IF you like excitement I'd say take a steamer for France---and join the Ambulance Corps on the French front overlooking Verdun. A few steps forward to the front-line trenches and you're in the zone of what the lamented Charles Frohman described as "The Great Adventure."
I was there and I bless my lucky stars that I'm home again for a while with a whole skin and a large and growing appetite that I brought back with me. I served as an ambulance man, a sort of scene-shifter in the wings of the greatest tragedy ever staged. Now, as I write, it is running in its fourth year. My duties required me to bring back from the battlefield the maimed and dying, and deposit them in places of comparative safety. Also to the sheltered huts, further back, where first aid could be given.
If anyone had told me, on January 1, 1917, that in less than sixty days I would be over there on the French front, taking a minor part in the biggest show on earth, I probably would have slammed back at him, "Quit your kidding." Nevertheless, it all happened---I went, and of my own volition, joined the Ambulance section of the French Army, and stayed in the game until my own country took over that service. Then I came home for a visit, having served practically nine months, but I am going back soon, this time with Uncle Sam---I have already enlisted.
Just how I made up my mind to go in the first place is yet something of a mystery. Here I was in New York, holding down a good position at generous pay. New York is always entertaining, and at intervals my work took me out over the country to other cities, under first-class conditions. Therefore, it was not from lack of novelty or interest in my own affairs. that I went forth in search of trouble.
As I think back upon it I presume I must. have talked myself into going. Notwithstanding that we, over here, were seemingly out of the war, everybody I knew, at home or on my travels, talked war, and I did also.
While dining with a friend one evening in a New York restaurant we got into the war talk game rather earnestly. He was sure he would go over were it not that he couldn't possibly pass the test.
"If it was Uncle Sam that was fighting I might try to go anyway," said he.
It was at this point in our conversation that I heard myself say:
"Well, I think I'll go and help France; she: was always good to us."
My voice sounded strange to my own ears as. I said this, and the next instant our eyes met..
Bing! I realized that I had started something down deep within me. Also that a hand reached forth across the table which I took into my own. It was the hand of James A. Gilmore, "Fighting Jim," as he is affectionately known to millions of baseball fans all over the world.
"Bully for you!" he shouted. "What part of the service will you go in for? Army---Navy---Red Cross?" There was a wistful look in his eyes.
"Red Cross, I think."
I heard myself say this, but, as a matter of fact, I had no thought whatever of what I would do. To tell the honest truth, I felt as if I had jumped off of the Brooklyn Bridge. Not that the idea frightened me. Nothing like that. If I had made a real decision, and I began to feel that I had, it didn't seem to disturb me unduly. There was no reason why I shouldn't go. If there was a reluctant feeling it was on account of my Mother---but I knew .her too well to believe that she would hold me back from such a righteous cause. As to my Father, why he'd boost the game. I was sure of that. Anyhow the conviction grew that I had cast the die, and by the look on the face of my friend I knew that I had committed myself.
For the next half hour I sat quietly munching my food and listening the while to my good friend opposite. It was during this time that he showed his loyalty to the great cause. I was told to outfit myself and spare no expense ---he would help foot the bill. A few days later, when I was all but on the point of sailing away toward the great whirlpool of disaster, he and other good friends presented me with an auto-ambulance, fully equipped.
Proud! grateful! I thought I'd drop dead with joy before the day came to walk the gangway of the big ship that was to bear me away from peace to war.
Recalling my sudden decision to enter the war, on many occasions I have asked other Americans why they volunteered. In no instance did any of them give a solid reason right off the reel. I believe the answer given by a young Philadelphian, who was a member of our party on board ship, fairly sums up most cases of volunteer enlistment. "Damifino," said he, with a shrug of his well-set shoulders and a merry twinkle in his eyes.
Same here---his answer is mine. I don't know why I went, but I am glad I did. I've seen things that horrified me---that terrified me. I have been within arm's length of the Grim Reaper many times, but I got used to it all. It became a part of the day's work, but never to the point where I failed to shoot the gas into my motor in order to get out of reach of the "big ones" that flew my way.
