The American Field Service:
Between the Wars

What was to become of AFS after the war? Was it possible that such enthusiasm end up merely echoing around an "empty courtyard"?

 Paris 26 May 1919

Dear Mr. Andrew,

The doors of "21" are closed. The courtyard is empty. The sign "Service Automobile Américain aux Armées Françaises" has disappeared. All is dead and quite sad. Already long gone are the days bustling with great activity! Major Galatti left us last week; in a few days, Mr. Sleeper will also leave and there will remain but a few AFS survivors in France. Jeanne is finishing off the bookkeeping with the accounting experts and once that is completed, she will leave for a much-merited rest in the country. As for myself, I am steering the wreck of AFS from number 20 [Rue Raynouard] and shall do my best to do justice to being the Service's representative in Paris. I am quite well installed and have already received visits at the Office from a certain number of young people seeking various bits of information. The other day, the Countess of la Villestreux paid us the honor of dropping in to take a cup of tea and she most graciously presented Jeanne and myself with a very pretty little souvenir, a bronze paperweight representing Alsace and Lorraine with our initials and "Field Service 1915-1919" inscribed on the back. The Countess was very sorry that you had left before her return and told me that she was going to write to scold you but also to tell you how much she regrets that all of you have left.

I hope that you have arrived safe and sound in Gloucester and that, despite your joy in putting foot again on your native soil, you will think from time to time of the "sweet country of France".

This is simply a little personal note to prove that we think of those absent and that we also see with regret the end of a Service which has done so much to help our country in its days of trials and tribulations.

Jeanne joins me in sending you our best and most respectful remembrances.

G. Bétourné

P.S. Madame Grimbert has just now telephoned and asks me to transmit her best wishes.

Letter from the secretary of the Field Service in Paris, Piatt Andrew Papers, AFS Archives, New York

After the armistice Andrew stayed in Paris long enough to attend the founding convention of the American Legion at the Cirque d'Hiver in March, 1919, and to ponder how his service could be revivified. For it was inconceivable to him that such fierce dedication to the French cause --- Tous et tout pour la France had been the motto he had given the service --- would not find embodiment in a lasting institution.

Andrew Gray, The American Field Service, American Heritage, 1974.

The visible and outward body of the old Field Service is gone for ever. It exists today only in memory. The old Fords have been to their last posts, have carried their last freight of wounded poilus, have run their last convoy and have passed to more banal purposes and to other hands. [...] Yet the Field Service lives and will live as long as the memory of any of us survives. As the years go by, opportunities will be found to perpetuate the old associations born during the war. [...] Let us try to make of the comradeship born of the last four years, not merely an association of veterans of the war that is past, but a living organization with a vital purpose still to perform. The main object which the old Field Service tried to achieve was to interpret France to America and America to France, to spread abroad through the States a knowledge of what France is and has done and means, to help other Americans to feel and appreciate what we have felt and appreciated during these past four years. This effort must not end with the war. The four or five thousand of us who volunteered for France during the war can rededicate ourselves to the same ideal in the years to come. With an organisation perfected throughout the length and breadth of America, we ought not merely to establish clubs and arrange reunions to perpetuate the past. There are many other things we can do looking to the future. It has been suggested that we might bring over to America from time to time representative men of France as American Field Service lecturers - such men for instance as used to speak in old "21" at farewell section dinners - and with our extensive affiliations we would be able to arrange for them hearings in all of the great American universities and cities. It has also been suggested that we establish in the universities and communities from which we come American Field Service scholarships for American students in France and for French students in America. In many such ways we can make the Old Field Service an active and important factor in promoting the same ends for which we have given ourselves in France, a factor which will continue to count in the world long after all of us are gone.

A. Piatt Andrew, AFS Bulletin, April 1919

Organizational know-how and the enthusiastic spirit of its members carried the American Field Service through its period of militarization and beyond.


This final number of the Bulletin makes the ending of another page in our career as members of the American Field Service. We cannot, however, believe that it is the last page. The chapter might indeed have been closed when each went his different way in the Fall of 1917. But as the association formed in those volunteer days of service in the French armies has brought us so often together since that time, so it is certain that in America, although our paths again will lead us in many diverse directions, we shall continue our association as members of the American Field Service. What this membership may mean it is difficult now to foresee, but even if it leads to nothing more than the occasional renewing of our memories and friendships it will bring us at least many happy hours, for I know of no days which could have counted more in that way, and if too we continue to make the name of the American Field Service stand out as signifying the love and friendship for the country we then served, the perpetuation of its name and organization is worth every effort.

Steve Galatti, AFS Bulletin, April 1919

In the course of the period of nearly a year which has elapsed since the last Bulletin was issued, despite the long silence which might have seemed to indicate forgetfulness, those of us who were more especially responsible for the Field Service as an organization, have not been indifferent either to the memories of its past or to its possibilities for the future. In accounting for our stewardship we would report the following steps as having been taken.

First. An office has been maintained at 50 State Street, Boston, which has been much visited by men in this vicinity, which has been a clearing house of information for members and their families and friends, and which has handled an immense and continuing correspondence concerning their interests. In this office there have also been prepared and sent out to donors of ambulances, more than a thousand hand-illumined certificates, portraying with some detail the record of each individual car that was given by the recipient.

Second. A "History of the American Field Service" covering some 1800 pages of text and including hundreds of illustrations has been made ready for the press. The records of the old days have been gone over again and again, and have been sifted, sorted, boiled down and distilled. With the aid of the best Field Service connoisseurs whose interest and time could be enlisted, an effort has been made to preserve in a form, not too dry, the quintessence of the experiences of 1915, 1916, and 1917 in France. Houghton, Mifflin and Co. will place the product on the market early in the summer, and we hope that the men of the Service will find it a not unworthy record of their life and work in France.

Third. Material has been collected also for a "Memorial Volume" to commemorate those who went over with us but who did not come back. It is not perhaps generally realized, but more than one hundred and twenty of our comrades gave all that they had or could hope for in the War, and as a tribute to them and to the spirit in which they gave themselves to the Cause, and in order that the sacrifice which these young Americans and their families made, may have an enduring influence upon this generation and upon those to come after, we are preserving the story of each man with his portrait in this special volume. The composition of this work, involving much correspondence as well as most careful attention, will probably not be completed before the end of the summer.

Fourth. Two other memorials have been arranged for---a tablet to be placed in the American Church of the Holy Trinity in Paris, which according to present plans, is to become a War-Memorial Church in France for Americans of every creed,---and a tablet to be placed in the wall at 21 rue Raynouard, as explained elsewhere in the Bulletin.

Fifth. Looking toward the future, a committee of Field Service members in Paris has been organized to consider plans for a Field Service center in France---not of course a spacious mansion and estate like "old 21," which it would be quite out of the question to hope for, but a place which, however modest, will be distinctively ours.

Sixth. Much thought and many interviews have also been directed to the possibility of establishing a meeting place in New York, some suggestions concerning which are presented in succeeding pages of the Bulletin, and all of which will be thoroughly discussed at the Field Service Reunion in May.

Seventh, and finally, a great plan has been formulated which will allow us all to be associated in further effort for France in the unknown years to come, a plan which at one and the same time will provide an individual memorial for every one of our comrades who gave his life in the War, will furnish a perpetual impetus to mutual understanding and good-will between France and America, and will make of the Field Service a living factor that will continue to count in the world long after all of us are gone.

AFS Bulletin, April 1920