Following the arrival of the British commission, and while it was still with us, came the French commission, headed by Marshal J. J. C. Joffre and M. Rene Viviani, eloquent orator and former Prime Minister. With the French commission were medical representatives, including Col. Charles U. Dercle and Maj. Eduard Rist. The medical representatives of the British commission were Col. Thomas H. Goodwin and Capt. J. Gilmour.
As the Medical Department had been honored by the first request for officers from the American forces through Mr. Balfour, I was extremely anxious to pay a compliment through our medical organization that would furnish an equally important service to the French commission.
In the meantime I had been learning that it was much easier to obtain authorization of important matters than to get them executed-to get medical officers assigned to duty abroad, or get enlisted men and materials assigned to the allied armies in France, for example. Peace-time methods were slow to change.
Therefore, realizing that the promise made to England had been tardy in execution, due to the Chief of Staff's slowness in signing the order, and believing that the French commission undoubtedly would accept some similar offer from us (as we were to meet with them), in arranging the conference, I asked that it be a joint session with the British and the French, and requested the Secretary of War to allow the meeting to be held in his office. Also, I asked that he preside, and that he ask the Chief of Staff to be present. The Secretary smiled, and consented to the arrangement.
There were present at the conference the Chief of Staff, Maj. Gen. Hugh L. Scott, the Secretary of War, presiding, Surgeon General Gorgas of the Army, several other members of the executive committee of the General Medical Board, Colonel Goodwin, Captain Gilmour, and medical associates of the British commission, Colonel Dercle, Major Rist, and other members of the French commission; and myself as chairman of the General Medical Board of the Council.
I explained that we had arranged to send 1,000 medical officers of the reserve group to be brigaded with the British forces in France, the request being the first that had been made by the Balfour Commission. I then turned to the French representatives and, as diplomatically as possible, asked them if there was some immediate assignment of a similar nature we could make to the French medical forces. Their spokesman, in vigorous English, declined to make a request, and definitely stated that their commission had not visited the United States with the intention of asking favors but to pay us a visit of respect and good will and discuss our common problems.
In responding I called attention to the reported shortage of medical officers in the French and English Armies and to the reported suffering of soldiers of the Allies wounded in the late drives, and urged that we had resources of men, materials, and hospitals that we could furnish at once, instead of waiting until our complete organization at a much later date could be trained and transported.
Secretary Baker, in his persuasive manner suggested that, while our efforts at this time would be of minor importance, he hoped they would be accepted as a gesture of good will and partisanship while we were preparing our larger force.
The French visitors exchanged a few words in their native tongue, and then asked the privilege of withdrawing for a few minutes for consultation.
It was evident that General Scott was out of sympathy with this irregular procedure. He sat with his back partially turned to our little group, looking out of the window over the Ellipse toward the Washington Monument. At each suggestion we made about sending men to France, he would change his position significantly, as if struggling to suppress a protest.
The French representatives and their spokesman rejoined our group, and with graciousness said that they would be glad to receive 2,500 ambulances and 5,000 enlisted men as chauffeurs for the machines. They respectfully requested that, if possible, the machines should consist merely of the chassis and that they be of the Ford make, and delivered at Brest within 3 weeks. This very definite request for materials as well as men (nonmedical men) and the short time for delivery were rather unexpected.
I immediately asked the Secretary of War if he thought the request could be fulfilled in the time specified. The Chief of Staid had turned in his chair and was facing us. The Secretary of War turned to him and casually, questioningly remarked, "General Scott, there will be no difficulty in executing this order? " The general abruptly remarked that he was not so sure about that.
"Who is going to pay for the subsistence of this force of 5,000 enlisted men? " he demanded.
The French delegate jumped to his feet, clicked his heels, and replied, "France can be depended on to care for the guests within her gates," saluted, and resumed his seat.
Secretary Baker again asked the general by direct question if he would approve of this transaction. The reply was to the effect that it could be arranged. Then the Secretary of War said, "I will assume that the order will be prepared immediately because of the urgency of the request."
The Secretary of War then asked Surgeon General Gorgas if he could comply with the proposed gifts to the British of 1,000 medical officers and six base hospitals, and execute the order of the Chief of Staff and himself that had just been authorized including the enlisted men and ambulances assigned to France. General Gorges, always ready for prompt and definite action (having approved the request for medical officers for the British), cheerfully replied in the affirmative.
Turning to our little group, the Secretary of War stated that the orders would be prepared immediately. Then, in his customary courteous manner, he asked if that finished the business of our executive committee, and we were dismissed.
I realized that my responsibility had just begun. It would be easier to get medical officers and base hospitals than to get 2,500 Ford ambulance chassis to France within 3 weeks. Every available ship had been requisitioned weeks in advance. And while the delivery of ambulances would have a direct human appeal, some persuasion and some strategy would be required to get them placed on the first priority list.
I was so interested in executing these important requests that had come to my committee and had been arranged for by us that I informed the Secretary of War that I would consult the Munitions Board at once and ask its assistance.
It was now 11:30 o'clock. The Munitions Board would be in session until 1 o'clock. I hastened to the rooms of the Board in the Munsey Building. The anteroom was filled with anxious callers, and on entering the Board room, which was crowded, I discovered that the Armours, Swifts, and other leading meat packers were in an important conference with the Board. The chief officers of this essential industry sat at the chairman's table, and their leading associates occupied the center of the hall. A serious discussion was in full swing. Several members of the Munitions Board were there, including Mr. Coffin, representatives of Mr. Baruch and Mr. Rosenwald, and Dr. Simpson representing my own committee.
