Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, November 14, 2022

The Origins of the American Volunteer Ambulance Services

American Drivers from the Norton-Harjes Group

By Patrick Gregory

American war volunteering efforts in Europe began as soon as hostilities commenced in early August 1914, centering in large part on ambulance and other medical relief initiatives in France. Most of these efforts had an early association with the original American Hospital, founded four years earlier in Neuilly in Paris. Members of the expatriate American business community and individuals in and associated with the U.S. embassy helped coordinate relief efforts and donated cars, money, and equipment.

In order to be able to treat battlefield wounded, a second institution, the American Ambulance Hospital (or American Military Hospital) was established on 9 August 1914, also in Neuilly, at the Lycée Pasteur. It had the backing of a number of prominent figures including Myron Herrick (1854–1929), the U.S. ambassador in the early months of the war; his wife Carolyn "Kitty" Herrick (1855–1918); wealthy donors such as Anne Harriman Vanderbilt (1861–1940); and Herrick’s immediate predecessor as ambassador, Robert Bacon (1860–1919). The hospital was soon treating wounded soldiers ferried from the front during the First Battle of the Marne in early September. The work was aided by volunteer ambulance drivers, often young Americans who found themselves in Europe at the commencement of war; and it was in this direction of ambulance transport that relief efforts would increasingly focus.

In the latter part of 1914 and early 1915, three distinct ambulance units emerged: the Harjes Formation or Morgan-Harjes Ambulance Corps founded by H. Herman Harjes (1872–1926), senior partner of the Morgan-Harjes investment bank (an early French subsidiary of Morgan Stanley); the American Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps or "Anglo-American" Corps of the American archaeologist Richard Norton (1872–1918); and the third, the American Ambulance Field Service, later shortened (in summer 1916) to "American Field Service" or AFS.

American Ambulances in Italy

In early October 1914, Harjes and his wife, Frederica Berwind Harjes (1877?–1954), a member of the American Ambulance Hospital board, set up a mobile field hospital comprising several surgeons, orderlies, and drivers and set off to work in the Compiègne-Montdidier sector north of Paris, providing medical assistance for the French army. Their work continued through the autumn and winter of 1914–15 but increasingly, with more use by the French authorities of the mobile ambulance aspect of their operation, the drivers and vehicles began to operate independently of the medical facilities. In turn, more young American men were attracted to volunteer for work in this more active role. Harjes dropped the hospital branch in mid-February 1915.

An element of ambulance duty that began to cause frustration for Harjes drivers and those of the other corps now operating in the field was that the French Army was reluctant to allow the Americans to operate in or from frontline postes de secours (advanced dressing stations), given their status as nationals of a neutral power. The French feared that volunteers might harbor pro-German sympathies. Instead, the drivers were restricted to more routine "jitney" work, ferrying the sick and wounded from incoming sanitary trains to hospitals in rearguard towns and cities.

American Ambulances on the Champagne Battlefield East of Reims

Richard Norton’s "Anglo-American" Corps began around the same time as Harjes and allied itself with the British Red Cross (BRC) after the American Ambulance Hospital refused to sponsor it. The hospital was initially unwilling to develop a large ambulance wing. The BRC helped underwrite some of Norton’s operating costs and used the corps to distribute supplies. Although technically attached to the BRC in Boulogne, the corps carried out most of its work in the following months under the auspices of the French Second Army some 70 miles to the southeast. Norton’s relationship with the BRC was a strained one, with Norton finding his sponsor inflexible and administratively cumbersome. By December 1915 he joined Harjes—who had begun such a relationship six months earlier—in forging a link with the American (National) Red Cross (ANRC or ARC) instead. At the end of 1916 the Harjes and Norton corps merged into one ambulance unit, the Norton-Harjes Formation under the ARC banner.

1 comment:

  1. Robert W. Service was a volunteer driver with the American Red Cross. At this time he was already famed as the immensely successful and wealthy 'Bard of The Yukon' ('two of his best, just absolute gems, 'The Cremation Of Sam Magee' and 'The Shooting Of Dan McGrew', can be viewed as Youtube renderings)
    Regards to all!
    Lee Edward Branch P.H.D.