In addition to the impoverished students of the Left Bank, the American Colony soon had a new category of compatriots to worry about.

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, a series of developments made travel more comfortable, and at least relatively less expensive. There were faster steamships, improved means of transportation on the continent, and new tourist services smoothing the way for bewildered Americans faced with unfamiliar customs and unintelligible languages. In such circumstances, a progressive broadening as well as deepening in the stream of travel gradually took place. While the European trip still demanded more leisure and more money than the average American could afford, it began to fall within the range of middle-class families and of a larger number of people away from the Atlantic seaboard than had been the case before the Civil War. The slowly rising tide of transatlantic voyagers doubled the pre-Civil War annual total by the 1880's, and would top the 100,000 mark before the end of the century. (Foster Rhea Dulles. American Abroad. Two Centuries of European Travel, 1964.)

The nine beds of the Episcopal church's "American Hospital" of rue Pierre Nicole might have sufficed for a few students, but more were needed.

map Neuilly
métro #1: Pont de Neuilly/ Les Sablons


1: The American Hospital of Paris,
44 rue Chauveau, Neuilly-sur-Seine

At the beginning of the twentieth century, and at the high point of the summer months, there were as many as one hundred thousand Americans in Paris. Many lived in more or less comfortable, more or less sanitary, hotel rooms. And as might concern health needs, the American government had made no provisions for its citizens in France. There was no medical protection in case of illness. In the best of cases, sick Americans appealed to charitable organizations, but many tried to take care of themselves on their own …. an endeavor which, at the time, often gave rise to veritable dramas. (Nicole Fouché. Histoire de l'Hôpital Américain de Paris, 1991.)

* * * * * * *

A small American Hospital had been organized in Paris long before the war. It was modern, well run, and had an excellent staff. It was intended solely for Americans, having the usual arrangements for the poor who paid nothing and the rich who paid well. The accident ward of this hospital has always been kept busy by jockeys. There were, and still are, a large number of American jockeys and stableboys in France, and accidents with them are frequent. They always want to go to the American Hospital when they get something broken in a fall. (Col. T. Bentley Mott. Myron Herrick. Friend of France, 1929.)

The original building is long gone, so you'll have to walk around the block to 63 Boulevard Victor Hugo to find the new one and, in the lobby, memories of the old.


Dr. Gros's hopes for a larger hospital were realized in 1926. A new American Hospital was erected on the grounds of the old one from funds donated by former patients who had sent in their contributions from all over the world in memory of broken limbs that had healed, of appendixes that had been extracted, of pneumonia and diphtheria and ulcers that had been cured in the brick building on the Rue Chauveau.

The new hospital, six stories high with flanking wings, was designed by Charles Knight, an American architect. No expense was spared to make it one of the outstanding hospitals on the Continent. (Charles Bove. A Paris Surgeon's Story, 1956.)

It was not the new edifice, but the old 24-bed brick building which produced the institution from which the Field Service emerged.

Unless he happened to be in Europe early in August, 1914, it is quite impossible for an American to picture to himself the opening tragedy of war in a country having universal military service. Novels, the accounts of eyewitnesses, moving pictures, have all tried to give some idea of the scene; but it is so utterly removed from anything in our national experience that an American would have to be made over again before he could grasp all that was implied to the French by the words "General Mobilization." It reached out into every city, village, and home, taking with one fell swoop all that was most precious there. The suddenness of the act, the violence of the change, was followed by an appalling silence which remains for me my most poignant memory of Paris. Everybody was outwardly calm, but it was the tense calmness of one who says, "Whatever happens I must hold on to myself." Regiments going to the railway stations marched through the streets for days; except for the blare of their trumpets there was not a sound. (Col. T. Bentley Mott. Myron T. Herrick. Friend of France, 1929.)

* * * * * * *

As for the children---even when you would think that they were old enough to understand the meaning of these partings they make no sign, though they seem to understand all the rest of it well enough. There isn't a boy of eight in our commune who cannot tell you how it all came about, and who is not just now full of stories of 1870, which he has heard from grandma and grandpa, for, as is natural, every one talks of 1870 now. (Mildred Aldrich. A Hilltop on the Marne, 1914.)

* * * * * * *

In government affairs, a precedent is always useful as a provision against the chance of criticism and we had one in what concerned our Ambulance. An American hospital for the wounded had been organized in Paris during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 (…) The record of that undertaking was a highly honorable one and we hoped to equal it ; but we little knew what a long pull lay ahead of us. (Col. T. Bentley Mott. Myron T. Herrick. Friend of France, 1929.)

