Skip to main content

The American Field Service

May 2024
26min read


“Who knows?” Piatt Andrew wrote Isabella Stewart Gardner from shipboard on Christmas night of 1914, “we may spend the winter carting the groceries from Paris to Neuilly.” He had volunteered to drive an ambulance for the American Hospital in France, but beyond that his prospects were utterly uncertain. Yet within months he was to organize and direct an ambulance service that would serve virtually the entire French army until after America’s entry into World War I .


“Who knows?” Piatt Andrew wrote Isabella Stewart Gardner from shipboard on Christmas night of 1914, “we may spend the winter carting the groceries from Paris to Neuilly.” He had volunteered to drive an ambulance for the American Hospital in France, but beyond that his prospects were utterly uncertain. Yet within months he was to organize and direct an ambulance service that would serve virtually the entire French army until after America’s entry into World War I .


While the Battle of the Marne ground to a stalemate that fall, Piatt Andrew was embroiled in his first congressional campaign, seeking to unseat a fellow Republican (and nephew of “Mrs. Jack”), Augustus Peabody Gardner, as representative for Essex County in Massachusetts. Although he enlivened his vote-getting activities by resorting to a hydroplane (a sensation in those days) to tour the North Shore from Swampscott to Newburyport, he took a severe drubbing at the hands of the “Gardner machine” in the primary election on September ai, 1914. And so the forty-one-year-old bachelor, ex-Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, ex-director of the United States Mint, and ex-professor of economics at Harvard, was free to close his house in Gloucester and so off to war.

“I am relying on you,” Andrew wrote Robert Bacon, “to find me work with the American Hospital in Paris.” Bacon, who had served Pierpont Morgan, Theodore Roosevelt, and William Howard Tait in a succession of key positions, was president of the hospital. Luckily, he owed Andrew a favor for having employed his son, Robert Low Bacon, as personal assistant in the Treasury Department during the Taft administration. But there was no vacancy in the management hierarchy of the hospital, and the best Bacon could suggest was a job in its motor pool as a volunteer driver.

Upon the outbreak of hostilities in August the multifarious American colony in France immediately rallied around the American Hospital at Neuilly-sur-Seine, a little suburb northwest of Paris. Even before Von Muck’s troops reached the Marne, its two prime movers, Robert Bacon and Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt, had persuaded the French government to provide the larger facilities needed for the care of wounded soldiers. Soon the American Hospital found itself installed in a huge, brand-new redbrick school building, also in Neuilly, originally designed as the Lycée Pasteur. One wing of this six-hundred-bed medical establishment, however, was reserved for its transportation activities and included a few small offices, a tool shed, and a garage. A motley collection of vehicles donated by American tourists and expatriates for ambulance work stood in the courtyard. From time to time, whenever a group of volunteer drivers could be collected, these cars were dispatched on forays toward the fighting front, somewhat like an itinerant circus. This had not proved a very auspicious method of managing the service. By the close of 1914, in fact, the French army had summarily notified hospital officials that their disorganized amateur drivers would henceforth be unwelcome in the vicinity of the front lines. The British Expeditionary Force, it is true, had agreed to accept a few squads of ambulances on the narrow sector it held at the Channel, but solely to undertake the transportation of wounded men behind the lines from rail stations to base hospitals scattered throughout the countryside. By the time Andrew reported for work at Neuilly early in January, 1915, two such squads were in service in the Pas de Calais, and another was in the process of formation to be subsequently disnatched to Dunkirk.


Inevitably the doctors running the American Hospital regarded ambulance work as ancillary to their main purpose. The American ambassador, William Sharp, the consul general, Frank Mason, and other leading members of the American community in Paris sensed that the work could be of immense significance, but there was no agreement as to how it should be organized. Its management had been placed in the hands of a transportation committee of the hospital, chaired by an expatriate engineer named Laurence Benet. He had appointed an executive secretary, who in turn delegated most of the operating decisions to an amateur military historian, appropriately named A. W. Kipling. This gentleman adopted the title “Captain of Automobiles.” All three were ensconced in large groundfloor offices in the main building of the Lycée Pasteur and rarely soiled their hands with axle grease.

