The American Hospital of Paris or ''The American Ambulance'' is in Neuilly-sur-Seine, a beautiful town on the outskirts of Paris. The transportation of the wounded is entrusted to two sections, the Field Service Section and the Paris Section. The splendid work done by the men of the former section, two of which have been killed and several wounded, has been told in news dispatches. It is with the work and the men of the Paris Section that this article deals---men, who minus the thrills and excitement of the ''front,'' are devotedly doing their ''bit," a gruelling, monotonous ''bit."
On the fourth floor of one of the wings of the American Ambulance Hospital in Neuilly (the hospital is known as "l'Ambulance Américaine,'' the word Ambulance in French signifying a military hospital) there is a large, bare, unplastered room, the naked bricks and stones giving it a bleak, chilly appearance. Light and airy it is and through one of the many windows the Eiffel Tower looms in the distance. Until last June it was the dormitory of the men who drive the motor ambulances of the Paris Section of the American Hospital. The new recruit stumbled in over the stone floor about 9 o'clock of an evening and down through rows of iron cots with their sleeping burdens made his way to his own bed. Beside his cot he found a little iron table, with pitcher and basin and towel. As he sat on the edge of his cot struggling with new puttees and riding breeches he heard the regular breathing of some sleepers, the heavy, labored breathing of others, and saw still others restlessly tossing about or talking in their sleep. It was all new to him and when he finally crawled between the covers, sleep was a trifle long in coming.
He remembered, as he entered and scaled the stairs, the great hospital, dark and silent in the night. Scarcely a light, except here and there in the corridors, a shaded electric lamp at the tables of the night nurses in charge of the various wards. Below him in these wards lay wounded soldiers of France, and although he had seen none of them, he was able mentally to picture those wards with their cots and suffering men---some on the road to recovery, others making a game fight for life and still others with the hand of death beckoning to them. He did not know that in little rooms adjoining the one in which he lay were a few who even then were shaking hands with the Grim Reaper. He was certain that from somewhere down through the corridors there came a piteous cry or a moan. And finally, just as he dropped off to sleep, he remembered that away "out there" where Frenchmen were holding the line, modern warfare was battering and hammering and turning out just such bits of humanity as lay on the floors beneath him. For he was just a recruit and had not become war-hardened, if one with a heart and feelings ever really does become so.
Back in "the States" in the work which our recruit had forsaken, the telephone always had been one of his chief worries, for every time it tinkled it usually meant trouble. Therefore, it was not surprising when from down at one end of the dormitory (the "Zeppelin Shed," he later learned, the boys called it) his instrument of torture began to ring and he awoke. Then through the darkness there came the sound of someone fumbling for the telephone a bang, followed by a "damn," as it clattered to the floor, and lastly the conversation.
The receiver clanked on the hook, and a sleepy, "peeved" American voice shouted out through the long, dark dormitory:
"Come on, birds. Up you get. Call's in for La Chapelle."
And Lieut. B, in charge of the section, was already slipping into his uniform. Light sleepers began crawling out from beneath warm covers and doing the same.
The "rookie," awkwardly climbing into his own uniform, was curious to see how these young American men and boys would take this rude awakening. On flashed the lights. Down the room strode the lieutenant, tearing the blankets from those who persisted in sleeping.
"Come on you, Clark. Out of that." But Clark continued his slumber. The strong hands of the young officer wormed under the mattress, and Clark and mattress were in the center of the floor.
"And you, too, Jimmie." But Jimmie heard not until water from a nearby pitcher began to trickle down his face.
Down the line wandered B, cajoling, pleading, fuming until the entire outfit was aroused. It was a picture the recruit remembered many a day. Here were some 30 young Americans, many of whom before coming to France never had known the meaning of the word discipline, who had given up sleep before only for parties and other social events, but never had sacrificed it nor their comfort for someone else. They were boys, most of them, from some of the best American homes, volunteers all, manly, strapping young Americans plunging out onto the cold floor of a bare room at 2 o'clock in the morning, and for what? In an hour or so our recruit saw the reason for all this cheerful sacrifice. It was cheerful, too, for as they slipped into their uniforms a suppressed song would go up here and there, or low laughter would greet some joke. Tired and cross they might have been, but it was only for a minute. In years to come that ''rookie'' will remember those nights and early mornings in the ''Zeppelin shed,'' as will most of the men and boys whose good luck it was to have been there.
