From Town & Country, July 1940
"It is good to have made friends among you,
to have clasped some of your brown hands,
to have walked a little along the way with you.
Bonne chance, soldats de France"
This touching epilogue was written to a history of the American Field Service in the last war. It is a heart-rending prologue to the unfinished saga of the American Field Service volunteers who drove for France in the present war until there was no more France to drive for. Since that time forty-six ambulances and surgical vans, which will be British-manned, have been donated to meet the next emergency.
Fifty-three Americans saw active service for the A.F.S. before the French capitulation (some of those pictured here never got across). Although all are now reported safe, the story of what they did and how they came to do it is an adventure that can be written down beside that of the A.F.S. of the World War and the American Ambulance Service of 1870-71.
The saga of the A.F.S. goes back to the evil times when Bismarck's Prussians were the conquering invaders. Dr. John Swinburne of New York led a score of young compatriots who galloped their horse-drawn ambulances between the front and the Paris Hospitals.
In the World War the American Field Service in France was to grow, between 1914 and 1917, until it carried over half a million wounded, from virtually every important battle on the Western Front. When the United States at last entered the war, it had thirty-one complete ambulance sections, attached to sixty-six French divisions, with twenty-four hundred volunteer drivers. This vast effort sprang from the impulsive inspiration of the late A. Piatt Andrew, who afterward became Congressman from Massachusetts. Hastily he gathered a handful of Americans living in Paris and organized them in ambulances hastily improvised from automobile chassis and packing boxes, to bring back the casualties of the Battle of the Marne. Robert Ogden Bacon and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt, neither of them now living to see the new nightmare, supported, encouraged, and started the financing of Mr. Andrew's groups. Fearless young Americans rallied to the call and citations were heaped upon them. Some of them gave their lives, but all lived gloriously.
After driving an ambulance in 1915, and being decorated for outstanding heroism, Stephen Galatti, National Executive Chairman of the 1939-40 A.F.S., was called back to Paris to be Mr. Andrew's chief assistant. In September, 1939, he reassembled veteran drivers of the World War corps---Clarence V. S. Mitchell, Enos Curtin, and Hugh Kelleher of New York, John H. MacFadden, Jr., of Philadelphia and Memphis, Lovering Hill, Julian Allen, and Joshua G. B. Campbell of Paris, together with a number of other distinguished citizens, some "vieux conducteurs," others new to the A.F.S.
In November a letter went out to all A.F.S. veterans asking each to donate a dollar a month for office expenses (the Equitable Building at 120 Broadway had donated offices). The response was immediate and overwhelming. Phone calls, letters, and telegrams poured in on the modest but efficient office. Men and boys of all ages, occupations, and walks of life clamored to volunteer for active service. Mr. Galatti, pleasant-spoken genial broker and member of the sacrosanct Knickerbocker Club, raced to the helm every afternoon when the Stock Exchange's closing bell rang out, and rarely went home until silence settled over Wall Street and throngs of charwomen were the only occupants of Manhattan's skyscrapers.
Qualifications for enlistment required the volunteers to be American citizens over eighteen and under forty-one (though a few veterans over that age were accepted for headquarters duty). They had to have six or seven hundred dollars to pay their way to France and back, for incidental expenses while there, with enough left over for their personal equipment, all purchased in France---overcoat, breeches, slacks, tunic, cap, and musette. In exceptional cases where the volunteer showed great promise but hadn't sufficient money, someone else was usually found to donate the funds.
The office has one fair-sized outer room with several salvaged desks behind a rail. A couple of girls work at them tirelessly---Louise Williams and Claude Gignoux, only a year ago two of the season's most popular debutantes. In a little bare partitioned office, to the right of the entrance, Dunbar Hinrichs gave the applicants their first interviews.
Mr. Hinrichs recently retired from General Motors and returned to the A.F.S., for which he drove an ambulance in the last war. One night he had run across Galatti at a dinner and asked what he could do to help---yacht-racing, his hobby, didn't seem very important to him any more. The result was a hard and grueling job, which brought him to the offices from his Connecticut estate every morning. With him works Mrs. Harry de Maine, whose husband is the artist (his striking watercolors decorate the office) who drove for the A.F.S. during the last war.
The addition of Hinrichs to the office helped relieve Clarence Mitchell to some extent. Mitchell, who had been conducting the preliminary interviews, is an alert man with a black mustache and keen brown eyes, a partner in the law firm of Choate, Larocque, Mitchell & Ely, counsel to the American Field Service. In 1914, he joined the Formation Harjes at Montdidier and drove an ambulance for six months before returning to finish his law course at Harvard. When he'd kicked the Cambridge dust from his heels, he made for Plattsburg. After being commissioned as captain of cavalry in August, 1917, he was, because of his previous record and ability to "speak French like a native," pitchforked over to France in January, 1918. He was attached to the Group of Armies of the East under General de Castelnau as American liaison officer. Mitchell, Hinrichs, or Galatti, who emerged from the World War a major, warned the applicants of the hardships and dangers day after day, night after night without sleep under the artillery and machine-gun fire and the bombs of the Stukas.
