to visit and inspect the work of our various sections in the different divisions of the French army. It is the most interesting job I can imagine, and will be a welcome change. I shall be almost continuously on the road, here, there, and everywhere. It is a new place just created, and I am to make of it what I can.
St. Omer, France,
March 9, 1915.
I left Paris at ten o'clock this morning on my first inspection tour, equipped with formidable letters to French officials in the different armies along the line and prepared to look into various questions of concern to the administration of our several sections --- with power to act if need be.
March 11, 1915
On the way from St. Omer to Dunkirk I passed through the picturesque town of Cassel, on the top of an isolated hill, from which one can see over the surrounding fertile country for about fifteen miles in every direction. There is located the headquarters of General Foch, and at those headquarters is my old friend, René Puaux, now on the general's staff.
March 27.
I hope to arrange, through the officers here, to have one of our sections sent into French Alsace, and with Captain de Montravel, who is charged with the automobile service in the eastern armies, whom I came on here to see, and whose acquaintance I made last night, I am to visit several towns on the Alsatian frontier to-morrow to see what can be done.
March 28.

We left at eight o'clock for Remiremont, a town near the frontier, following in our automobile the machine of Captain de Montravel, with whom I had been negotiating for our next ambulance section and who offered to take me about to see other French officials concerned with the matter. [...]

My hope is that we can persuade the French officials to send one of our sections into Alsace. I tell them that it would annoy the Germans to read in the American papers that American volunteers were serving with the French in what a year ago was German territory. It would show for one thing that the French are actually in Alsace. Captain de Montravel, who is a warm-hearted Southerner and who received us with open arms, seemed to like the idea, but Captain Doumenc, of Joffre's staff, whom we met at Remiremont, had to be persuaded, and suggested that we send a, section on to Vittel and let de Montravel look it over before deciding.

April 4.
I have kept this letter all the week hoping to be able to add to it, but we have been so busy getting our section ready to send to the Vosges that I have not been able to spare a minute until the end of. the day, when the spirit was no longer willing. Yesterday the section started and it will arrive some time Monday, twelve cars and sixteen men. I selected the men with the utmost care, picking here and there among our western sections, and making myself more or less unpopular thereby.. They are all college men, and Richard Lawrence, Harvard, '02, is to be their chief. From the point of view of a stock farm for breeding purposes, they leave nothing to be desired. I feel sure that they will "make good"; that de Montravel will recognize the type of men that they are. The future of our service depends upon them, and I told them so.
April 7, 1915.
I am starting off to-morrow for a trip to Dunkirk and the north, and next week I shall go again to the Vosges to see our new section --- about all Harvard men---which has just gone out.
Apri1 9, 1915.
We stayed about an hour, got a bit of lunch in a café, and then ran on and stopped for a few moments at Cassel, where I saw René Puaux, my genial friend who is still there on General Foch's staff. To-night I have stopped in Hesdin to arrange for the withdrawal of our ambulances from the Army, where they seem to have been more or less superfluous, in order to send them to other places where they are needed. All this requires complying with much red tape and the seeing of many officials.
April 14, 1915.

I wrote you a couple of weeks ago about my first trip to the Vosges to try and arrange for a section of our ambulance to serve in Alsace, and how I had found several French officers in the region who were enthusiastic about the project, and how I returned to Paris and got together a "crack" section, mostly Harvard men, with Richard Lawrence, Harvard, '02, as chief, and how within three days we had them started east. They went first to Vittel and the officers liked them, very much apparently. Two days later they were sent a little farther east, and two days after that still farther, and now they are stationed just this side of the pass that marks the boundary of Alsace, and each day they run up over the pass and down into the valley on the other side, where they get the wounded in various Alsatian towns within sound of the German guns.

So yesterday I started east again to see how things were going and to arrange for another section. We flew again up the valley of the Marne, now much more verdant than a fortnight ago, covering about three hundred and fifty kilometres in an afternoon, and arrived in Vittel in time to find Captain de Montravel and Lieutenant Paquet still at dinner. They told us how our boys had arrived ten days before in a pouring rain, but with. their hoods up so that they could see all that was to be seen as they passed through the valley of the Marne; how the moment they arrived a train of wounded had come in, and how efficiently they had despatched the work of carrying them to the hospitals; how ready and willing they all were; how expert in repairing their machines; how they were up at six in the morning with radiators and tanks filled, brass polished and ready for work, --- what thoroughbred gentlemen they all were, --- in fact, a glowing account, which was very gratifying.