But I'm getting ahead of my story. After making my decision to go I did as everyone else had to do---saw Eliot Norton, a New York lawyer who contributed his time in passing upon the qualifications of the men desiring to enter this branch of service in connection with the Red Cross. He seemed glad to have me go; therefore, I soon found myself busily engaged in purchasing supplies and equipment generally. I also started to "pulling the strings" for my passport. In fact, I went to Washington in order to get quick action, so that I could sail on a French liner, along with forty other volunteers. My auto was to follow on another boat.
On shipboard all hands fraternized at once. It was a gay party withal, and democratic in spirit. Big family names didn't count for a cent, much to the relief of the fine fellows who bore them. There was a general realization that we were bound on a serious mission and that there was no better time possible in which to get acquainted. Therefore, the time passed quickly enough on our way to the port of Bordeaux, our gateway to Paris. A surprise awaited us there---third-class coaches, instead of luxurious Pullmans, to which we all were accustomed. Bare wooden seats for an all-night ride were not so soft as a feather-bed, but at that we were lucky, for we were told that this long ride was usually made in freight cars. It was a mighty rocky ride, though. There was compensation in the fact, however, that we journeyed through the celebrated Jardin de France, the most beautiful landscape in all that beautiful land. But our legs and bodies ached, almost unbearably, as we came to the end of the journey.
Arriving in Paris we went straight to headquarters, No. 7 Rue Francois Premier, French Headquarters of the American Red Cross in Paris. There we signed up for voluntary service with the French Army, and then started out to complete our equipment and obtain uniforms. Four glorious days followed, for Paris is great, even in war times, and we realized that we would not get back there for at least six months.
Then came preliminary training at Sandricourt. This took ten days, and from thence we were hurried forward to our Division assignment for training near the Eastern front. No use to go into detail concerning the red tape necessary to enlistment. It is enough to say that there is plenty of it. After every little thing bad been attended to I found myself tagged for identification as follows:
Edward R. Coyle.
AMBULANCE work in the French Army ,comes under the heading of what is known as the Sanitary Service. To each division there is attached a Sanitary Section which serves that division only. Although subject to the orders of the Staff Officers, it is looked upon as a part of the Medical Department, and is directly under the supervision of the Medical Staff. The Service, like everything else in the war to-day, has undergone radical changes.
In the early days of the war, the Sanitary Section of the French Army proved most inefficient. It could not cope with new conditions. Speed in conveying the wounded soldier to the proper hospital was vital; so also was the transfer of cases from the front-line trenches and dressing stations to hospitals where complete service and attention could be given. To facilitate development in this all-important work took time and careful thought to determine just which course would meet the increased demands with greatest efficiency.
While the reorganization was being evolved in the minds of the men who had these matters in charge for the French Government, the German Armies were most actively engaging the French all along their frontier, and it was necessary, for the time being, to meet the situation in whatever make-shift way it might be possible until the desired perfection in this branch of service could finally be attained.
The French were fortunate with the sanitary sections they had organized up to that time and which formed a regular part of their medical service in connection with the army. In order to take care of a great portion of the extra work that was thrown upon them, it must be acknowledged that, with the equipment they had, they carried on the work in a wonderful way.
In Paris lived many people who were able to render service to the French Government during these days, and among them was Mr. Harjes of Morgan & Harjes Company, Bankers. Quick to see the need of expert ambulance work in connection with the army, he equipped his own automobile and donated it to the French Government.
Through his example other people in Paris were induced to make donations of a similar character, and thus, through the generosity of a small group of Mr. Harjes' immediate friends, Sanitary Section, Unit Five, was formed and became a permanent and famous feature in ambulance work, setting the pace followed later on by the French Government. Mr. Harjes became responsible for the efficiency of this service, spending most of his time in the field personally conducting the operations, and, by his untiring efforts, made it the standard of all other units. About this time Mr. Richard Norton also realized the ever-increasing demand upon the sanitary section service of the French Army. He got into communication with his very close friend, Mr. Arthur Kemp, who was at that time residing in England, and induced him to equip his own private car and bring it over and enter the work with him. Mr. Norton formed Sanitary Section Unit Seven, and himself went into the field as its head. He drove one of the cars himself and lived with the boys at the front, as also did Mr. Kemp.