* * * * * * *

The American Colony in Paris wanted to establish an American Military Hospital or Ambulance Américaine, as they called it, similar to the one that the Colony had established in the Franco-Prussian War. Through Dr. du Bouchet of Paris and Dr. E. L. Gros, Ambassador Herrick arranged with the French government to use for this purpose a new high school, the Lycée Pasteur at Neuilly-sur-Seine, in which they received their first wounded late in August. (George W. Crile. Autobiography. 1947.)


2: Lycée Pasteur,
21 Boulevard d'Inkermann, Neuilly-sur-Seine

The Neuilly Lycée, whose opening under Principal Fleureau had been stated for October 1, 1914, was transformed from the outset of the 1914-1918 war into an auxiliary military hospital managed by Americans. Until America herself entered the war, the entire personnel of this hospital was comprised of volunteers. This was the case when, one June day in 1917, I was transported in rather poor condition to a ground floor classroom overlooking Rue Perronet. There were a dozen of us there, all badly wounded (since in principal at the American Ambulance, the only people there were those who truly needed to be !) The material organization was perfect, a meticulous cleanliness reigned supreme, with scrubbing commencing at seven in the morning. In each room (a classroom, in principle), there were two nurses and a male attendant – a luxury of personnel and means, to be sure, which were unknown in French military hospitals ; so we were spoiled and all the much so as our medical condition required more care. After the hell of the front lines, this was paradise! (M. Lasserre Soixante-Quinzième Anniversaire du Lycée Pasteur, 1989.)


Under the wise leadership of Dr. Dubouchet, three other men, Mr. Laurence Benét, Dr. Edmond Gros, and Mr. A. Wellesley Kipling, have been powerful in promoting the phenomenal growth of the Ambulance Corps. Their titles are, respectively, Chairman of the Transportation Committee, Chief Ambulance Surgeon, and Captain of Ambulances. These gentlemen have worked together unselfishly and indefatigably, and the rapidity with which the manifold difficulties incidental to the construction and organization of automobile ambulance trains have been overcome is due to their untiring efforts. (Eric Fisher Wood. The Notebook of an Attaché, 1915.)

Transportation service

The Transportation Department originated with a small committee during the first week of August 1914, and was organized with a view of providing ambulances for the transportation of patients to and from the proposed Ambulance Hospital. By August 15th eight town and touring cars were available and in constant use, and were rendering most valuable service in connection with the work of installation and equipment. On this date the Manager of the Ford Automobile Company donated ten chassis for the duration of the war, and these were at once fitted with ambulance bodies, designed and, to a large extent constructed, by the volunteer members of the Department. These little cars were at once utilized for the transportation of equipment and supplies, and the personnel worked unremittingly in installing the wards and other departments of the hospital. It was in large measure due to the Transportation Department that the hospital was ready for patients eighteen days after the buildings of the Lycée Pasteur were requisitioned. (Report of Ambulance Committee of 1915. New York, 1915.)


The first outing

Charles Carroll of Carrollton

14 rue Vaneau

Dear Mrs. Watson:

You have asked me to write you a page of the history of the agonizing days that we spent in Paris in this memorable month of September. I can do nothing more interesting than to tell you of the visit of our American Ambulance to Meaux on the night of September 8th. When we received our call we were told that there were three or four hundred wounded at Meaux needing succor and treatment. Our long train of motors left the Lycée Pasteur to run rapidly through the half-lit streets of Paris, stopping only for a moment at the rue Châteaudun to pick up the soldier who was stationed there to meet us and give us the password in the war-stricken district through which we were to pass. Hurriedly passing through the gate of Pantin, where a word to the sentinels that we were going after wounded and a glance at our passports sufficed, away we went over rough and uneven roads filled with baggage trains and reserve troops camped out in the villages. The whole scene was alive with action and movement, bringing vividly to one's mind the realization of the titanic struggle for the possession of a great city that was going on almost at its gates. After three hours en route, stopped at frequent periods by the sentries we arrived at Meaux, where the horror of the silence around us, the paper notices tacked on every door, the untenanted streets and houses revealed the deserted city in the centre of the battlefield of two gigantic armies. Not a soul seemed abroad---not a light in any windows. At last we rang up a soldier at the préfecture who took us to the college where the Red Cross flag showed us where the mutilated of the day before had been lodged. After much knocking on our part a weary concierge let us into the Chamber of Horrors such as I never wish to see again. In every little room, with no lights to cheer them, on iron bedsteads and on benches with bloodstained bandages, lay two hundred soldiers from the battle of the day before. They were, some of them, Morocco and Algerian tirailleurs and the glimmering lights of our candles would catch the wild gleams of their anxious eyes and the wondering questioning glances as to whether we were friends or foes. The tables in the room were strewn pell mell with empty bottles of water and medicines. The odor, the smell of blood and infection were overpowering in that hot atmosphere. The scene was one of undying horrors that no one who saw it will ever forget. Our surgeons devoted themselves to finding the worst cases for us to take back in our cars but with so many wounded, there was little we could do to help and I was sent to Claye, the nearest telephone station, to try to have a train sent out on the Eastern railway to bring the wounded to our hospital in Paris. (Signed) CHARLES CARROLL OF CARROLLTON. (Jeannette Grace Watson. Our Sentry Go. 1924.)