Before he could reasonably attempt to do something about this state of affairs, Andrew first had to prove his worth as a driver. “I spend most of my days kneeling in the mud in the freezing rain, practising the business of painter, carpenter, chauffeur and washer in turn,” he noted in his journal. “My section is made up of a fine lot of fellows; two or three were artists in peace time, one an architect in New York; some are students just out of college; some, like Regis Post, are millionaires, some paupers. There is even one ex-Assistant Secretary of the Treasury. We are like les cadets de Gascogne .” After two weeks of bureaucratic delay Andrew’s section was finally sent off to Dunkirk, where he was immediately put to work on the night shift, meeting trainfuls of wounded men and driving them to neighboring hospitals or to the docks, whence hospital ships took them to Boulogne or Brest.

“Five to eight trains arrive sometime during every twenty-four hours,” he wrote, and out of these trains hobble or are carried the grist of the war in our vicinity, from four to six hundred men daily—men with their eyes or heads or chins heavily bandaged, men with their arms or legs in slings, men shot through the shoulder or hips or stomach, men with frozen feet, men weakened by typhoid or pneumonia, men broken down and scarcely able to stand from months of exposure and anxiety in the trenches, men pale and yellow with sickness and unshaven for weeks. The French soldiers wear the long blue coats and red trousers made familiar to us in the pictures by Détaille and de Neuville of the soldiers of 1870, and with their untrimmed beards they seem very like the soldiers of our own Civil War. War has its picturesque sides, but it is a sad business. There are said to be more than six hundred thousand wounded today in the hospitals of France. All over the country, from the Channel to the Mediterranean, schools, colleges, churches, hotels, museums, town halls, and every available sort of building have been made over into hospitals. The doctors tell me that more than seventy thousand wounded and sick have passed through Dunkirk alone since the war began. There are twelve to fifteen thousand here now.

But meeting trainfuls of wounded, though incontestably useful, did not save many lives. The real challenge lay in timely transportation of freshly wounded men from the trenches to the dressing stations, usually located in or near towns close behind the lines. A severely wounded man’s chance for survival generally depended on the speed (and comfort) with which he could be conveyed from a first-aid shelter in the trenches to a station where immediate surgery or other emergency measures could be undertaken. For this reason ambulance work was inherently a transportation problem, not a medical matter. Horse-drawn ambulances in previous wars had traditionally been part and parcel of an army’s medical service, with treatment necessarily administered during the lengthy period the patient was rattling along en route. The French army had instantly grasped that the availability of motor vehicles, with their vastly greater speed and range, made it advisable to break with this tradition by subordinating their ambulance drivers to the transportation service. From the French point of view it was as unreasonable to expect doctors to organize and manage such a service as it was to require transportation experts to undertake surgical work in dressing stations. While this was also immediately obvious to Andrew, it was but dimly perceived, if at all, by those in charge of the service at the American Hospital in Neuilly. Each fighting division of the French army sorely needed a squad of ambulances, well serviced and manned by disciplined drivers, yet American volunteers eager to perform such a function were obliged to putter around in a haphazard collection of jalopies in the rear of the Allied armies.

Piatt Andrew had been driving his Model T ambulance at Dunkirk for nearly two months when Robert Bacon acted to end this impasse. Early in March Andrew was summoned back to Neuilly and offered the position of inspector general of the nascent ambulance service. This was a flossy title, but it carried little weight within the hospital hierarchy. While final authority resided with Bacon, he had to be highly circumspect in wielding it, and the chief surgeon at the hospital, Dr. Edmond Gros, regarded Andrew as little more than an annoyance. The members of the transportation committee, even less enchanted at Bacon’s intervention, were disinclined to surrender management prerogatives without stubborn resistance. “I am to go up and down the land,” Andrew observed, “inspecting and advising and making myself generally obnoxious to our several équipes .”