The enlistment was for a minimum of six months. If the applicant was a minor, his parents had to give their written consent. Four references were required, and were scrutinized with care. If accepted, he was ordered to be ready on an hour's notice to sail for France. He was turned over to Mrs. Clarence Hay of Sutton Place, who introduced him to other members of his particular group and saw them off on the boat.
All told, nearly ninety men have been accepted when the curtain was run down on France. Fifty-three saw active service, going to France by Clipper or boat; the rest were brought up short on the very eve of sailing on the S.S. Manhattan on June 15th when the State Department canceled her sailing. Nine men actually left on the S.S. Exeter on June 8th, only to return reluctantly a few days later after Italy's "dagger" blow. Those who reached France were organized into the first two sections by Lovering Hill, chief of the A.F.S. in Paris. He had commanded the Third Section in the World War, and was repeatedly cited for bravery. Afterward he practiced law, but when this war broke out, he had retired from active practice and was living in Paris.
In Paris the headquarters staff, functioning under Mr. Hill, was quartered with the volunteer drivers at the Cité Universitaire. This staff was responsible for the administration, the assembling of the ambulances, and their assignment to French contingents. On it were Jack Brant, regular army ambulance driver from 1917-19, Russell Perkins, with the French Army as liaison officer in 1917-18, Ralph Sumner Richmond, A.F.S. veteran who later became a major in the outfit. Also there were Roswell Sanders, who was seriously wounded while with Section Four of the last A.F.S., and William Henry Wallace Jr., cited for bravery in 1918 as a captain in the U. S. Air Force.
Among them, too, were several volunteers to whom war was not new. Lawrence Randall Ball was in Section Nine of the World War A.F.S., and then with the 27th and 82nd Divisions of the A.E.F. Stuart Benson (who returned on the Clipper to America June 25th, by prearrangement, to bring back sketches and pictures to promote fund-raising) was an American liaison officer with the Eighth French Army, and was commissioned major in 1918. France decorated him with the Légion d'Honneur, the Croix de Guerre, and the Ordre de l'Etoile Noire. Peter Upton Muir, the chief of the section, joined the American Army in 1917 and saw twenty-two months of active service in France. In 1922 he was with the Hoover Relief Administration in Russia. He holds the Croix de Guerre. LeClair Smith, as a sergeant in the 5th Marines, was in action at Soissons, Château-Thierry, and the Meuse-Argonne sector, where he was seriously wounded on November 1, 1918. Harold B. Willis, second- in-command of the First Section, was with the A.F.S. from the beginning of the last war, but later became a pursuit pilot in the famed Lafayette Escadrille, and then a captain in the U. S. Air Force. He was taken prisoner by the Germans but made his escape through Switzerland.
The First Section had little opportunity to see the sights of Paris while waiting active duty. They were constantly with their machines, moving them at every alerte, if only for the practice. Almost as soon as they arrived they were assigned to duty with French armed forces by General Foutan, director of the Service de Santé.
What happened at the front filtered meagerly through the veil of censorship. The First Section was organized and equipped with ambulances in April. Actual driving of the ambulances was a small part of their duty. they were called upon to act as stretcher bearers and to evacuate the aged and sick from villages in direct line of fire. They had to repair engines and bodies hit by bombs and machine guns. (Of the twenty-two ambulances in active service, only one was actually destroyed.)
They performed an incredible work with a heroism that, this time, brought two section citations and sixteen individual Croix de Guerre. In one week, one ambulance carried over a thousand blessés. After that there was no longer time to keep the tally. They soon found it necessary to daub out the Red Crosses from their ambulance roofs with clay. German machine-gunners and bombers took careful aim at those insignia of mercy, which modern warfare failed to respect. Again and again they were forced to seek shelter in roadside ditches, under trees, or under their own machines
Francis Peabody Hamlin, rotund, genial Union Club member from New York, was injured in the ankle. Erwin Watts, also from New York was caught under a falling wall in a small bombed village while shielding a Belgian child with his own body. Then on May 18th the section was at Beauvais, engaged in evacuating hospitals and the wounded at Amiens. After a number of trips, Donald Q. Coster, Willis' predecessor as second-in- command; John Clement, Middlesex School teacher and hockey coach; George King, brilliant scholar and "Tripos" man of Trinity College, Cambridge, and Gregory Wait, father of ten-year-old twin sons, driving an ambulance that he and his wife had donated, started back again for Amiens. They had been warned that Germans were already entering the city, but they also knew that there were countless wounded there. They returned for another load, despite warnings. That was the last seen or heard of them until, more than a month later, news came roundabout that they were safe in Brussels.