Detached service

In September, 1914, when the line of battle surged close to Paris, a dozen automobiles given by Americans, hastily extemporized into ambulances, and driven by American volunteers, ran back and forth night and day between the western end of the Marne Valley and Paris. During the Autumn and Winter that followed many more cars were given and many more young Americans volunteered, and the battle front having retired from the vicinity of Paris, these sections of motor ambulances were detached from their headquarters at the hospitals at Neuilly and Juilly and became more or less independent units attached to the several French armies, serving the dressing-stations and army hospitals within the Army Zone.

At that time, however, these squads of ambulances, being generally in groups of only about five, were inadequate in size to stand independently and were, therefore, attached by the French Government to other existing services in the rear of the Army Zone. (AFS Fund. Interim Reports, 1917.)


On October 1st, at the request of the British Expeditionary Force, a small detachment of five ambulances was detached for service in the field, and on October 8th left Paris for its new duties. This was the first opportunity of realizing the long cherished plan of a Field Service, which as money and ambulances have become available has been increased and extended until on August 31st, 1915, four complete sections, aggregating 91 ambulances and cars were operating in the zone of the armies in addition to 15 ambulances, and 28 other cars attached to the Ambulance Hospital. One hundred and fifty-two officers and men were on duty with the transportation department on the same date. (Report of Ambulance Committee of 1915. New York, 1915.)

The Juilly Hospital

In November 1914, the generous offer of Mrs. Harry Payne Whitney, of New York, to finance a hospital under the direction of the Ambulance Committee, to be established at a point nearer the theatre of military operations, was accepted by your Committee. Ample funds for its installation and maintenance were provided by Mrs. Whitney, and after a careful study by the Military Authorities, the Seminary at Juilly, about thirty miles to the north-east of Paris, was requisitioned for this purpose. Under your Committee's supervision and direction, this ancient building was thoroughly renovated, plumbing, central heating and electric lighting were installed, and by February 1st, 1915, it was fully equipped, organized and ready to receive 225 patients. A section of ambulances has been constantly stationed at Juilly for the transportation and evacuation of patients between the hospital and the neighboring towns and railways stations. In equipment and general facilities for the care and comfort of the wounded, the Juilly Hospital is in the same class as the American Ambulance, and in efficiency it ranks high among the Military Hospitals of France. (Report of Ambulance Committee of 1915. New York, 1915.)


The Whitney Unit at Juilly is coming along all right, and is playing a big part in the development and extension of the whole thing as originally hoped for and planned by Herrick, and now the Transport Units, the Ford Squads and Sections are going to play a still bigger part, and this of late has been my chief interest and is just beginning. I was much pleased to-day to get Elliot's cable saying he had money for ten more Fords. We can use any number just now if we can get just the right kind of volunteer chauffeurs, but it may all change at any minute, as everything does. (James Brown Scott. Robert Bacon, 1923.)


I reported to the Ambulance Headquarters this morning and found that I had been assigned to duty in assisting Captain Kipling with the executive details of the organization of the new ambulance trains. In future every train is to be composed of five ambulances, one repair car, and one scout car, and is to be manned by an officer and thirteen men. Each such unit is to be complete in itself and is called a "squad." As such it will be assigned to duty with the Paris Hospital, with field hospitals, or with the French, British, or Belgian armies. The field work is to be controlled from Paris by Captain Kipling and a board of three staff officers. O. W. Budd is to be Chief of Staff, E. W. McKey, Adjutant, and during the remainder of my short time of service with the Corps I am to have charge of equipment and material. (Eric Fisher Wood. The Notebook of an Attaché, 1915.)