Instead Andrew headed straight for the headquarters of Marshal Joffre at Chantilly. He had two personal friends on the marshal’s staff, one of them the future premier of France, André Tardieu, who had been a guest lecturer in political economy at Harvard. The second was Gabriel Puaux, a young lieutenant whom Andrew had met while studying German at Jena in 1898 and who subsequently went on to a brilliant diplomatic career. These men had no difficulty introducing him to Captain (later General) Doumenc, who was serving as Joffre’s staff adviser on transportation problems. Skeptical at first, Doumenc recommended that Andrew send a section of ambulances to the French divisions fighting in the Vosges on a trial basis. The man to see, he added, was a Commandant de Montravel, in charge of all transportation for the French armies fighting in Alsace-Lorraine.

Motoring through the Marne Valley that spring of 1915 on his way to the Vosges and the crucial meeting with de Montravel, Andrew was deeply moved by what he saw: We drove on, over the battlefields of the Marne. Nothing I have seen during my three months here has so much touched me as the view of these fields. The farms have all been carefully ploughed. The women and children and old men have attended to that. But every few rods, scattered about the fields, small wooden crosses and little red, white and blue flags mark the spots where lie the bodies of the boys and men who gave their lives in those terrible days. We stopped several times and got out of the motor and uncovered our heads before graves where twenty, or thirty, or forty men had been buried together, and which farmers and passersby had covered with wreaths and flowers. On the top of many graves were placed some of the clothes and belongings of those who were buried,—here a hat, or a torn coat, or a pair of shoes, there a comb or brush, or sponge, or wallet, which might by some chance catch the eye of some wife or mother and help her to identify the whereabouts of a lost husband or son.

Arriving at French headquarters in Vittel, a watering place in the Vosges, Andrew lost no time putting his case to Commandant de Montravel. As this bluff native of Marseille later recalled the meeting: At first I thought he had come to find out what kind of work these units might do in the hinterlands, but I soon grasped that his visit had an entirely different purpose. On the evening of his arrival he confided to me his deepest desire, ardently shared by all his young colleagues—to serve at the front, to pick up the wounded from the front lines, like our own brancardiers , to look danger squarely in the face: in a word, to mingle with the soldiers of France and to share their fate!

But this was not an easy matter to arrange. De Montravel could not flatly contravene the strict injunction of his superiors against permitting foreigners to approach the front lines. But if a trial section of American volunteers could prove their worth, he agreed to do his best to persuade his superiors to relax these restrictions. This was all Andrew needed. Returning to Paris, he immediately formed an elite section of ten cars and thirteen men under the aegis of three fellow Harvardians, Lovering Hill, Richard Lawrence, and Dallas McGrew. Telling them that the future of the service now lay in their hands, he dispatched them to Vittel.

More than a half century later Dallas McGrew still vividly recalled those April days in the Vosges, when this tiny group of volunteer drivers astonished the French transport personnel with its discipline and élan. Conveying freshly wounded men from the front throughout the frosty nights and along slippery mountain roads without lights was only part of their accomplishment. For sheer military bravura McGrew remembered how they invariably had their little Ford ambulances punctiliously lined up and polished every morning at six o’clock, radiators and tanks filled, for inspection by a French officer. When this officer appeared, he invariably found the drivers standing at attention next to their cars, one foot placed on the crank protruding from the radiator. At a signal from the section chief the drivers would stamp heavily on the cranks and ten motors would spring to life simultaneously. The French had never seen anything like it. Ecstatic reports went back to Vittel and from there to Chantilly. And the American Field Service was in business.


