- Historic Sites
The American Field Service
EQUIPMENT WAS HARD TO COME BY, RED TAPE WAS RAMPANT. BUT AMERICAN VOLUNTEERS IN FRANCE BUILT AN AMBULANCE CORPS THAT PERFORMED BRILLIANTLY IN THE EARLY YEARS OF WORLD WAR I
December 1974 | Volume 26, Issue 1
As for money, the ambulance service was initially no more than an insignificant line item in the budget of the American Hospital, whose fund-raising activities in America were under the direction of a New York banker named William Hereford. While the hospital was willing to accept cash gifts earmarked for the purchase of ambulances (at four hundred dollars each), this did not provide Andrew with any working capital. As he noted rather grimly at the time: The trouble here is that things are done by retail and without much foresight. As soon as we have exactly the number of cars and men needed at the moment, somebody on the Committee writes or cables Hereford in New York that we have all we need. We ought to handle things on a larger scale, and have a reserve on hand of at least ten to fifteen cars. We ought to be prepared long in advance for the great Armageddon that is surely coming.
To begin raising funds independently Andrew installed his friend and Gloucester neighbor Henry Davis Sleeper as his campaign manager for the United States. A widely reputed architect and decorator, Sleeper had built an extraordinary house (now a museum) called Beauport two doors away from Andrew’s own home, Red Roof; it was located on the narrow strip of rocky land enclasping Gloucester Harbor, known as Eastern Point. He and Andrew shared a number of colorful friends, including Mrs. Jack Gardner, still very spry at seventy-five, who placed her Boston palace, Fenway Court, at Sleeper’s disposal for fund-raising functions. Sleeper relied on their young friends John Hays Hammond, Jr., and Leslie Buswell as henchmen. Scion of the famous mining engineer, Hammond was on the threshold of a distinguished career as an inventor and antiquarian. Buswell, an itinerant English actor, had abandoned his position as juvenile lead in Cyril Maude’s touring troupe to work for the ambulance service, first as a volunteer driver and then as a propagandist, subsequently touring the Far West like a second Oscar Wilde. Andrew and Sleeper also shared the friendship of the distinguished portraitist Cecilia Beaux, whose postwar portraits of Clemenceau, Admiral Beatty, and Cardinal Mercier capped a career comparable to Mary Cassatt’s. Another Gloucester neighbor was Caroline Sinkler, a maiden lady from Charleston, who by then had earned the title “enchantress of Philadelphia.” These redoubtable women also threw themselves whole-heartedly into the drumbeating activities.
But it was tough going. Andrew’s service had to compete for funds not only with the American Hospital itself but also with the American Red Cross, the Norton-Harjes ambulance service, the Lafayette Escadrille, and other organizations of less serious purpose. But gradually, almost imperceptibly, the flow of funds swelled from a trickle to a steady stream. Since the volunteer drivers paid their own passage and living expenses, these funds could be invested entirely in equipment. Apart from the secretarial staff in Boston and Paris, no one received a cent of compensation for this ambulance work. Inevitably donations to Sleeper in Boston began to supplant those that would otherwise have gone to Hereford in New York. Bacon had to referee as best he could, writing Andrew early in 1916: I am terribly sorry that Harry Sleeper felt that my telegram was in any way intended as criticism. It was simply meant to avoid confusion which was arising in many minds. Mrs. Bacon and I are really doing our best to back you up, and Hereford is helping a lot with the details of men, and money, and cars. Don’t let up for a minute in your enthusiasm. Hold on to your sense of humor, and don’t take too tight hold of the handle-bars. This is what I am constantly saying to myself. We must all fight this fight out together, for the cause is the finest perhaps that you and I ever had to work for, and I am in it with you to a finish, in spite of the difficulties and disagreeable features and personalities, whom I will not name.