The wonderful work that was carried on by the volunteer ambulance services quickly attracted the attention of the French authorities. Letters written by the boys of these sections, describing in detail to friends in America the work they were carrying on, resulted in a large number of requests for a chance to serve as volunteers. These enthusiasts proposed not only to donate automobiles equipped for ambulance work, but also to drive them themselves without cost to the French Government. Soon there were enough of these applicants to form Sanitary Section Number Eleven, and, at the termination of the Volunteer Ambulance Work in October, 1917, these volunteer sections constituted the finest and most efficient ambulance service in the world.
By this time recognition had been given to this service from all corners of the globe, and the American Red Cross now became the principal financial support of the service, which enabled it to expand into a vitally important factor of the French Army. Equipment and funds in abundance were placed at the disposal of the organization.
Eliot Norton, a lawyer in New York City, and a brother of Richard Norton, played a large part in the success of that organization. It was he who personally supervised the enlistment of men for service in France as ambulance drivers. No one was permitted to enter this service without having first satisfied Mr. Norton that he would be unafraid, under any conditions, to carry the work of the American Red Cross to the battlefields of France in a creditable way.
Untiring was his devotion and unerring his judgment. A very high official in the Medical Corps in the English Army is quoted as having said: "I have never seen a cleaner, more intelligent crowd of boys than the ones who are serving with the Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps in the French Army."
The organization was now taking on such proportions that it was necessary to establish central headquarters. This was done at No. 7 Rue Francois Premier in Paris. Messrs. Norton, Kemp and Havemeyer were compelled to give up the active work in the field and take charge of the offices. Other sections were equipped and sent out; section leaders and assistants called chef and sous-chef, respectively, were chosen from the older men that had been on active duty in the field.
This organization was now continually attracting prominent people to it, one of these being Mr. Robert Goelet, who turned over his estate at Sandricourt, twenty miles outside of Paris, to be used as a cantonment for the American Red Cross, and as a base for training men. Twenty automobiles were donated to this section, which became known as the "Goelet Section."
SANDRICOURT, as a base for training and instructions, was a happy choice, for it became the stepping-stone to efficiency. It must be remembered that all the men who had joined the service were youngsters and of good families, and most of them had had some business experience.
In the French Army there is no such thing as luxury, and it is very hard for a person who has been used to butter, sugar and cream to be deprived of them all at once. In addition to extremely plain food, sleeping out of doors was a very necessary preparation for the hardships to be endured, when one might be called to sleep in any old place and under unknown conditions.
In the meantime, means were found to divert the minds of the weary by such activities as military drills, lectures on the care of cars, instructions on temporary repairs, and the like. In due time there were also established, under Y. M. C. A. supervision, classes in French, a working knowledge of which was very necessary, for at the front the men had to take orders from doctors, who spoke that language exclusively.
When Sandricourt was first taken over it had to undergo a thorough overhauling. Mr. Goelet had not occupied it from the inception of the war and, of course, things were in bad shape. The barns, which had been used for the housing of cattle and stock, were to form the sleeping quarters for the men, and it was necessary to give them a most rigid cleaning before they could be occupied.
Some of the barns were over a hundred years old and in an awful state of repair, but a hundred men of the Ambulance Service were dispatched to start the work and they pitched in with such eagerness that within four weeks' time Mr. Goelet himself would hardly have recognized the place.
As sections left Sandricourt for the front, others came to take their places and carry on the work. During their stay they received instructions in preparation for their own departure for the front.
The fatigue work in our service consists of such tasks as carrying water, chopping wood for the kitchen, and waiting on table. Everyone had to take his turn at these different duties. It was amusing to look in on the various groups of inexperienced boys of the different fatigues. Many of them had never washed a dish in their lives, but no one was exempt, and each day brought different men to duty on different fatigues, in accordance with a well-planned schedule.
Details were dispatched each day to help the farmers in the vicinity with their work, all of which was good for the appetite, and hardened the boys. Army food was so different, it seemed impossible to cat at first, but it had the appearance of a banquet at Delmonico's after one had been out on a haystack all day or feeding a thrasher.
Such was Sandricourt, the tempering forge of the ambulance corps---the place where everyone got down to bed rock and exchanged luxury for the essentials; bloat and fat for muscle, and irregular life for a rigid routine. Complaints flew thick and fast at first, but, after all, these seeming hardships were mild, indeed, compared with what came afterward. When enemy shell fire kept food from coming up, and service demanded that men should sleep in their clothes for days at a time in preparation for an immediate call, I often wondered if there were not a great many fellows who longed for Sandricourt, with its vigorous, enforced rules and discipline.