Andrew’s next problems were equipment and money. The American automobile industry was highly fragmented in those days, and many manufacturers would have been pleased to equip ambulance sections with free samples of their products for advertising purposes. Tempting as it was to accept such offers, Andrew knew that interchangeability of spare parts was vital for his service—to accept a mixed bag of Hupmobiles, Whites, Pierce Arrows, and other makes would be fatal to this requirement. The optimum benefactor for the service was Henry Ford, whose interest Andrew tried repeatedly to enlist. But Ford, as Andrew put it, “had his own peculiar sense of philanthropy,” which left no room for donations to any organization functioning on a battlefield in any capacity whatsoever. Yet his Model T, magnificently durable, well sprung, and uniformly manufactured, was clearly more suitable than any other vehicle for ambulance work. Andrew was thus obliged to acquire Fords at retail prices and modify them into the standard ambulance that proved superior to any other in use on the battlefields of the war.


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.

Meanwhile French military authorities had begun to work closely with Andrew. Together with Doumenc he was able to hammer out an agreement whereby American ambulance units would be attached to line divisions of the French army, and the signing of this agreement at Marshal Joffre’s headquarters in mid-1915 marked the first formal recognition of the ambulance service as a quasi-independent organization. This agreement also brought Andrew a pleasant surprise: When I went to the automobile bureau in Paris from which I get my passes, the captain in charge informed me he had received word from the Grand Quartier Général that an officer was to be attached to me. He apologized for not having a lieutenant available but said he would give me a Maréchal de Logis, more or less the equivalent of a sergeant. I was not sure by any means that I wanted to have a strange and possibly uncongenial person tied to me, but there was no way out, and presently a tall, distinguished-looking soldier, who might have been a Russian general from his appearance, presented himself in broken English as my future aide. I expressed appropriate polite satisfaction, and asked him his name. He murmured four or five syllables which I did not quite catch, and I offered him my card, the one embellished with several rows of titles as is supposedly necessary here in France, and he presented me his. It read simply “Le Duc de Clermont-Tonnerre.” So the Duke now travels with us as my aide.

Motoring through northern France with the duke was not without unexpected rewards, as Andrew recorded a short time later: As we were rolling along, M. de Clermont-Tonnerre casually remarked that if I were willing to run a few miles off our course he would be grateful, because he could see one of his houses that he had not visited since the mobilization, nearly a year ago. We could spend the night there, he added. So about dusk we rolled into a pretty French town called Ancy-le-Franc, and then through heavy iron gates into a park bordered by century-old trees, and suddenly came upon a tremendous thick-walled château of the time of Louis XIV . The silence of its court-yard and the faint rustling in the long allées that led away from it, down mysterious dream-like vistas, contrasted sharply with what we had been experiencing the day before. We went through one room after another, with fine old fireplaces and heavy-beamed ceilings … and through the flickering candlelight loomed the pictures on the walls of François Premier, and Diane de Poitiers, and the Duke’s ancestors of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Clermonts, Tonnerres, Noailles, and other famous old names of pre-Republican France. The walls were fully ten feet thick. There was a lovely chapel with a balcony, and a room for the archives of the family, the walls of which were panelled with the crests of the different branches. That night I slept in a damask-hung bed in a vaulted room, and from its walls looked down on me portraits of men in armor and beautiful women who, three centuries ago, had walked and laughed and loved and suffered within these same walls. Before I blew out the candle I must admit I wondered which of the panels in the walls were entrances from unseen passages, and what I would do if the wall opened during the night and some wraith flitted across the room. In the morning as I opened my window I looked out on a decorative canal running down through a broad tree-bordered lawn to an artificial lake, and in its center was an island upon which, almost lost in verdure, was perched a picturesque little vine-covered love nest of Louis XV vintage, called “La Folie.” I thought of the proverb, “ Qui vit sans folie n’est pas si sage qu’il croit ” [He who lives without folly is not as wise as he thinks].

And, it soon turned out, the duke had other houses at Glisolles and Achy, both conveniently near the front.