There was nothing to do but to ask for an immediate hearing. I passed a note to the chairman, Frank Scott, and asked for a brief interruption of the conference to get prompt action on a matter of great importance.
Mr. Scott halted the proceedings, explained that an urgent request had come from Commissioner Martin, and stated that if it did not involve a confidential matter the members of the conference could retain their seats. I assured the chairman that my request would not involve confidential material, especially if the Board would aid me to solve an important problem, in which the distinguished men present would no doubt be interested.
In the briefest manner I recited the story of Mr. Balfour's request for medical officers---the first favor asked by his important commission---and the essential features of our session with the medical representatives at the office of the Secretary of War that morning, at which time the French representatives had asked for 2,500 Ford ambulance chassis and 5,000 enlisted men, and had requested, because of the desperate conditions in France, that the ambulance chassis be delivered in Brest within 3 weeks.
I called attention to the difficult straits of the medical officers of the armies of France and England; to the fact that, because of the strenuous spring drive that was now on, the soldiers were lying wounded and helpless for hours because of scarcity of ambulances and lack of medical officers; the rural districts of France and England were stripped of their medical men, and in this war the casualties were proportionally as great among the doctors as among the trench fighters. My audience was most sympathetic as I did not minimize the desperate situation in the front lines of the allied armies and the heroic efforts that were required to care for the wounded men.
In closing my remarks I reminded my hearers that I had brought my problem of getting ambulances to France to this Board because it was manned by practical men who desired to act promptly and who had the ability to carry out their purposes.
Mr. Coffin, with his hair-trigger mind, stepped forward and said to the chairman: "This is of paramount importance, and I am sure every man here wishes to see it solved satisfactorily and promptly. If, Mr. Chairman, you will again convene your conference, I would like to be authorized to do a little telephoning on this subject."
Within a few minutes Mr. Coffin was talking over long-distance telephone with Mr. Henry Ford, telling him that France had asked that 2,500 Ford ambulance chassis be delivered in Brest, France, in 3 weeks. "Mr. Coffin, they will be there," said Mr. Ford; and when he was reminded of the difficulty of transportation, he replied: "Yes; I am aware of that. However, the ambulances will not only be there in 3 weeks but they are there now." Mr. Coffin must have gasped with surprise. Mr. Ford replied that there was Ford material in France which he refused to remove, as had been suggested to gain some tariff advantage then possible, as he foresaw the need which the United States might have for his equipment and, therefore, ordered it to be left there.
There was rejoicing in the Munitions Board and in my executive committee, and joy and astonishment on the part of the French Commission, almost reluctant to believe the good news, when they realized that the ambulances would be available long before the men to drive them could arrive.
The incident is interesting enough to justify one's anticipating by saying that before the armistice the French had received more than 5,000 Ford ambulances on this assignment and 10,000 enlisted men.
Steps were being taken at this time to incorporate in the new United States Army Ambulance Service the several sections of the American Field Service, mainly collegians, which had been attached to French divisions since early in the war. As Joffre had said that one concrete way in which we could aid would be by officially organizing an ambulance service, the President, under the act approved May 18, had directed organization of the Army Ambulance Service, of 160 sections, each with 20 motor ambulances in charge of an enlisted personnel of 45 commanded by a first lieutenant. This was to be within the Medical Department. There were to be 43 other commissioned officers---l colonel, 2 lieutenant colonels, 8 majors, and 32 captains. An amendment later added 9 sections, also 2 captains and 9 first lieutenants. Members of the Medical Enlisted Reserve Corps in active service under previous authority were transferred to sections of the Ambulance Service organized in the United States. Recruiting began in Philadelphia, and the headquarters were moved June 9 to Allentown, Pa., where soon there were 3,000 men. More than 40 colleges furnished one or more sections of 45 men each. The formal creating order was not issued until June 23.
It was to take charge of the ambulance affairs that Col. J. R. Kean had left for France in July. Now, 28 sections were to be formed from the volunteer American Field Service which had been serving with the French, and on August 30 medical officers sailed to make physical examinations of the personnel, prior to their acceptance in the new United States Army Ambulance Service. The Norton-Harjes Red Cross units were also to be taken over. Most of these American volunteer ambulance sections had been serving with the French Armies at the front---a section to a division---but three sections served the entrenched camp of Paris. Now they were to continue with the French Armies (30 sections later went to Italy), for the American Expeditionary Force was to have its own ambulance service. (It happened later, however, that at times the American Expeditionary Force ambulance service was inadequate, and the French were called upon to loan some of these United States Army Ambulance Service sections to the American Expeditionary Force, which they graciously did.) So far as the performance of duty was concerned, the United States Army Ambulance Service was under the jurisdiction of the French Government; details of organization and discipline were under the American Expeditionary Force, which also attended to matters of supply.
At first the source of officers was the Medical Section, Officers' Reserve Corps. These later were gradually replaced by men promoted from the ranks of the Ambulance Service and given commissions in that service. At the time of the armistice there were very few medical officers on duty with the Ambulance Service. During 1917 the enlisted personnel was obtained through voluntary enlistments; after enlisting ceased, certain numbers of drafted men were sent to Camp Crane (Allentown) for mobilization and assignment to the sections. As rapidly as units could be organized and transportation became available, they were sent to France for service. Twenty sections, all equipped, left Allentown and sailed August 7, disembarking at St. Nazaire August 21. One hundred and thirty-seven sections were organized and 120 sent over.