|I respectfully dedicated to the women of France, and especially to Josette, whose example of indomitable courage helped me through dark moments.|
of the American Field Service in Paris
Not only was Peter Muir active in the Battle of France to the very end of the tragic debacle, but he saw the war on both sides. He served in France as section leader of an ambulance corps in the American Field Service; he was captured by the Nazis, and saw at first hand the full force of the German juggernaut before he made his escape.
Born in Charlottesville, Virginia, he drove an ambulance during the first World War. In 1922 he served on President Hoover's Relief Commission in Russia. Then after a period of newspaper work in America and Europe, he lived in France for six years previous to the outbreak of the present war. He has received four citations for the Croix de Guerre, two during the first World War, and two for his recent service in France.
He is still officially a German prisoner, according to a communication from the German High Command, which has not learned of his escape.
All Americans may well feel a thrill of pride at this graphic portrayal of the gallant and self-sacrificing aid rendered by a group of their countrymen to tragic France in her dark hours of disaster and defeat. Of their own free will, at their own expense, the officers and .men of the American Field Service Ambulances risked their lives by night and day that the wounded and suffering might be solaced. This is the story of the Field Service from the time it left a Paris in which no shouting throngs sped the soldiers on their way, in which there were no sounds of "Madelon" or "Tipperary," in which a nation went grimly and without enthusiasm to a "war without music."
Mr. Muir's narrative begins with the writer in the hands of the Nazi invaders. In the opening chapter he tells how he and one of his associates and the staff car ran smack into a Nazi advance guard, were promptly herded with the other prisoners of war, spent one night in a bleak and drafty airplane hangar, didn't like it a bit, and the next day began to plan their escape.
Then Mr. Muir "cuts back" to the early days of the "phoney war" and tells how the Field Service was organized and of some of the men who composed it. Among them were Americans who had won war medals of all sorts in 1918, as well as youngsters fresh from college in the United States, and one husky citizen who pared ten years off his age to be sure he would get in. He was actually over sixty.
When the Panzer divisions broke the lines of an army whose soldiers were indomitable but whose high command in 1940 was still preparing for the war of 1918, the Ambulance Section swung into instant action. They lost four men in the blazing hell of Amiens, they stood by and worked twenty-four hours a day while the German planes bombed Beauvais, they participated in a dozen phases of the bitter retreat that concluded with Marshal Pétain's speech of capitulation to the relentlessly advancing Nazis. The escape from their Nazi captors was effected by a magnificently simple ruse. And, at last, with almost unbelievable luck holding to the very end, Mr. Muir and most of his comrades of the Service got across the border.
Here are unforgettable pictures of modern warfare, of the effects of bombing, of the deadly work of Fifth Columnists, of the machine-like efficiency of the Nazi juggernaut and the fanatic automata who carry out Adolf Hitler's will to power, and of Paris under German rule; a tragic portrayal of defeated France; a warning to America, and a vision of the day when France will break her shackles and rise again.