But this pleasant interlude did not last long. There was serious trouble at the American Hospital, where Dr. Gros and the members of the transportation committee were increasingly peeved at Andrew. As the months passed, Andrew’s service, which was recruiting volunteer drivers from colleges in all parts of the country, began to attract more attention than the hospital itself. With an inborn instinct for publicity Andrew arranged for newsreels of ambulance activities in the field to be shown at university clubs in major cities across America. By 1916 it was clear to him that he would have to sever the ties binding his service to the hospital. But to do so he needed the consent not only of Robert Bacon but also of the redoubtable Anne H. Vanderbilt. The second wife of William Kissam Vanderbilt, she was a leading figure in the American community in France and wielded considerable power within the hospital hierarchy. She was also very fond (overly so, in Mrs. Bacon’s opinion) of its president, Robert Bacon. Andrew described her in these words: Mrs. Vanderbilt has a man’s intelligence and force and a woman’s grace and charm, and what I particularly like, a fine individual perspective about the things in life that are worthwhile. She reminds me often of Mrs. Gardner, and above all in this, that she never thinks twice of her physical comfort when it might interfere with an interesting experience.

Two factors finally persuaded Mrs. Vanderbilt and Bacon to give Andrew the independence he wanted. In the first place, the performance of the ambulance service during the first phase of the Battle of Verdun, between February and June, 1916, was beyond praise. Scraping together every car and driver he could obtain, Andrew threw five ambulance sections into this maelstrom. On and around the voie sacrée , by day and night, these men performed with heroic endurance. “Our sections,” Andrew wrote, are ranged all along the Verdun front, from Mort Homme to the Fort de Tavannes—the most serious work that any of our sections have ever done—work which only begins at dusk, and which ends at dawn, driving without lights of any kind over shell-pitted roads often cluttered with trucks, or horse-drawn artillery, or marching troops, avoiding here a wrecked machine, there a dead horse, the sky flashing incessantly as with heat lightning, the air vibrating with the roar of thousands of cannon, shells whistling by overhead and arriving in the neighboring fields, all the time signal rockets shooting into the sky and leaving now three red stars, now five green stars, or perhaps a trail of twenty stars sent up from the Observatory posts to tell the artillerymen further back how to direct their fire. The visits to the dressing stations—sometimes in farm houses half in ruins, sometimes in tunneled holts in the ground in the open fields—wounded soldiers, shot in the stomach, the head, the arms, the legs, sometimes whispering their experiences, sometimes inert and silent, I can’t describe them—but I can never forget. Verdun is written forever in the world’s history, but for the boys of our service it is written deep in their hearts. I think of a sunny morning in Dugny, about three miles from Verdun, an improvised tent in a dewy field with benches and a table—our boys coming in to breakfast telling gaily of the night’s work and excitements…—a few yards away a row of six dead soldiers lying on the grass carefully arranged, their overcoats over their faces—in a neighboring tent thirty or so other soldiers coughing and racking from an attack with gas. I think of a visit to the improvised hospital at Vadelaincourt. Outside rows and rows and rows of little wooden crosses—some 1800 of them marking the graves of those who have died in the hospital since it opened its doors four months ago. Inside rows and rows of cots with pale unshaven faces, tired eyes, bloody bandages—those who are too severely wounded to be carried further back from the lines. I think of Victor Chapman of the Lafayette Escadrille—smiling, modest, attractive, whom I saw only a few days before he went tumbling from the sky to his death in the German lines. He was a great friend of our boys of Section 2 and with them the night before he died. How like an old Roman his father, who cabled back “Today France is fighting for the rest of the world, and all who died in her cause are blest!” These are little personal threads in the great tapestry of Verdun which begins to unfurl thirty miles away in the clouds of dust that float above roads over which 12,000 motor trucks are moving to and from the city. It stretches to the hills on the horizon north and east and west of the city, where columns of smoke are continually rising from the hail of shells that fall day in and day out, night and day, along a front of at least twenty-five miles. It includes the blue sky with its dozens of “saucisses”—observation balloons—with little birdlike aeroplanes forever coming and going, often surrounded by puffs of white smoke from the land guns attacking them. It covers miles and miles of wooded hills crammed with soldiers’ huts, with artillery, with all the paraphernalia of war, and sheltered villages where thousands of horses are camped, as if hundreds of circuses were congregating there. But above all, it includes an unforgettable picture of the soldiers of France pouring in and out of every doorway and village street, trailing over every road. We stopped to snap a detachment passing through the town of Dugny the other day on the way to the front and one of them called out gaily, “That’s right—take a photograph of the dead.”