"Come on, fellows. Hurry up, now," and the men of the section tiptoed out and down stairs into the yard. Most of them never had known what it meant to have some regard for the feelings of others, but as they passed downstairs and out they remembered the wounded sleeping there in the long, darkened wards. A sip of coffee and a bit of bread, then onto the ambulances clambered the orderlies and neardrivers. Headlights flashed on, the engines began to sputter and buzz and the first car swung out of the gate through the night, coming to a halt far down the Boulevard D 'Inkerman. The others, 25 in all, followed until some 24 cars brought up behind the little red tail light of each other. The staff car whirled out and snorted down to the head of the column. A whistle blew, the gears slipped into place and the convoy was under way bound to gather the harvest of wrecked men gleaned from somewhere along the front.
Inside the car the "rookie" found himself with sonic seven others. It was his first close glimpse of the men with whom he was to work for the next six months. Clean-cut Americans they were, mostly in the twenties, with here and there a man who had passed the 30 mark. Some who had not taken the time to finish dressing were winding puttees around stout legs that back home had carried the pigskin down many a hard-fought college football field, or had spun them to victory in some intercollegiate race, while others were busy lacing boots that reminded the newcomer of the boots of the laborer in the land across the seas.
The cool morning air was beginning to liven them, pipes glowed and someone started a college song remindful of days gone by. Down through the darkened streets of Neuilly, through gloomy and deserted Montmartre swung the convoy: Ahead gleamed the little red tail light of a car, while from behind the searchlights of the one following lighted up the interior of the ambulance.
''Hope it's a light train, fellows." remarked one and then another began to tell tales of the famous Champagne drive in September, 1915, when they worked days and nights without sleep. Under the elevated section of the Metropolitan the convoy twisted snakelike and into and down the bleak, dismal Rue La Chapelle, its mean stories and dwelling places standing out grim and forbidding in the night. Over rough cobblestones the car lurched, a sharp turn through two iron gates, a jolting over railroad tracks and then up a wooden incline into the low freight building.
''Five,'' came the voice of Lieut. B, indicating the ambulance's place. The car halted and the recruit with his seven comrades rolled out. The work he had come several thousand miles to do was about to begin. He was at the gare or station of La Chapelle. at which are unloaded all the wounded sent to Paris. When his six months' enlistment has expired he will be a better man for it all for he will have seen such suffering and such courage as he never thought existed. He will return home more human, more tolerant and a better American.
There are several buildings in the yards of La Chapelle. Previous to the war it was a great freight distributing center. It still is, but one of the long buildings better suited than the others was taken as a distributing station for the battered, bruised and bleeding freight that soon was to come in from the front. Along one side of it runs a narrow platform and parallel to this is a single track. Platform and track are covered by a shed that adds only to the gloom and depressing atmosphere of the whole surroundings. A larger part of the station, of course, is devoted to the reception and care of the wounded. In this section little stucco pavilions or houses have been erected and here is seen an effort to get away from the horrors of war, something peaceful for the glazed, staring eyes of the wounded to rest upon. Each pavilion is painted its own particular color, the scheme being worked out with an eye for the artistic. In and about these houses are palms and potted plants, giving a hint that there are things in the world other than shell-swept trenches, killing, and shattered towns. In these little houses and outside are upright posts and ''stretcher-horses'' upon which are slung the stretchers bearing the wounded after they are carried from the trains. In other buildings of this village is housed the medical staff, which tags and assigns the wounded to the various hospitals. Here also is to be found a splendidly equipped operating room. Separated from this stand the ambulances, French and American, ranged along either side and at the far end, their doors flung open, each awaiting their load.
The men of the ambulance stand about in little groups, smoking or talking, while others are curled up inside their ears, snatching a few minutes' sleep, for the trains are not always en time, which fact brings out again the awfulness of war. It is the wounded last. A hospital train must stand aside while new, fresh, whole men, guns, ammunition and food are rushed to the front. It seems inhuman, but it is war, and war is as Sherman said.
