France

September 29th is the day on which the American Field Service commemorates its rebirth. On that date, 1939, the ambulance service was registered with the State Department as an active war relief organization.

AFS Letters, September 1943

When the outbreak of the present war seemed imminent, this American Field Service Association, with a large membership throughout the country, and with an eager desire once more to help, laid its plans for the revival of its volunteer ambulance service to France.

Before the end of September, 1939, the American Field Service had received its registration number from the Department of State.

It was soon evident that this war was not to follow the pattern of the last. During the long months before the invasion of the Low Countries, the opportunity was afforded to lay a firm foundation, based on the experience of the past, but with adjustment to the new pattern.

Section One left Paris in the gray dawn of a day in May, and moved north, to experience within the brief period of a few weeks a baptism of fire never before undergone by a volunteer ambulance section. Within two days of arrival at its post, four of its drivers, on two ambulances, had been swallowed up in the blazing inferno of Amiens, not to be heard from for weeks thereafter.

Meanwhile, the section carried on, amid bombing, machine-gunning, roads clogged with refugees,---the heartbreak of retreat.

Eventually the section turned up intact in the south of France, with a record of more than 12,000 carried in its ambulances, ---not only wounded soldiers, but refugees, men, women, and children. In the words of one of its members: "Only a record remaining, ---but a good one, and a proud memory!"

After the armistice, the ambulances were driven back to Paris, and loaned to the American Red Cross, and throughout the summer and early fall were used to carry food and medical supplies to French prison camps. A number of American Field Service volunteers participated in this work.

Subsequently, the work of the American Red Cross having come to a close, the ambulances were turned over to the Secours National, to continue in the work of French relief.

At the time of the fall of France, Section Two was in Paris, preparing to leave for the front; Section Three was on its way. Volunteers were applying in increasing numbers, and donations were coming in at an accelerating rate. Had France held out, the American Field Service would have had eight to ten sections on the front by autumn.

The problem now became one of diverting all this interest to the greatest immediate need. This meant aid to England, which was next to bear the brunt of attack. Accordingly, with the consent of the donors, the American Field Service turned over to British use the ambulances given too late to serve in France.

Brief History of the American Field Service, AFS New York, 1942.