After this it was difficult for anyone to regard the service as a mere auxiliary to the hospital. Scouting around for suitable quarters for an independent service, Andrew then managed to persuade Baron Hottinguer and Comtesse de la Villestreux to offer him exclusive use of a glorious eighteenth-century house, surrounded by acres of park and garden, in the middle of Paris. Located in the heart of Passy, opposite the house where Balzac had written much of La Comédie Humaine , the estate at 21 Rue Raynouard was a five-acre Eden. The main building was augmented by an orangerie in which Rousseau had strolled while composing Le Devin du Village . And its park had changed little from the days when Benjamin Franklin had promenaded under its chestnut trees with his host, La Tour d’Auvergne. It was a far cry from the erstwhile tool shed back at Neuilly.

Faced with this enchanting prospect, Robert Bacon and Mrs. Vanderbilt gave in and granted Andrew permission to move the service to the new location. That was the end of its connection with the American Hospital. As if to underscore its independence, the word “ambulance,” which in French connoted the hospital itself, was removed from the title. Self-financed and firmly bound to the French army, it became the proud and ubiquitous American Field Service, a title it has retained to this day.

The success of the service was attributable, of course, not only to Andrew’s intelligence and persistence but also to the quality of the men who served under him. A more brilliant and less docile group could scarcely be imagined. The subsequent literary achievements of American Field Service volunteers only hint at the wealth and diversity of talent within its ranks. Its roster included the novelists Charles Nordhoff and Julien Green, the editors Russell Davenport and Edward Weeks, the illustrators C. Leroy Baldridge and Samuel Chamberlain, the poet and critic Malcolm Cowley, and the playwright Sidney Howard.

Such a group also meant temperaments difficult to deal with, and perhaps the single best decision Andrew made as inspector general of the nascent service was the choice of Stephen Galatti as his deputy. A year after Andrew had plucked him from a section of drivers serving in Alsace during the fighting around the Hartmannsweilerkopf, Andrew noted: “Galatti is always a wonderful help, his judgment always good, his energy and devotion boundless.” And John Fisher wrote this tribute to Galatti for the A.F.S. Bulletin: When you walked into 21 Rue Raynouard in the spring of 1917 you saw incessant movement:—baggage, supplies, and troops of green young recruits in an endless procession. The office force, harried with overwork, paid little attention to you. If you got one of them into a corner and told him what you wanted, he passed the buck wearily to someone else. Finally, if you persisted in your quest, someone steered you to a door marked “Mr. Galatti.” You went in—he always managed to find time to see everyone—and noticed first the most disorderly desk in the world.… You could barely look over the top of it and see Galatti sitting on the other side. You stated your case and he listened to you. Very likely while you were talking he answered the phone and made illegible notes about unrelated subjects; but that didn’t matter. He heard you, understood you. Sometimes he told you that you couldn’t have what you wanted. That was final.… Sometimes, if he thought you were talking nonsense, he didn’t answer at all but just listened and listened until bye and bye you got tired and went away.… But generally, after you had rambled through your plea, he said something brief and decisive: “The best train is 8 A.M. Gare de l’Est”; or “Try 26 Avenue de Ternes”; or “Your cousin is in Section 8. He’ll be down on permission in a day or two”; or just “I’ll see about it.” And he always did see about it.… And such days he put in! Selecting the’ right men to fill vacancies, sending off reassuring telegrams to parents anxious about their offspring, locating missing livrets, ordering brass donor plates and seeing to it they got on the right ambulances, organizing new sections and if, as often happened, a wire from Bordeaux landed on his desk at 5 P.M. announcing that 50 men would be arriving unexpectedly at 7:30 P.M. , he would just hustle a little harder than usual and have enough cars at the station to carry them and their baggage, and supper and beds would be waiting for them. And if a convoy were leaving next morning at six he would be on hand to see them off.


