The Work of the Ambulance Driver in the Sanitary Sections

The purpose of the French Army Automobile Service was to transport men and materiel from one place to another with a maximum of efficiency. In the case of its Sanitary Sections, the men to be transported were wounded and had first to be prepared for travel by medical personnel at the clearing stations or evacuation hospitals, and then taken in charge by medical personnel when they arrived.

In between, the driver drove. He was not a medic.

The wounded are brought by the army brancardiers direct from the trenches to one or other of the postes de secours established in the villages behind the trenches and are carried on stretchers slung between two wheels. Two men convey them. They. usually come two or three kilometres over rough tracks or open fields from the lines where they fell. The work of the brancardiers is exhausting and dangerous, and enough cannot be said in their praise. This war being one of barbarous weapons, the condition of the wounded is often terrible. Shells, shrapnel, handgrenades, and mines account for most of the injuries, and these are seldom clean wounds and often very serious. The wounded arrive, after rough dressing on the field, sometimes so covered with blood and dirt as to be unrecognizable. Often they are unconscious, and not unfrequently they die before adequate help can be got. One hears few utterances of pain, and no complaints. Stretchers are carried into the poste de secours, where a doctor examines the wound and re-dresses it if necessary; the blessé is then brought out and given to us. Our cars can carry three stretcher cases or five or six sitting; only the most seriously injured can be allowed the luxury of lying down. Our business then is to convey them gently, and as fast as is consistent with gentleness, to hospitals. Here the wounded receive further treatment; or, if their case is hopeless, are allowed peacefully to die. The following day, or perhaps several days afterwards, if the wounded man is not fit to travel, he comes into our hands again, to be carried to the trains sanitaires for evacuation to one of the many hospitals throughout France.

J. Halcott Glover, "Handling the Wounded" in Friends of France, The Field Service of the American Ambulance described by its members, Boston: Houghton and Mifflin, 1916.

He was not a mechanic, but he did look after his car.

There are no orderlies or mechanics attached to our Section and each driver is responsible for the upkeep and repair of his own car. We do as much of this work as possible in the square where we park our cars. So we patch tires, scrape carbon, and change springs while the church bell rings persistently and mournfully for masses and funerals and while the people who sit and watch us from their shop windows laugh at our language as much as if they understood it.

In general charge of this work and of a blacksmith shop that we have turned into a workroom is a so-called Mechanical Department composed of the two drivers who know the most about automobiles. And so successfully has the system worked out that, laymen though most of us be, none of our "Chinese Rolls Royces" or "Mechanical Fleas"---as an English Red Cross corps in the neighborhood has nicknamed our Fords----has been so severely "punished' that its repair has been beyond the power of its driver instructed and assisted by the Mechanical Department.

Preston Lockwood, "The Section in Alsace Reconquise," in Friends of France, The Field Service of the American Ambulance described by its members, Boston: Houghton and Mifflin, 1916

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 Descriptions of the work of the three pioneer sections:

SSU 1. Joshua G.B. Campbell, "The Section in Flanders," in Friends of France, The Field Service of the American Ambulance described by its members, Boston: Houghton and Mifflin, 1916.
"The Section's story began in the cold wet days of early January 1915, when twenty men with twelve cars left Paris for the north."

SSU 2. James R. McConnell, "The Section in Lorraine," in Friends of France, The Field Service of the American Ambulance described by its members, Boston: Houghton and Mifflin, 1916.
"A French captain once remarked that, no matter how much the town was being shelled, the little field ambulances could be seen slipping down the streets, past corners, or across the square on their way to and from postes de secours back of the trenches."

SSU 3. Preston Lockwood, "The Section in Alsace Reconquise," in Friends of France, The Field Service of the American Ambulance described by its members, Boston: Houghton and Mifflin, 1916.
"Such is the general story of the activity and life of the Section's last months in Alsace. Its details would include many stories of tight squeezes, of break-downs and troubles in hot places, of the carrying of soldiers driven mad under the strain of war, of having men die in your car on the way to the hospital, of short side trips right up amidst the French artillery stations, and always of the patient, quiet suffering of the French soldier."

Edwin Morse, "The Work of Mr. Andrew's Corps", in The Vanguard of American Volunteers, New York: Scribners, 1919.
"To the energy and administrative skill of Mr. Andrew were mainly due the organization and development of the Field Service of the American Ambulance in France."