Volume two of a two volume history of the famous American volunteer squadron of the First World War
There can be few who have heard of the Lafayette Flying Corps who are unaware of its history. It was, of course, comprised of the American pilots who volunteered to fight for France in the air and it included the famous Lafayette Escadrille. More than 200 American pilots completed French aviation training and 180 flew in combat. Sixty three brave Americans gave their lives for the French cause and the corps was credited with nearly 160 enemy aircraft shot down. Lafayette flyers included eleven flying aces and four winners of the Legion d’ Honneur. This two volume history of the services of the Lafayette Flying Corps includes contributions by many of it members and is an essential source work on the subject for all those interested in the early history of military aviation.
Volume one is a history of the corps from its formation, and includes details of the origin of the Escadrille Américaine, the Escadrille Lafayette at the front, the Lafayette Flying Corps, enlistment and early training, adventures in action, life on the front, combats and prisoners of war.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
Upon his arrival in Paris, the candidate for enlistment in the Lafayette Flying Corps reported at 23 Avenue du Bois de Boulogne, where he was ushered into a small and busy waiting-room. While he waited his turn, his eyes and thoughts were kept busy, for around him, smoking and talking shop, there was always to be found an interesting group of flyers: élèves-pilotes from Avord, proudly telling of their first solo flights; newly breveted men who had just completed their training at Pau; and most fascinating of all, veterans from the Front, not unconscious of the awesome halo surrounding them. When at last the door opened, and the neophyte’s name was called, he found himself in the presence of a man whose kindly manner and cordial hand-clasp put him at his ease at once. It was Dr. Edmund Gros.
There were hours each day when his office resembled a recruiting bureau at the Invalides rather than a doctor’s waiting-room. Volunteers, newly arrived from America, from the Ambulance, or the Legion, went there to sign their enlistment papers for the Air Service. Men already in the service dropped in to consult with him whenever they were in Paris. Some needed medical advice or attention, which he gave freely. Others called for letters or parcels sent in his care. Yet others, about to be returned to civilian life because of some unintentional breach of camp or field discipline, called to ask his intervention. No matter what the difficulty, it was always to Dr. Gros they came for counsel and he was always accessible, ready to help in some practical way.
Early in 1915, when Dr. Gros was one of the heads of the American Ambulance, Norman Prince was working, despite many discouragements, to carry out his plan of forming an American squadron. Elliot Cowdin and Frazier Curtis were giving him loyal and effective aid, and it was Curtis who introduced Dr. Gros to M. de Sillac, the warm friend of the American volunteers. Dr. Gros had for some time, quite independently of the others, been considering the same idea, having seen the splendid material among the scores of American lads flocking overseas to drive ambulances—men splendidly fitted to play the part of combatants in the war, who loved adventure and were with France heart and soul. Upon meeting M. de Sillac, and a little later, Norman Prince, Dr. Gros joined forces with them, and from that time on took an increasingly active and important part in the organisation and development of what was to become the Lafayette Flying Corps. He had lived in Paris for many years. French was to him a second mother tongue, and he understood the French people, their customs, and their politics as few Americans are fortunate enough to do.
It was Dr. Gros who on July 8, 1915, planned the now historic luncheon at the house of Senator Menier, where General Hirschauer agreed to form the Escadrille Américaine. It was Dr. Gros who interested Mr. Vanderbilt in the corps and obtained from him the funds which have made its existence possible. He likewise did most of the work of the Executive Committee handling the funds, attending to the correspondence, publishing pamphlets, and arranging all the details for making the existence of the corps known to Americans at home. He examined every candidate upon his arrival in Paris, sent him off, as a full-fledged soldat de deuxième classe, to Buc or Avord, and kept a fatherly eye upon him throughout his entire period of service in France.
Dr. Gros has done more for the Lafayette Flying Corps than any other one man who has been connected with it. Norman Prince conceived the idea of forming an American squadron to serve with the French. William K. Vanderbilt, with unfailing generosity, furnished the funds without which the corps could not have continued to exist. Dr. Gros, from the time of his meeting with M. de Sillac, has carried on the burden of the work, giving unselfishly his time, his enthusiasm, and his rare ability as an organiser. Few Lafayette men realise, perhaps, how whole-heartedly he has worked in their interests. He stood in the relationship of a parent, saw to it that they had enough money to enable them to live in comfort, got them out of scrapes, rejoiced with them in their triumphs. His pleasure and pride in the honours bestowed upon Lafayette men was every whit as keen as that of the recipients.
When the United States declared war upon Germany, Dr. Gros was commissioned Major, and afterward promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel in the United States Air Service. In the midst of his new duties and responsibilities, he did not forget the American volunteers with whom he had been associated for so long a time. He saw that in the Lafayette Corps there existed a nucleus of trained and seasoned pilots about which to build the Pursuit Branch of our own Aviation Service. Two things only were necessary: to persuade the French to release the men and to convince the American authorities of the advisability of taking them. The business seemed simple, but military affairs of all nations move with notorious slowness. Although Colonel Gros set to work to effect the transfer almost immediately after our declaration of war, the first telegram recommending Lafayette men for commissions was not sent from Washington until November, 1917. In the end, Colonel Gros was instrumental in transferring ninety-three pilots to the United States Air Service and twenty-three to the United States Naval Air Service, all of these men trained and ready for immediate service, many of them having already had long and valuable experience at the Front. Had he done nothing else in the war, Colonel Gros could feel that he had done his full share. He was also chief of the Liaison Section, United States Air Service, at the American Headquarters in Paris, where much of the business between the French and American Aviation passed through his hands.
In recognition of his services to the Allied cause Dr. Gros has been awarded the American Certificate of Merit, the French Legion of Honour and Reconnaissance Française, and the Italian Order of the Knights of SS. Maurizio e Lazzaro.
Twenty-eight Lafayette men remained in the French service. Colonel Gros kept in touch with them as long as they were in France, helping them with all available funds, looking after their interests, corresponding with their families in case of imprisonment or death. All through the history of the Lafayette Corps, whenever a casualty was reported, Colonel Gros wrote at once to the Squadron Commander asking for details. In the case of a wounded man, he saw that every care was given him, and immediately reassured his family. If a Lafayette man was shot down back of the enemy lines, he sent details, including the number of the machine, motor, etc., to the American Red Cross in Berne, Switzerland, where a committee existed which made immediate inquiries in Germany. In the files of the Lafayette Corps are to be found copies of letters written to the parents of the men who have been killed, every one of them showing, in its fine sympathy of thought, the patient care which has been given to it, letters written by a busy man who was never too busy to send a word of comfort to a sorrowing mother or father.
Now that the war has ended in victory and the members of the Lafayette Corps have returned to civilian life, the great debt of gratitude which they owe to Colonel Gros will not be forgotten. At future reunions, when old memories are revived and healths are drunk, the first toast will be: “To our wise counsellor and loyal friend; to the father of the Lafayette Corps, Dr. Edmund Gros.”