In preparation for the assignment of a section to a division, forty men were chosen from Sandricourt and placed under the leadership of a chef and sous-chef. Two men on a car and twenty cars constituted a section. This section, when completed, would then be sent out to one of the large automobile parks located somewhere along the front where cars were supplied. Two mechanics were assigned, as well as clerks and cooks. There was a French lieutenant who, with the chef, took command of the section when all the equipment necessary for field duty was supplied. When the section left to join the division it was assigned to whatever position that division then occupied.
After arriving at its destination the first thing the section has to do is to establish a cantonment. This is generally an old barn or a demolished house eight to twelve kilometers behind the line, and it must be central to all the portion of the front that the division is to occupy. In all instances these quarters are within easy range of the enemy cannon, for it would be impractical, for numerous reasons, to have this cantonment or field base too far in the rear. The greater the distance the greater the time required to answer emergency calls. Instant service is the watchword of the ambulance man, for he can never tell what a few minutes' loss or gain may mean in the saving or the losing of a life.
Located at different intervals all along the front, just behind the first-line trenches, are abris, in charge of which there is a doctor. When a man is shot or otherwise injured, he is taken to one of these dressing stations where he receives his first treatment. If he is slightly wounded he is kept there until night, in the event that the nature of the terrain does not afford security to an ambulance in coming up to take him to the rear. If he is badly wounded he is put in a cart and wheeled to the nearest point back of the front line where an ambulance can approach without becoming a target for enemy guns. At night it is the duty of the ambulance man to advance under the cover of darkness up to these dressing stations, and convey all wounded men to the hospitals in the rear.
As many cars as there are stations to be served at the front leave the cantonment at noon every day for twenty-four hours' service at the front. The remaining cars then become an Emergency Division. All the clearing must be done at night. No lights are permitted on cars. This prevents them from becoming marks for the enemy guns.
If a road is being shelled it makes passage extremely difficult for cars without light. Shell holes are "hell holes" to get out of, not to speak of the likelihood of a broken axle. It is often necessary for one of the men on the car to get out and walk in front of it with a handkerchief behind his back so the man at the wheel can find his way along what is left of the road, in and out between the shell holes.
Many of the posts or dressing stations where first treatment is given are located as close up as 500 yards from the German front-line trenches, which is within easy range of machine guns, so that, during the day, it is impossible for the ambulances to approach these advanced posts if compelled to go over ground that might be visible to the enemy. But at night this can be done with comparative safety.
It is an erroneous idea that the ambulance man goes into "No Man's Land" to pick up the injured. There have been instances of where the boys have done this sort of thing, but it is not a part of their required work.
This branch of the service is done by the brancardier, or stretcher-bearer. In most instances in the French Army this service is made up of musicians. The injured are conveyed back through the trenches and placed in the waiting cars, which take them to the rear.
The trips to the hospital with emergency cases are sometimes very trying to a sensitive driver. A man on a stretcher, shot through the abdomen and suffering unbearable agony, shouting "tout doucement, mon Dieu, tout doucement!" ("Go slow, my God, go slow!"), while another man, with both hands off at the wrist, and realizing that only a quick trip can save his life, screams "Viet, Conducteur, viet ," meaning "Fast, driver, fast," will tax one's powers and sympathy to the limit. Another screams incoherently from sheer pain. It is the desire, of course, for the man at the wheel to do each man's bidding, but, under such conditions, the pleadings of the unfortunate must be disregarded. This might seem harsh, but when one realizes that he is doing his very best, he becomes, after a while, hardened to the work and automatically carries out his orders.
Each car, as it goes to the front for its twenty-four hours' service, is allotted food enough for the two men, which they cook on any such improvised fireplace as conditions permit; but, of course, during any extensive operation, food and sleep are two things that one learns to do without.
It is necessary for all forms of motor vehicles in the zone of the armies to be supplied with what is known as an Ordre de Mouvement, which shows just which position of the front each must occupy, and what towns and Post du Succors each must serve. No one is permitted on the road without this order, and, if one is apprehended by a sentinel, the "order" must be produced for identification. It's a case of "show me" or "skedaddle" back for the permit.