April 23, 1915.
Captain de Montravel liked our first section so well that he wanted another right away, so we got back the section from Beauvais, and revamped it somewhat, and succeeded in getting it off for the east three days after I returned. It is located somewhere near Nancy. Since then I have been on another trip to Dunkirk, and have had a terrific amount of work to do straightening out affairs in the office here in Neuilly, where everything has been at sixes and sevens.
April 25, 1915
I made a flying trip to Dunkirk this week, --- ran up one day and came back the next; it is about two hundred and forty miles each way, and a rather hard trip, but I enjoyed it because we stopped over night in a little inn in Cassel, where I spent several hours with René Puaux, who always knows everything that is going on, and is a most delightful and diverting companion.
Dieulouard, near Pont-à-Mousson, Tuesday,
April 28, 1915.
I came east yesterday to see how the second section had fared that we sent out two weeks ago. The first section went to Alsace, as I wrote you when I returned from there. It was a joy to know that they were well liked, well placed, doing good work, and very happy after the discouraging period that had gone before with almost nothing to do in the west. How was it to be with the second section? I motored up to Vittel, about two hundred and twenty-five miles, and had dinner with my good friend Captain de Montravel, and had again a warm, enthusiastic welcome and a good report of the second section, which had spent two days under his critical eye in Vittel. They are now at a place of which I had never heard --- Dieulouard, between Nancy and Pont-à-Mousson; so we set off this morning to look them up and also to see the Commandant Bourgoin, of the Army Automobile Service, at Ligny-en-Barrois, under whom they serve. [...] About noon we reached Ligny, and I had a satisfactory interview with the commandant, found that he was pleased with what he had seen and heard of our men; and then on and on, past soldiers, convoys, trenches, and towns for a couple of hours more, when suddenly, with a turn. in the road, we came into the ancient crooked streets of the village of Dieulouard and found our ambulances and our men stationed in the shadow of a rambling old château. The boys were very glad to see us, especially as we brought heaps of mail, and they are thoroughly happy because at last they are located in the midst of things.

From the minutes of the Ambulance Committee of the Board of Governors of the American Hospital of Paris:

22 April

"Mr Benét submitted a letter received from the War Department suggesting the re-organization of the present Field Ambulance Car Service on a new basis, each section comprising 20 Ambulance Cars, two Staff cars, one repair car and one light dray, a French Officer to be attached to each section, the men belonging to this Institution to be given rations and pay as in the French Army, the Officer in charge to have the rank of Captain and each section to have two Lieutenants. Mr Benét explained that this system of re-organization would necessitate reinforcing the sections now at the Front, and that the 25 additional men requested by cable from the American Committee, in addition to those already here and those on the way, would be sufficient to man three sections in the field,

Stephen Galatti, "French Officers Associated with the Service" in History of the American Field Service (1920):

. . . much more important was the specific interest shown by certain officers at the French Army Headquarters, who swiftly recognized the possibilities of the Service, and opened the way to its free development. Most of these officers necessarily belonged to the Automobile Service of the French Army under whose direct command we were, and although in all our contact with those who were directing us we found interest and help, circumstances brought a close affiliation with particular ones. In recounting these affiliations I can best show how much the direct influence and friendship of these men were interwoven with the history of the Service.

The first name which naturally presents itself is that of Commandant de Montravel, who later in letters to Mr. Andrew liked to designate himself as the "père des sections américaines." He well merited this name, for it was his personal decision which gave our sections a place at the front. We must go back for a moment to the little squads of American ambulances serving with the British and the French in the north, early in 1915, to see the importance of his action. These squads were only adjuncts to hospitals in a region where, owing to the concentration of the British as well as the French, and the natural consequence of the advance and retreat and confusion of the early days, there were sufficient regularly organized sections to do the work. In fact some of these American units were accomplishing nothing, and those in charge of them despaired of their ever accomplishing anything. Mr. Andrew, cognizant of this state of affairs, conceived the plan of attaching them directly to the French Army divisions, and with this idea in view, went to the Eastern Armies in March, 1915, and found at Vittel Commandant de Montravel, Inspecteur des Automobiles de la Region de I'Est. Commandant de Montravel welcomed Mr. Andrew's plan, not only with courtesy, but with warm-hearted enthusiasm, said that ambulance sections were greatly needed in the armies subject to his supervision, and he pledged his influence and his friendship to the project of trying out an American section with an army division. It was on this understanding that the section ultimately known as Section Three was tentatively organized and sent to Vittel as a trial section in April, 1915 . As chance would have it, its arrival, after a three days' convoy, coincided with the arrival of a heavy train of wounded. The Section was instantly put to work, and the eagerness and promptness shown in carrying out his orders determined Commandant de Montravel to give it a place at the front without further observation. He immediately asked that the section be built up to the standard size of a regular French army section, and he sent it down into the very appealing, and at that time, fairly active sector of Alsace Reconquise. Thereupon he asked for another section, and thus Section Two in the same month gained its place on the eastern front at Pont-à-Mousson. Upon his recommendation the French General Headquarters formulated an agreement for the utilization and control of these and future sections (which is printed elsewhere in this History), and requested that the squad in Flanders be increased to the standard sectional proportions, assigning it also to work in the advanced zone.