Robert Bacon

Robert Bacon could be called the "godfather" of the American volunteer ambulance services. His wife was a mainstay of the American Ambulance. He was man of action and of few words--- qualities which served him well in his banking career where he became J.P. Morgan's "right hand man". He retired from business at age 43 and began a second career in government service. In 1905, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of State under Elihu Root, whom he greatly admired and whom he succeeded as Secretary of State in the Taft Administration. In 1910, he was appointed Ambassador to France. Two years later he became a Fellow of Harvard University, his alma mater and, again in the wake of Elihu Root, made a tour of South America, this time representing the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Then came the war!


Robert Bacon

Bacon was named to the Board of Governors of the American Hospital of Paris where he was elected president---administrative head not only of the hospital, but of its subsidiary, the Ambulance. There, he encouraged others to do as he had done, and promoted the various initiatives for organizing such "ambulance" service.

Our Service of Motor Ambulances which was attached to the Hospital kept on growing in size and in importance, until it outgrew its original intent and became The Field Service of the American Ambulance. Where so many men were so devoted and so efficient, it is possible only to make especial mention of a few who were the leaders in that work. Our former Ambassador Mr. Robert Bacon, first in every move to help France, was chief official sponsor for the Service; and to Mr. and Mrs. Bacon the Field Service owed a large share of its possibilities of usefulness. (Samuel N. Watson. Those Paris Years, 1936.)

* * * * * * *

Personally and at his own expense he had succeeded in chartering three automobiles and day and night without ceasing he travelled back and forth between Paris and the front, at that time Meaux and Soissons, to bring back the wounded; he would often return on the step in order to let them have his place in the car. In those days he had the room above mine and sometimes, at two, three, or four o'clock in the morning, I would hear him drawing his bath and would go up immediately to hear the news. Then he would throw himself fully dressed on the bed to wait until daylight so that he might be furnished with packages of first edition papers, a good supply of cigars and tobacco, and some bottles of cognac, for he would say to me, "this is what pleases your dear soldiers the most." Then he would start out again requesting me to say, if one of his friends asked for him, that he had gone out without knowing when he would return. (James Brown Scott. Robert Bacon, 1923.)

* * * * * * *

"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 Taft 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. (Andrew Gray, The American Field Service., 1974.)

A. Piatt Andrew, a colleague of Robert Bacon's in the Taft Administration, arrived in France at the end of 1914 and reported for duty in January 1915.

Abram Piatt Andrew

Six weeks as an ambulance driver in Dunkerque and environs early in 1915 gave Andrew his first whiffs of cordite, as well as practical knowledge of the problems of vehicle maintenance, spare parts, and ambulance design (the adapted Model-T Ford turned out to be by far the most suitable) and posed the question of a wider role for him. Meanwhile the Transport Committee continued to administer the service, not lead it – proving helpless in the face of the major obstacle to the expansion of the service. The French Army authorities remained adamant – no volunteers of any sort to be permitted near the front lines (…) Returning to Neuilly that March, Andrew faced Bacon with the crucial proposal. He, Andrew, could overcome this obstacle, provided Bacon backed him against any objections by the Transport Committee or by any of the doctors. Bacon rose to the occasion by creating a new position and according it a resonant title. Henceforth, Andrew could call himself "Inspector General of the American Ambulance Field Service." (Andrew Gray “The Birth of the American Field Service”, 1988.)


When Doc arrived in France he found the American Hospital had a detachment of ambulances to do evacuation work, and some cars back of the front in Belgium. The French had no idea of allowing neutrals any closer. But Andrew saw something that no one at that time could visualize. He saw Americans sharing hardships, danger, mixing with the soldiers at the front. He knew what a link that would be between America and France. He would not be rebuffed, and found his way to French Headquarters, where he had a friend, Gabriel Puaux. He pleaded with him of the great morale effect of having these Americans at the front and finally got permission to go to Commandant de Montravel, then stationed in the east. Here again he had to use the force of his argument that he wasn’t interested simply in getting a few more men to the front, but that its importance lay in that it would attract more and more American youths to come to France. He won his point, and the Service aux Armées de l’Ambulance Américaine became a reality. (Stephen Galatti, in George Rock History of the American Field Service, 1956.)