If he sees fit, the sentinel can send the driver to the rear under guard. There is seldom any occasion for this procedure, because every man knows it is necessary to have his order and would not think of going up front without it.
During the day, when no runs are to be made, the time is spent at the post, within easy calling distance in case of emergency. If one happens to be stationed where the Boche is shelling, the time is spent in an abri or dug-out down underground, and, in all instances, men who have gone through these bombardments are very glad that such places exist.
In the cantonment the men held in reserve are required to make minor repairs to their cars in order to insure their being able to depart for the front at a moment's notice. Otherwise, their time is their own and can be spent as they like, provided it is known at the bureau where they can be reached in the case of an emergency.
While traversing a road that is under shell fire, it is a very strict regulation with the French Government that no car be permitted to stop for any reason whatever as long as it is able to run under its own power. Irrespective of the fact that it might not have a tire left this regulation still holds good and the driver must proceed to a place of safety before any consideration can be given to the matter of changing tires or stopping for minor repairs.
Whenever a road is being shelled it generally gives the men on the car something to think about, and only actual experience under such shell fire enables them to become expert in their judgment as to slowing down or shooting in the gas when this condition is met with. It is not the most pleasant of experiences to be driving along and have a shell break alongside of the road and cover everything with mud. But all conditions are met in a more or less matter-of-fact way when one is continually forced to accept them. Life seems a matter of fate and little attention is paid to bursting shells.
As the cars are relieved at the front at the end of twenty-four hours' service, they return .to the base, making calls at the different Posts du Succor on the way back, picking up the mallade (sick), for everyone carried in ambulances is not always wounded. With large armies in the trenches there are a great many cases of sickness that must be taken back to the hospitals in the rear for treatment.
WHEN a man is wounded he receives the very best care, for experience has taught France that for the conservation of man power this is of the highest importance. No matter how slight an injury may be, it is mandatory that a man receive the proper medical or surgical treatment, for it is the small and seemingly inconsequential wounds that develop blood poisoning, which means the amputation of arms and legs or even death itself. Consequently, the moment a man is injured he must present himself to the doctor for examination, thereby eliminating, as far as possible, any chance of complications.
The small percentage of infections in the army is surprising, in view of the conditions that exist, which are not always the very cleanest and best. These small wounds, to men who live in damp dug-outs, stand watch in wet trenches, suffer from irregularity of meals, insufficient rest and exposure, are all things that tend to lessen their resisting power and render them just that much more susceptible to the development of infection.
During the first year of the war the frequency of infection from deep wounds was alarmingly high and all efforts of the medical staff to cut it down seemed in vain. At this time Doctor Alexis Carrel of the Rockefeller Institute, after consultation with some of the heads of the French Medical Staff, made a study of this vexing problem and with the backing of this wonderful institution with its ample funds, working without the red tape that in most instances goes hand in hand with an endeavor of this kind, after a surprisingly short time, developed a treatment known as Irrigation Intermittent Carrel. The apparatus used consists principally of a reservoir or container attached to the bed of the injured at the proper elevation to insure a flow of the fluid.
Connected with this and inserted in the wound itself is a rubber tube by which the fluid is conducted to the field of injury. At regular, determined periods during the day and night the fluid is released from the container and allowed to flow through the wound, carrying off poisonous matter or arresting any infectious condition.
As it was soon seen that this was the best method for handling deep wounds, they set out to perfect the treatment. The fluid used was very costly, particularly as such large quantities had to be employed in this intermittent irrigation, consequently there followed a great deal of experimenting, which, however, did result in the perfection of the treatment, but Dr. Carrel went, farther. He and his associates compiled a chart or card, which recorded the age of the patient, the square inches or area of the wound, and such other facts as enabled them, through the handling of so many cases, to establish and chart lines of healing showing the progress of the wound from day to day in its course of treatment, and giving such other information as the proper time of closing the wound and the discontinuing of irrigation, etc.
So accurate did this chart work out that it enabled them to control all cases by its use. Thus, in the event that a wound had not progressed properly in its healing by a certain day to the requirement shown on the chart, the deduction was that the case required special treatment and so it was immediately given the requisite attention. One can see the far-reaching effects from a military viewpoint of such a system.
With these charts to govern them, the doctors at the different base hospitals could compute very readily just how many beds in their hospitals were occupied by cases of this particular kind and with this method of treatment estimate very closely two to three weeks in advance how many patients would be released and the number of beds that would be available for new cases at any given time.