This waiting brings out the stuff in the men of the Paris section. With something to do one has no time to grow peevish, to remember that he is hungry or sleepy, but to wait, wait, wait, after being dragged out of a comfortable bed, gets on one's nerves. There were nights when the section was called out for a train signalled for 9 or 10 o'clock and it was 7 or 8 in the morning when it finally crept into the station. How do they while away those hours? And it is not very pleasant there in that shed of La Chapelle, especially in the winter or early spring. Songs, stories and jokes aid in passing the time, for it's mighty hard to dull completely the spirits of healthy young Americans. The night wears on. Into the ambulances or onto front seats creep some. Others drag out stretchers and blankets that soon are to hold and cover the ''blessés'' (wounded) and the outfit snuggles to and sleeps as comfortably as though its members were at home. The Frenchmen at the station look on astounded, puzzled. They can't figure out this American Ambulance at all----they can't understand why these boys will come from over the sea to lose sleep, meals and do hard physical work all for nothing---for there is no pay attached to the service. They admire and appreciate it, though, as do the French government, the people and the soldiers.
''Fall in, fellows. Train's in.''
From ambulance and cots they tumble. In double rank they form and then into fours.
''March,'' and down by their ears, by the pavilions, by the waiting doctors and nurses and out to the platform they pass. They are serious now for it is serious work they are to do. Patience and tenderness have taken the place of jokes and songs. Then slowly, carefully, from out of the dark of the yards the long train creeps into the gloomy shed. Out of a car leaps a young French military doctor. Snappily salutes the "medicin chef,'' the doctor in charge at the station, and snappily the salute is returned.
''Deux cent soixante, mon capitaine," he says. Two hundred and sixty wounded, a big train. Gently the train conies to a halt. A whistle sounds from somewhere down the shed.
''Two men to a car,'' orders Lieut. B. Methodically the men are told off to their cars. The night's work has begun.
And what of these cars in which the wounded men of France come down from the front to their nation's capital? Freight and passenger ears they are, raised by the war to a dignity they never had known, for within their walls Frenchmen are astonishing the world by their fortitude and patience in the midst of most terrible pain. These Frenchmen are suffering without a murmur, most of them hiding with a smile the torture that in waves racks their wrecked bodies. Let us follow two of these Americans into the car assigned to them and look at the results of war laid bare. Inside we shall see human suffering and war minus the blare of bands and waving flags, robbed of all romance, excitement and picturesqueness.
As we enter the car from out of the shadows east by a smoky, oily lamp there comes a cheery ''Bon soir'' and the ''infirmier'' (attendant) attached to the car greets the ambulance men. The car is hot and disturbing odors shock the nostrils, odors which we never had smelled before. Odors that tell of anti-septics and blood-soaked sheets and uniforms mingled with the breaths of feverish men who have been cooped up in this tightly closed car for hours. More powerful than all, how ever, is the stench of gangrene from the wound of one of the poor wrecks lying in that darkened car. A sickening tale it brings of rotting flesh and poison slowly eating its way up through an arm or a leg. Sometimes the surgeon's knife can stay it, but only too often death alone ends its advance. It is under such conditions that night after night, day after day, in hot weather and cold, labor the men of the Paris Section, American Ambulance, breathing foul air and facing the dangers of blood poisoning through cuts and scratches from stretchers and bunks. They are seeing a side of war that the world outside knows little of.
