American Field Service Hat Badge

American Field Service Hat Badge

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Joshua Isham Bliss was a member of SSU 71 although his name does not appear on the official roster of the American Field Service.  Perhaps the above excerpt of a letter written home by Harry Crosby in 1917, offers a clue.  Bliss was born in Vermont, graduated from Princeton in 1921, and passed away in 1966 on Long Island, New York.
Lawrence James Moran, who is mentioned in the same sentence continued in the AFS and joined the US Army Ambulance Service when the AFS was federalized.  He was not omitted from the official record.
The portion of the letter shown with the identity bracelet is from Harry Crosby's War Letters Paris, Black Sun Press, 1931.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Malcolm Cowley was a contributor to the American Field Service Bulletin during World War I at the urging of A. Piatt Andrew.  When the three volume History of The American Field Service in France was published in 1920 volume three contained a section entitled Literature of the Field Service containing material from Malcolm Cowley as well as Harry Crosby and numerous other AFS men.  Early (but not the first) appearance in print for Cowley and Crosby.  Diane V. Eisenberg's Malcolm Cowley A Checklist of His Writings, 1916-1973 does not mention his contributions to AFS publications-perhaps the above inscription offers a clue.

Above is a set of the AFS history inscribed to noted Cowley collector Ruth Nuzum.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

This is the section citation for SSU 641.  When Harry Crosby's American Field Service section, SSU 71, was taken over by the US Army Ambulance Service they became SSU 641 after taking over the Fords of SSU 29.  Some members of 71 left to join other military units and some were sent to fill vacancies in other ambulance sections but a large number of men remained including the AFS section chef, now lst Lt.,
Roland R. Speers.

The citation, for the entire unit, was earned for the period of August 23rd,24th, and 25th 1918 for evacuation of wounded under heavy German bombardment.  Harry Crosby was on leave in Paris during this time with one of his friends from the section--Lawrence Honig.  Each member of 641 received this document.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Harry Crosby's diaries Shadows of The Sun which span the time period from 1922 to 1929 were published in three separate volumes of forty-four copies each.  The books were not numbered and it has been suggested (by Wolff) that there were more printed than what the colophon states.  The bibliographer of the Black Sun Press, George Robert Minkoff, states that he believes that for the third and final series there were actually less printed than the forty-four stated.  These books are scarce but they do turn up (unfortunately with high prices from booksellers).

                         The letter above was found tipped into the first series of Shadows of The Sun.

In 1977 the Black Sparrow Press published a new single volume edition of the diaries with a introduction by the editor, Edward B. Germain, photographs, and a index.  The book was issued in a numbered edition of two hundred copies, thirteen hundred trade copies, and a unknown amount of copies in wraps.  The Black Sparrow edition is the only other edition of the diaries to be published and is still easily found including the numbered edition.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The reasons why men signed on with the American Field Service have been written about repeatedly but how did potential drivers find out about the AFS to begin with?  The American Field Service used all means of communication that were available at the time--letters, articles, books, lectures, slide show presentation and film were used to raise funds, recruit new drivers, and create awareness of their service to the French and Allied cause.

A. Piatt Andrew in his introduction to the three volume History of the American Field Service in France makes a further point-

By personal and published letters, by articles, by books, by lectures, by photograph and cinematograph, they were bringing the war ever nearer to those on the other side of the Atlantic and by the organization of committees in almost every college and university and in nearly every city and town in the United States, they were developing a deeper and more active interest in American participation.  This was the aspect of the Field Service which in the thought of those of us who were privileged to direct it seemed heavily to outweigh all others.  Herin lay by all counts the greatest contribution which the men of the Field Service could make and did make to France.

 Harry Crosby's prep school, St Mark's, donated a ambulance to the AFS and also hosted a lecture and viewing of moving pictures of AFS sevice with the French army in January of 1917.  Above is a article from the St. Mark's school paper, The Vindix, about the event.

Above is a announcement for a lecture to be given by a returning driver.  Clafin Davis was a member of SSU 4.