These were the grandes heures of the American Field Service in its early days under Andrew. “Busy every instant of my waking hours,” he noted, “and there is nothing like hard work that succeeds, nothing like it under God’s sun.” For Andrew the ultimate reward came with the United States declaration of war on April 6, 1917, and perhaps historians have not adequately recognized the role played by his service in leading up to it. “The spring is backward this year,” Andrew wrote, and winter withdrew its grasp reluctantly, but today the sun shone bright through a clear blue sky, after weeks of rain and fitful snow, and it was beautiful to see the fresh flags fluttering in the breeze. What we have longed for during these two long years at last came true,—the stars and stripes and the tricolored flag of France waving together from hundreds of balconies. Driving down the Avenue de l’Opéra, I nearly ran over a man, my eyes were so dimmed by tears. At last! To the people of France it means much that a country which has so long and so patiently tried to be impartial has finally given its decision. These are great days. Better late than never. Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding fine.

But what was to become of the American Field Service when the American Expeditionary Force reached French shores? Could it plausibly continue as an independent organization? Andrew at once played for the highest stakes, proposing to use the field service as one of the foundation stones of the AEF and thereafter to maintain it as a separate unit in the United States Army’s table of organization. Had Charles Evans Hughes been elected President in 1916 and General Leonard Wood been returned to his position as army chief of staff, Andrew’s bid might well have succeeded, for the French authorities made no secret of their preference for immediate reinforcement of the organization already in the field. Indeed, when Marshal Joffre visited America with the French War Commission early in May, he paid a startling tribute to such a small group of volunteer drivers by requesting that the United States undertake the transportation of all their wounded. But like Leonard Wood, whose close relationship with Theodore Roosevelt made him persona non grata with President Wilson, Andrew was out of the command sweepstakes from the beginning. Neither General Pershing nor Surgeon General Gorgas was interested in the American Field Service. Command positions in the AEF , they insisted, would be given solely to professional soldiers and not to outsiders like Andrew. And so the United States Army established an ambulance organization of its own as part of its medical service. It was patterned on the field service but ten times larger in men and resources. The only concession to the existing organization was exemption of its volunteers from selective service. There was no commensurate position in the army table of organization for its inspector general. Andrew was offered the rank of major, Galatti a captaincy. The two men were then subordinated to a mixed bag of colonels appointed by the Surgeon General’s office, none of whom had any practical experience with ambulance work or familiarity with conditions in France. Meanwhile a huge encampment was established at Allentown, Pennsylvania, for the United States Army Ambulance Corps, and during the next two years no fewer than twenty thousand men were trained there and sent to serve with the French and Italian armies. The American Field Service was formally merged with this organization in September, 1917. After the war the USAAC was summarily abolished.

Andrew took it all philosophically. “Life is all ups and downs,” he wrote Henry Sleeper shortly after the merger. We have had our big days and are now in the midst of many disappointments, but we have been doing everything possible to facilitate the militarization of … the Field Service. I finally found a very fine American officer in the Quartermaster’s Department, a Colonel Pope, who entered into the spirit of the plan with enthusiasm, agreed to enlist as many men as wanted to enlist, to give commissions to the men whom I recommended, and furthermore to bring over from America something like a thousand drivers during the month of October, to pass them through the Automobile Service in the French Army for training, and then eventually to withdraw certain sections from the French Automobile Service as they were needed by the American Army. Unfortunately, Pope had few efficient officers at his disposal to handle the details of this affair. The first man he sent, a Colonel, was a blustering egotistical braggart who had no authority but pretended to be the man behind the throne whose every word General Pershing was eagerly awaiting to hear. He visited the service, talked to the men, inflated his chest before the French officers, and was a fortnight later sent back to America. Then a Captain was sent up to Soissons and Jouaignes to enlist our men, but on the day of his arrival he displayed another American proclivity and became dead drunk. The French officers had to put him to bed, and except for intervals when he went back to Paris to get more liquor, he was drunk continually for nearly a week.… Finally, he died of “heart failure,” and according to the papers, being the first American officer to die in service in France, the French Army authorities rendered special military honors in connection with his obsequies.