The smoking oil lamps reveal 16 bunks, eight upper and eight lower, arranged as are, the berths in our sleeping cars. The door is in the center. Some of the less seriously wounded are sitting upright in their beds or in a half-reclining position, their chins resting on their hands. A few of these, as they catch a glimpse of the ambulance men, mistake them for British and call out a cheery ''Allo Anglais,'' or. eager to show knowledge of the English language gained by rubbing elbows with the "Tommies,'' call out ''Good morning," although it may be midnight. Others politely ask for a cigaret and when given one rest contentedly until comes their time to be removed. But in the majority of these bunks there is hardly a sign of life. Only the regular rise and fall of the blankets indicate that there is something huddled there in the dark---something that is suffering. And brooding over the cars are odors that come from wounded, bleeding men,
From a stack of stretchers on the platform, the ambulance men selected one and worked at one end of the car. Even with their shoulders level with the top berth, they hold the stretcher, while a man tries to worm his way from bed to stretcher. It is slow, tedious, painful work, for with the blankets drawn back is revealed a leg that is encased in an enormous plaster cast from the ankle up. A bit of a shell has shattered that. One arm is wound around and around with bandages, the fragments being held in place by a metallic splint. Suspended from the roof of the car and hanging directly over the edge of the bunk is a rope with a wooden handle dangling from its end. With his free hand the wounded man clutches this rope in an effort to draw himself up from the bed and over onto the stretcher. He moves himself a bit---gets partly on the stretcher, but that dead weight of shattered bone and plaster cast coupled with time pain, is too much. ''Mother of God," he whispers, but those are the only words that might indicate pain. Then he catches himself and smiles at the ambulance men, half-ashamed that that phrase might be considered by them as weakness. He rests a bit and then again begins that slow, painful, dragging movement toward the stretcher. This time the "infirmier" standing on a chair has placed his two big hands beneath that load of plaster and carries the leg, along in the wake of the slowly moving body.
Carefully the hulk of a man slides on the stretcher and with a "put him down," the men gently rest their burden on the floor of the car. From behind the pillow comes the soldier's great coat, which is placed beneath his head. At his feet go his boots, and just as he is about to be carried from the car he turns to the American at the head and asks for ''mon packet." Search through the bunk reveals ''mon packet,'' a small bundle of something done up in a handkerchief, but "mon packet" is the one thing most zealously guarded by the wounded. Usually it contains a picture of the wife and children, mother or sweetheart, a few bits of letters and a rosary. ''Up'' says one of the men, and the two with the stretcher start from the car. As they pass to the platform where they deposit their burden the ''infirmier'' pats the wounded man on the shoulder or grasps his hand with a ''Bon courage, mon ami,'' while those of his comrades who are able call out a hearty ''Bon chance, au revoir'' (Good luck, goodby). On the platform the stretcher is taken from the ambulance men by two French brancardiers or stretcher-bearers and carried into one of the pavilions.
Beside one of the lower hunks the men stand with another stretcher. Bending low, the ''infirmier'' is talking with a strange, ghastly shape that at one time had been the features of a man. As one peers into the semi-darkness of that bunk he shudders as he sees what lies there. The spectacle is a man whose appearance is grotesquely weird. His head is swathed in bandages, but it is the face. One who has seen that sight will remember it for many a day. Thin bandages---so thin that in places one can almost see through them---envelope it, but what lies beneath is not for print. A slit is made in the rolls for a mouth. There is a slight rise in the bandages that tells of the lost nose. Or it is all flat and there is no vestige of a nose. From two holes in the cloth two eyes peer at you piteously. Or there are no holes in the cloth and that tells of eyes that are no more. Two great white hands bound in lint and gauze lie outside the covers---hands with the appearance of having huge gloves upon them. Helpless they lie there in their swathes of cotton. And beneath it all the flesh has been seared away. ''Liquid fire.'' one of the boys whispers.
All is ready now. The stretcher is on a level with the bunk and the ''infirmier'' guides the poor, blind wreck toward it.
''Easy, old man,'' says one of the Americans to his comrade and easy and gently they carry their burden to the platform. The wounded soldier whispers something to the man at the head and as the stretcher-bearer looks up there are tears in his eyes. ''Bit of dirt in my eye, Pete,'' he says as he carries another stretcher into the car, It was not dirt, though. The poor bundle lying out there had whispered "Merci'' (thank you). It touches a man, even the toughest, when in the midst of their misery those chaps find time to murmur thanks. Down this long, smelling car our Americans go. Here is one man gritting his teeth to hold back sobs and another one, suffering so badly that the tears just had to come, places his hat over his eyes so that those tears would not be seen. There in that car are men with hands and faces full of powder and burns. Horrible sights are men with arms and legs gone. And after one has seen this same thing day after day and night after night for six months, one wonders where they all come from to furnish this harvest, and what it is all about.