The Field Service:

The first name which naturally presents itself is that of Commandant de Montravel, who later in letters to Mr. Andrew liked to designate himself as the "père des sections américaines." He well merited this name, for it was his personal decision which gave our sections a place at the front. We must go back for a moment to the little squads of American ambulances serving with the British and the French in the north, early in 1915, to see the importance of his action. These squads were only adjuncts to hospitals in a region where, owing to the concentration of the British as well as the French, and the natural consequence of the advance and retreat and confusion of the early days, there were sufficient regularly organized sections to do the work. In fact some of these American units were accomplishing nothing, and those in charge of them despaired of their ever accomplishing anything. Mr. Andrew, cognizant of this state of affairs, conceived the plan of attaching them directly to the French Army divisions, and with this idea in view, went to the Eastern Armies in March, 1915, and found at Vittel Commandant de Montravel, Inspecteur des Automobiles de la Region de I'Est. (Stephen Galatti, in History of the American Field Service,1920)

A. Piatt Andrew, flanked by his friends, the Puaux brothers

In April, 1915, through the efforts of A. Piatt Andrew, who had then become Inspector of the Field Service, the French authorities made a place for American Ambulance Sections at the front on trial. A squad of ten ambulances was sent to the Vosges, and this group attracted the attention of their commanding officers, who asked that it be increased by ten cars so as to form it into an independent Sanitary Section. As soon as this was done, the unit took its place in conjunction with a French Section in an important Sector on the front in Alsace.

With this initial success a new order of things began, and in the same month a second Section of twenty cars was formed and was stationed, again in conjunction with an existing French service, in the much-bombarded town of Pont-a-Mousson.

In the meantime, two squads of five ears each had been working at Dunkirk. These were now reenforced by ten more and the whole Section was then moved to the French front in Belgium, with the result that at the end of the month of April, 1915, the Field Service of the American Ambulance had really come into existence. It comprised three Sections of twenty ambulances, a staff car, and a supply car--- Section Sanitaire Américaine N° 1, as it was called, stationed at Dunkirk; Section Sanitaire Américaine N° 2, stationed in Lorraine; and Section Sanitaire Américaine N° 3, in the Vosges. (Stephen Galatti, in Friends of France. 1916.)


It is only a short walk from the American Hospital to the site of the showroom of the only Ford concessionnaire in France in 1914.


3: Henri Depasse's Ford showroom,
52 boulevard, Bourdon, Neuilly-sur-Seine

At the time France was considered the European leader in car design and engineering and, because of that, Henri Depasse was appointed to develop a showroom in the avenue des Champs Elysées in Paris in 1907. Shipped from Detroit in knockdown form the cars were reassembled in workshops located in western Paris, although later Ford moved assembly to Bordeaux. (Sylviane de Saint-Seine “France's first foreign car,” 2003.)

* * * * * * *

Mrs. William K. Vanderbilt donated the motor transport, and Mr. Harold White, the manager of the Ford Motor Company’s assembly plant in nearby Levallois-Perret, arranged for 10 Model T châssis. With the help of a local carriage builder, the few men remaining at the plant constructed simple bodies – a board floor with room for two stretchers and a canvas top supported by ribs. A plank on the gazoline tank served as a seat for the driver, and over his head was the open sky. By the first week in September, 10 of these homemade vehicles stood in the courtyard of the Lycée Pasteur, bearing on either side a large red cross and the legend "American Ambulance". A half-dozen of the Ford men – English, Americans and French – volunteered as drivers and were soon joined by others. The writer, whose travels had been abruptly ended by the outbreak of war, wandered into the Lycée Pasteur on  7 September and 15 minutes later was an ambulance driver. It was all quite simple at that time : no enlistment, nothing to sign, no physical examination, no uniform. You merely climbed up on an ambulance, and it was yours. (J. Paulding Brown in George Rock, History of the American Field Service, 1956.)

* * * * * * *

In the early part of the war, whilst the committee was organizing this section of our American Hospital, I remember one day, on coming from a committee meeting, at the offices of the American Radiator Company, in Bd. Haussmann, seeing one of these cars standing in front of the door, the chassis being furnished with crude ambulance bodies made from wood of packing eases. It was a surprise to us. We knew they were being built, but we did not expect they would be ready so soon. I remember my emotion when Dr. du Bouchet and another member of the committee rode round the block, whilst we anxiously awaited their return and their opinion. The car was pronounced most comfortable, and it has since justified that verdict.

That was the first appearance of the Ford ambulance, and while some modifications have been made as to the details, the principle remains the same. The advantage of this car for work at the front is at once apparent. Its lightness, its exceptional clearance from the ground, and the power of its engine make the car a perfect one for work immediately behind the firing line. In the North, when the roads were muddy and bad, it was the only car which could get off the road into the mud to allow a convoy to pass and yet get back upon the road without the aid of a tow-rope. In the East, in the Vosges mountains where one of our sections is working in Alsace, they take the hills so well that the French soldiers have nicknamed them "the goats." (Edmund L. Gros. The Transportation of the Wounded. Boston, 1915.)


Chapter Four
Table of Contents