Above center is a program for a fundraiser held in Philadelphia in the Winter of 1916-1917.  The glass slides are part of the presentation used for lectures.  The "Important From Your Club" is a announcement for a lecture given by John Lloyd of SSU 12 to the Business Men's Club of Cincinnati Ohio on November 12th 1917.

Posters were also a good recruiting tool for the AFS.  Two of the posters above represent the camion service while the other poster has Columbia holding off death from a wounded poilu.

Magazines, phamplets and epherma probably had the biggest reach to all Americans.  Several important articles were placed in magazines with wide circulations.  James Rogers McConnell and A. Piatt Andrew were published in The Outlook.  The American Verdict on the War was a 1915 response to German propaganda and favored by Andrew.  Our Friend France was written by Witney Warren who was a loyal supporter of the AFS and France. 
Finally, a poster for the film used by the American Field Service during the war.  Two programs are displayed each representing a different date and venue for the showing of the film.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Want to learn more about the experience of what it was like to be a volunteer ambulance driver or camion driver during World War I? 

Many books were published during the War about the experiences of the drivers.  Above is a small selection of some contemporary works by drivers.  These are easy to find and also exist in digital versions.  Friends of France is a good place to start.  Published in 1916 to raise funds and awareness of the AFS, many later drivers such as Harry Crosby read this book.

Let us not forget the reason for the existance of the American Field Service.  A. Piatt Andrew became Inspector General of the American Ambulance Field Service in the Spring of 1915.  Through Andrew's prewar connections, his brilliant organizational skills, and his unrelenting desire to aid the French war effort Andrew turned a small jitney ambulance service of the American Hospital of Paris into a organization of thirty-two ambulance sections serving frontline French units and five transportation units supplying war materials where needed.  When the American Field Service units were turned over to the US Army in the Fall of 1917 over two thousand five hundred men had served with the AFS. 

Pictured is a copy of A. Piatt Andrew's book Letters Written Home From France In The First Half of 1915.  The book was limited to two hundred fifty copies.  The photo is one presented by Andrew to his parents.  The award document is for the Legion of Honor.  This is Andrew's second award raising him to Officer of the Legion of Honor in 1927.

See for more about APA and his house, "Red Roof," in Gloucester Mass.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

After Harry Crosby's death in 1929 Harry's mother Henrietta, with the aid of Caresse published War Letters in 1931.  The book was published in a unnumbered edition of 125 copies.  War  Letters consists of letters written home by Harry to his family from the Summer of 1917 until his return from France in 1919.

Harry's mother presented copies of the book to as many of his ambulance service comrades as possible.  The above photo offers a glimpse of the book as well as two letters, each presenting the book to one of Harry's friends--Philip Shepley and Way "Spud" Spaulding.  Shepley and Spaulding were members of the AFS unit SSU 71 which became, after the US Army took over in the Fall of 1917, SSU 641.  Both figure prominatly in the book.

Also shown in the photograph is a American Field Service hat badge and a American Field Service medal.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Here is a rather worn looking copy of Malcolm's first book. He had this printed in Paris just before his return from Europe at the end of his American Field Service Fellowship to study abroad. The books arrived late from the printer after his return to New York. He gave a very few away to friends and then forgot about them only to destroy the remainder years later saying he was tired of moving them around. It has been speculated that fewer than twenty copies remain. This copy was given by Malcolm to a friend.

Earlier articles written by Cowley can be found in the American Field Service Bulletin and in volume three of The History of the American Field service in France.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Sunday, March 21, 2010



I have long been interested in the people who served as volunteer ambulance drivers in World War I before America officially entered the War. The two main volunteer ambulance units were the American Field Service and Norton Harjes. Expatriate writers Henry Grew (Harry) Crosby and Malcolm Cowley were both members of the American Field Service. If you are interested in the history of these organizations I strongly recommend the website By far the most accurate and in depth site dealing primarily with the American Field Service (AFS) in World War I and beyond.

I plan to use this site as a way to show the experience of the volunteer ambulance drivers and expatriates through pictures and artifacts with a special focus on Malcolm Cowley and Harry Crosby.  I will only be using material from my collection unless otherwise noted.  All pictures are taken by me unless otherwise noted.