The last of the 16 berths is cleared. Tired and sweating, the boys say goodby to the ''infirmier,'' and leave the car. Theirs has been some task for it is not easy to hold a stretcher even with your shoulder while part of a great, heavy body rests open it trying to slowly drag its mangled half after. Sometimes that stretcher must be held in that position for six or seven minutes. Your hands are being torn between bed and stretcher and the vile smells almost overpower, but you know you can't let go for that man up there is suffering more than you. And anyhow, his grateful look when the job is completed or that ''Merci'' repays all that has gone before.
With the train unloaded, the men of the ambulance have a breathing spell for 10 or 15 minutes, while the wounded are receiving attention in the pavilion and are being assigned to hospitals.
''Here we go, fellows. Let's get this over,'' calls someone, and from the direction of the pavilions come two brancardier with a stretcher swinging between them. Before one of the waiting ambulances they deposit their burden. Some of the men crowd about, lured by the sight of a German spiked helmet that the wounded man is guarding jealously with his free hand. That helmet is going to be held until such a time, when discharged from the hospital, he returns to his little village with this trophy of war. One can almost see him in the wine shop as he relates to the old men and the old women the tale of how he came by it. Two boys step to the head of the stretcher, two to the foot.
"Ready; let's go.'' Firmly but tenderly the stretcher is raised high in the air until its foremost legs fit on the slide on the upper rack in the ambulance. The man looks about in a curious sort of a manner, for it is some shock to be lifted up, not knowing where you are going. Then, as he finds himself sliding in safety, he grins and exclaims, ''Premier étage, eh?" (first floor). Despite his wounds he finds time for a joke, and concludes with the inevitable ''Merci, messieurs," softly spoken. Another comes out and he is placed on the rack opposite the man with the helmet. They turn and regard each other quizzically, smile, and begin to compare wounds and swap yarns.
There is a knack in loading these ambulances, for often there comes out a man whose right arm is held rigid in such a position as to extend far over the stretcher. He must go to the left side so that that arm will not rub the wall of the car. Or there is a man so wounded that he cannot lie down. He must have a side of a car to himself. They are coming out faster now---a seemingly endless string of wrecked, broken men. There goes one lying flat on his stomach. His back has been torn to bits. For days he has been lying that way and for days to come he must maintain that position. Four to an ambulance they are grouped. The floor is filled with them and the work seems to be getting ahead of the men. But swiftly they work, at the same time being cautious. Here is a stretcher that is broken. It won't do. The man must be changed. A new one is secured, its head is placed at the feet of the broken one. Three or four men straddle the soldier. Slipping their hands under his pain-racked body, they come in contact with the slimy, soaked bandages. They lift him ever so gently. The old stretcher slides from beneath him and the new one takes its place. He rolls his big eyes and smiles thankfully as they place him in the car.
Coats are off now. The men are soaked with perspiration. Hard, physical work it is, but they go at it just as back home they went about their games. Gruelling work it is. too, for one must remember that those wounded have been handled twice---unloaded and loaded---so that if a train has had 260 it really means handling twice that number of men. Again two and three trains often arrive and are cared for in a night by these men of the Paris section---handled by sleepless, hungry men, but handled efficiently. Not only do the Americans load their own cars, but the French ones also.
The ambulances are beginning to move out now, each bound for one of the 500 hospitals in and about Paris. Carefully they back out. Carefully they thread their way down through the stretchers that litter the floor, and pass out into the night. If the driver does not know the way to the hospital he is provided with an "agent de police." Back in America these men and boys whirled their own motor cars through the streets and roads, but now they just creep along, for behind them are lying men to whom each added jolt means that much more pain. One by one, out through time freight yards and over the cobbles and tracks roll the cars. Through the dark, deserted streets of the great city they pass. It is a rather impressive trip, that ride. Care must be used, for now and then a taxi dashes out of a side street or a peasant's cart with produce from the farm wanders along dejectedly, with the driver asleep on the seat. Sometimes the route lies past the stately Madeleine, or over the Seine with the magnificent Notre Dame standing out in the moonlight. Again, far out in the country, it leads to some beautiful little hospital. And behind in the automobile the human freight tries to sleep or blissfully smoke cigarettes provided by the drivers, for there is hardly a driver but each night gives his "smokes" away to his passengers.