While driving the staff car, presented by Mrs. Stephen Van Rensselaer Crosby of Boston in memory of her son, the late Henry Grew Crosby, poet and publisher, Peter Upton Muir was picked up by the Germans on the banks of the Loire near Blois. The Germans kept the car but allowed Muir to go to the American Embassy in Paris. After considerable difficulty, he was able to return to America on the Manhattan, and if the war seems destined to continue into the autumn, he has plans to enlist in the Canadian army.
The Second Section, while not scheduled to get into active service as a unit until June 20th, had as fine a record as the First. They were assigned to relieving members of the First Section while waiting for their own ambulances.
Its best-known member was moving picture star Robert Montgomery. His interest in the A.F.S. dated back to the last war when a relative was one of its drivers. He had just finished making a picture in England and had been given four and a half weeks "vacation" before he was due to report in his Hollywood studio. These weeks he spent in the most arduous and dangerous work at the front. He was among the last to retreat before the German advance at Montmorency. When Paris fell he was engaged in evacuating the wounded to Vouvray. He left France only when no more ambulances were forthcoming.
On his way through Spain to fly from Lisbon via the Clipper, he found, like Stuart Benson, that the danger was not past. The Spanish Fascist sympathizers made him, and Benson too, remove their uniforms under threats of stoning and other physical violence.
A curious coincidence was that in Lisbon, arriving on the Clipper on which Montgomery departed, were the only two members of the Fourth Section to reach Europe before France's capitulation, the Stuyvesant brothers Alan and Lewis Rutherfurd.
The other members of the Fourth Section and those of the Third, turned back at sea, are still waiting in the United States, hoping now to be able to oppose Hun Kultur by driving for England. Those left in France must return to America, and new passports cannot be obtained.
There is still money available for more ambulances The original ambulances that went to France were followed by another shipment of chassis, which left on June 2nd, but which have not been located since. A number are still on the docks in New York.
These ambulances, which were donated by friends of the A.F.S. all over this country and a few in France and England, cost $2,000, which included a year's maintenance. The Chevrolet 3/4-ton ambulance chassis were shipped from this country, and bodies built on in France---a far cry from the packing-box Fords of 1914.
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss gave the first ambulance to the A.F.S of 1940 ---successor of twenty which they donated in the World War. Mrs. Andrew Carnegie gave the second. Another was presented by Mrs. Robert B. Noyes of Pomfret, Connecticut, in memory of her grandfather, J. K. Riggs of Washington, who was one of the first men to join Dr Swinburne's Franco-Prussian war service. On these ambulances the donors name, or any name designated by him, appeared on the bronze plaque.
Committees were formed for localities and for leading men's clubs of New York and Boston, to raise funds for ambulances. Mrs. Charles Codman of Boston, who worked with Anne Morgan's corps in the last war and who returned by Clipper from the front in June, has been indefatigable in this work. Also from Boston, Dr. de Ford Bigelow and Richmond Fearing worked hard signing up local ambulance volunteers from all over New England.
The funds raised through so much effort cannot now be sent to France. The offices, and the money not previously earmarked for France, are being utilized to aid "American Ambulance, Great Britain," of which the A.F.S. is now American representative. This organization, founded among Americans in London and headed by William Phillips, has already raised £30,000 in England to furnish and equip ambulances for service there. The honorary chairman is America's Ambassador to Great Britain, Joseph P. Kennedy.
The fortunes of war defeated, in a measure, the effort of the American Field Service in France. Nothing can defeat or wash out the glory.
To complete the record: Donald Q. Coster, 32, Lawrenceville and Princeton '27, was in advertising business, reported missing, found in Brussels; awarded Croix de Guerre. Donald Hamilton Easton, 20, of Scarborough, N. Y., went to Holderness School. Francis Peabody Hamlin, 32, of Needham, Mass., went to Groton, in travel business, was recently wounded in action. Laurence W. Morgan, 22, of Brookline, Harvard '39, two years Naval ROTC. Laurence von Post Schwab, 23, of Tucson, went to Philips Exeter Academy, journalist. William Henry Wallace, 58, Columbia '03, former N. Y. Stock Exchange member, served with A F.S in World War, cited for bravery, Erwin Hoy Watts, 37, of Morristown, St. Paul's School, in insurance business. Alexander McElwain, 41, of Boston, Harvard '21, engaged in historical research, was just awarded Croix de Guerre.
Several. of the American Field Service drivers are former TOWN & COUNTRY contributors. Morton Eustis was our chronicler of the Lunts' road tour. Both Peter Upton Muir's color photographs and Lewis Rutherfurd Stuyvesant's camera recordings of New Zealand have appeared in these pages. The foreign pictures in this article were taken by our sometime staff photographer, Peter Powel.
For the time being at least, on account of entry restrictions, the American Ambulance in Great Britain will be manned by English drivers. But as the scene of war shifts, Director General Stephen Galatti announces that the new unit of forty-six ambulances and surgical vans which has just been donated is already assembled to meet the next emergency. The A.F.S. still carries on.