Andrew and Galatti served their new masters loyally and uncomplainingly for the rest of the war. To serve France was compensation enough. But the American Field Service had temporarily ceased to exist. After the armistice Andrew stayed in Paris long enough to attend the founding convention of the American Legion at the Cirque d’Hiver in March, 1919, and to ponder how his service could be revivified. For it was inconceivable to him that such fierce dedication to the French cause— Tous and tout pour la France had been the motto he had given the service—would not find embodiment in a lasting institution. At length he hit upon the idea of transforming the American Field Service into a program of fellowships for American students at French universities. This idea was well received, and with more than three hundred thousand dollars still in the till from unexpended donations the program could be put into effect immediately. Its finest moment came in 1922, when Georges Clemenceau, to the dismay of rival organizations, donated the proceeds of his sole United States lecture tour to help fund these scholarships. But despite this triumph the program suffered both from a lack of qualified applicants and a paucity of suitable vacancies. Moreover, the Depression years inevitably saw donations dwindle to a trickle, and between the wars a total of only a hundred and sixty-five such fellowships could be funded and awarded.

Meanwhile Andrew ran for Congress again in 1921 and this time, aided by the determined support of the American Legion, was overwhelmingly elected to fill the seat previously held by Augustus Gardner, who had beaten him so soundly nearly a decade before. Re-elected to seven consecutive terms with ever-increasing majorities, Andrew led a tenacious but unavailing campaign for a generous settlement of all prearmistice debts of Allied nations to the United States. Although the romance between France and America ended in the disenthrallment of the igao’s, Andrew never lost an opportunity to summon up remembrance of past glories.

He was spared the agony of 1940, dying at his home in Gloucester on June 3, 1936, at the age of sixty-three. Succeeding him as head of the quiescent field service his erstwhile deputy, Stephen Galatti, found these words to describe his predecessor as he remembered him during the great days in France: He couldn’t bear to have people around him who didn’t want to do the job. He couldn’t understand how anyone could be taking part in such stupendous events without throwing every effort into what he was doing.… It wasn’t smooth sailing by any means. Half the story was the jealousy, the clash of wills. If Andrew had catered to everyone, the service would have collapsed. There were all kinds of Americans associated with the war work, and many only to be fashionable or for some personal gain.… But Andrew had his vision, always. And he wouldn’t let anything stop him.

At the outbreak of World War II Galatti immediately organized a section of ambulances and dispatched it to France under the command of Levering Hill, who had been a section leader in the original A.F.S. Hill proceeded to obtain from General Gamelin the same privileged status Andrew had won for the service twenty-five years before. But during the drôle de guerre there was no ambulance work; and when the German offensive began in May, 1940, the American Field Service ambulances hastened to Amiens, only to be bagged at once by General Guderian’s tanks. After the French surrender Galatti offered the American Field Service to the British government, and, with Churchill’s hearty endorsement, new sections were attached to the British Eighth Army in Egypt in 1941. The service thus once again stood in the vanguard of American participation.

After 1945 Galatti transformed the American Field Service into a student-exchange organization of worldwide scope. Gentler than Andrew in his style of management, he was no less stubborn in pursuit of his objectives. Admired and loved by two generations of students, American and foreign, he died, replete with triumph, in 1964. Today the American Field Service awaits yet another transformation, but meanwhile the bust of Andrew by Walker Hancock standing at A.F.S. headquarters in New York honors the martial dedication to which the service owes its origin. And at the unjustly neglected Musée de la Coopération Franco-Américaine at Blérancourt, a little town thirty miles northeast of Paris, this same likeness of Andrew, ensconced in a place of honor, surveys the courtyard as if to evoke events and sentiments that now seem distant not merely by decades but by centuries.


We hope you enjoy our work.

Please support this magazine of trusted historical writing, now in its 75th year, and the volunteers that sustain it with a donation to American Heritage.