Before the hospital the ambulance brings up, its searchlight picking out the gate, large or small, as the case may be. It may be a regular hospital or, as is often the case, it is a former school, convent or hotel. The driver gets down and pulls the wire hanging outside the wall. In the silence of the night that pull seems to have set a thousand bells ajangling. Soon the gate swings open, a light appears and carefully the driver guides his car into the courtyard.
''Quatre blessés'' (four wounded), he answers in response to a question by the concierge. Soon three or four sleepy-eyed orderlies appear. Gently the wounded are carried from the ambulance into the hospital. Tired and hungry, the ambulance man stands about and waits until the men are placed on their beds, for when he leaves he must have the same number of stretchers, blankets and pillows as when he arrived. Often, very often when he is shivering in his wet clothes, a kindly sister takes him into the little office and gives him hot tea or coffee and bread and cake. And just as often as his late passengers are lying on the floor of the corridor one will beckon to him. And that soldier of France who is making an effort to sit up, extends his hand and thanks him for driving so carefully. With that handshake, the rain, the hunger and the sleepy feeling disappear, for the driver feels rewarded. With empty stretchers and blankets his car is loaded. Away he goes in quick shape, for bed is calling to him. Sometimes he gets to bed, but sometimes as he pulls into the yard of his own hospital about 5 or 6 or 7 in the morning, he hears the words: ''Hey you, beat it for La Chapelle. 'Nother train in." Out he climbs, looks at his supply of gasoline and water, again he is at the wheel and on the way to La Chapelle to repeat the story of the night that has just died. The Field and Paris sections of the American Ambulance is no place for shirkers.
Twenty-four hours make up the day of the men of the Paris section. Only recently have they been granted a 24 hours' leave which comes about every eight or nine days. They have left the old dormitory now, the "Zeppelin Shed," and are housed in a pretty home overlooking the Bois. On days when no trains arrive they find enough to keep them busy, for between trains cars must be looked after-cleaned and oiled.
It is a strange sight to see these fellows, many of whom back in the states had their own chauffeurs to care for their cars, now clad in overalls cheerfully and industriously using hose and brush or spending a morning on their backs filling grease cups. Then during the day there are "evacuations" to be made. This means taking the convalescent men from the hospitals in the city to other hospitals far out in the country, for it is the aim to keep as many beds free in Paris as possible. During the days of a big "drive" it is work night and day---filling the hospitals with new men, and emptying them of the old.
Sometimes when there is no call in sight the men wander off to the cinema, the theater or to bed. Those who go out, except the men whose day of "repose" it is, must have a pass and must leave their telephone number with the sergeant of the day. Often of an evening in a darkened theatre or cinema, the girl ushers will go walking down the aisle and with their little electric lamps light up the faces of the men in uniform.
And when that light picks out an ambulance man they will say, "Ambulance Américaine? La Chapelle. Tout de suite." And here and there in the midst of picture or play, the men will arise and as they move swiftly out of the house one hears the people remark, "There go the Americans," and no doubt those people think and wonder if brother, husband or son is coming home.
Out at the famous old College of Juilly, now a hospital, a squad of five cars of the Paris Section is always on duty. Each squad remains a week. It is a beautiful place and the men look forward to going there as a rest. Sometimes it is, but more often it isn't, for the ambulances meet the hospital trains at Meaux, which is about an hour and a half run across the field of the Marne. And these trains always come in during early morning hours.
What does the French government, the people and the soldiers think of this work? The government thinks so well of it that it has requested that the Paris Section unload all the hospital trains that enter the city. The cheerfulness of these Americans, their tenderness and care in handling the wounded, and their efficiency has left its imprint upon the French officials who have seen them work. As for the people and the soldiers, their appreciation and their thanks are told by their actions and their words. However, it is not alone to the men of the Field and Paris sections they are tendering their gratitude, but through them directly they are sending their thanks to the people of the United States who by their generous contributions have made this work possible. But above all the men of these two sections are drawing the French and American nations closer together-uniting them by a bond stronger and more lasting than it is within the power of diplomats to weld. Through the years to come the story of the men of the American Ambulance and of the work of the American Hospital will keep alive the fires of friendship kindled by Washington and Lafayette.