Mud, Blood and Ambulances!

Posted by on January 3, 2009

Ever since I’ve studied great literary figures of the 20th century such as Hemingway, Dos Passos and others, I’ve kept coming across the fact that they served as ambulance drivers in the First World War.  This service seemed to have affected both their outlook as well as their future literary writings.



From my research, there were three major organizations that started in the war:

  • American Field Service
  • American Red Cross
  • Norton-Harjes

The work of these services was extensive.  Here’s a first-hand account that was fascinating:

“…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….”


Many volunteered because of their status they carried (officers) as well as the fact that automobiles were all the rage and were used extensively in these services.



Others became volunteers because they were rejected by the armed services for disqualifying physical conditions:

“Hemingway, who had defective vision in his left eye, expressed these viewpoints when, prior to joining, he wrote to his sister, Marcelline, “But I’ll make it to Europe some way in spite of this optic.  I can’t let a show like this go on without getting into it….”

(source: Literary Ambulance Drivers)


(4, Panoramic Photo-Large)

Still others did not want to take a human life, choosing to save them instead.



What follows are some informative links that I found while working on this post.  Much more detail and information can be found here if you have a few moments.  Good information!

Have a great weekend!


List of ambulance drivers in the war (Wikipedia)

American Field Service (Wikipedia)

Literary Ambulance Drivers

Soldier’s letters home (he volunteered for ambulance duty)

World War I ambulances (hardware)

Medical history of World War I (section on ambulances)

Harvard Volunteers in Europe (via Google Books) (info. on persons)

Ambulancing on the French Front (book)


(1-3-4-5) NARA and/or LOC: Prints & Photographs Division

(2)Ambulancing on the French Front

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