Still another forward step in military medication is in the treatment of burns. I saw in France a man who had been working with powder which in some way becoming ignited, burned one side of his face very badly. He was taken to the hospital and treated by the new method of spraying parrafin over the burn and allowing it to heal from the bottom---a method which eliminated all the scar tissue with the result that it was almost impossible to tell that he had ever been burned.
We see so many cases in this country of people whose faces are covered with scar tissue caused by burns because they had been treated by such methods as allowed the air to get at the field of injury, causing a scar tissue to form, which nothing will ever remove. But by healing from the bottom and developing toward the surface the natural functioning of the healthy tissue leaves the exterior appearance practically without a blemish. This in itself is a wonderful development. For if a person is burned and treatment is necessary, there is some consolation in knowing that he will not be forced to go through life with hideous scar tissue marrying his appearance for the want of proper treatment. In addition to the "M. D.," there is, in each division, the Dental Corps.
SHORTLY after leaving for the front there came an order that our section was to be inspected by one of the captains from one of the large auto parks at the front. This meant that the general cleaning day was at hand. Naturally, we all started brushing and polishing motors and revolving parts to make as good a showing as possible.
When we were given our cars we were allotted certain equipment in tools, extra tires, etc., all of which we had to inventory and sign for, as each driver was held responsible for the equipment that was distributed. I noticed, while taking stock of what was on our car, a little paint brush that looked as if it had the "mange," but I listed one brush and threw it into the tool chest and soon forgot that I had ever seen it.
This particular day the happy thought came to me that with the assistance of some petrol (kerosene) and my little mangy brush I would be able to get at some parts of my car that I could not clean or reach by hand. After a few minutes' search the brush was found and I began work. I had not gone very far when I noticed that the few straggly brisks that were in the brush when I commenced had disappeared and that nothing remained but the handle.
In true American fashion, without any thought, I tossed the handle into a rubbish heap and dismissed it from my mind. The boys on the next car to me were using a brush in the same manner as I employed mine and were getting good results. I said to one of them:
"Have you got another brush?" to which I received a negative answer, but one of the boys said: "I saw some little brushes in the Bureau" (office). As it was close at hand I walked over and asked one of the sergeants on duty for a brush. He asked: "Is there not a brush on your car?" I told him that there had been about a quarter of a brush, but that when I used it all the brisks had come out of the handle. He then demanded the handle.
"Oh! I threw that away," I replied.
"Well, I'm sorry but you will have to get along without a brush," said he brusquely.
There before me lay a small bundle of brushes; mine was worn out, no good for further use to anyone, and discarded, yet I could not have a brush. I pressed my point a little farther in a most persuasive style, but met with not the slightest encouragement, and I soon saw the reason for the refusal.
When a new brush is issued the old one must be turned in. There is no trouble in getting new equipment, if needed, but the old must be exchanged for the new, even though it were just the handle of a brush. Any part of returned equipment that can be used saves just that much in the making over of the article., This is the thrift of the thrifty French. What American would ever do otherwise than I did? When a thing wears out with us it is discarded ---but not with them.
Well, I set out at once for the rubbish pile to reclaim the handle that I might get a new brush. It so happened that at the time I discarded the handle another of our sergeants, standing close by, after I left for the Bureau, walked over, picked it up, and put it under the cushion on my car. Of course, when I returned the handle was gone. We looked high and low but in vain. We finished cleaning our car minus a brush. But a day or so later I happened to look under the cushion for something and there was the handle. I returned it to the Bureau and the sergeant who had picked it up was on duty.
"Well," said he, "I thought you would be around for a new brush, and to get it you would have to turn in the old handle, so I picked it up after you left and put it back on the car."
This was my lesson. Learned early, I never threw anything away after that. This regulation held good on everything,---tires, tubes and all. If you lost a spare tire enroute, it was your funeral when you needed it for a change. Without some part of the old one, you could not obtain a new one. It was amusing, in a sense, to note the effect this regulation produced when, for example, we would change an inner tube on the road. Before we would think of starting again, we would check up all the lugs, valves, nuts and caps, for we knew full well we would get no new inner tube for the old one unless we turned in all the parts when we desired an exchange.