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“Ambulance 464” Encore Des Blessés

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“Ambulance 464” Encore Des Blessés
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Author(s): Julien H. Bryan
Date Published: 2010/06
Page Count: 144
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-179-9
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-180-5

Experiences of a motor ambulance driver

The author of this book was a Princeton student who became a member and driver of the American Ambulance Field Service—a group of young volunteers who travelled to Europe to assist the French war effort during the Great War before the United States took an active part in the conflict. His is a personal story derived from diary notes he made on active service. Although he freely admits to the reader that he volunteered to see the war and experience some excitement predictably his actual experiences of the battlefield and the suffering of French soldiers and civilians alike made a profound impression upon him. Bryan provides the reader with a clear and interesting view of the life of an American volunteer driver and his impressions of war in the trenches with the French Army on the Western Front. Available in soft cover and hard cover with dust jacket.

March 20th. In the abri of the Paste de Secours at Esnes.<br>
A little afternoon on Sunday the heaviest bombardment we have yet heard started from our nearby batteries. Everyone of them from the soixante-quinze to the “380’s” banged away for all it was worth and until midnight there was scarcely a second’s interval between the shells. This was the tir de barrage, the preliminary to a big attack which we first thought was French but which afterwards turned out to be Boche against Hill 304 and Mort Homme. This naturally meant a lot of work for us and in the middle of the afternoon six or seven cars were called out and all the others were made ready to leave. (Four is the usual number sent out for our twenty-four hour stretches, three at their posts and one on call.)<br>
My own turn came at eleven o’clock when the work was getting heavier. They gave me the Esnes run, the one I had made with Craig and where I am now, waiting until a full load of blessés arrive. Of course we could use no lights and as the road was constantly being shelled I felt rather nervous. We had been somewhat worked up that afternoon when Craig came in from Post Two, having seen ten men shot to pieces just one hundred yards in front of him in the Bois d’Avocourt; and Haven turned up a little later with a tale of a similar happening in another place. Furthermore, there had been a big gas attack earlier in the afternoon and four or five of the fellows had been compelled to wear their masks.<br>
With these pleasant little stories to cheer me, I left our cantonment. I could not see the road, only an undefined streak a shade lighter than the surroundings, and I drove very slowly at first and blew my whistle at every dark spot on the horizon. Sometimes these turned out to be trees but more often they were wagons bearing ammunition and supplies to the communicating trenches from which they are carried forward either by men or burros. It was very hard to see them and I had many close calls not only from collision but also from breaking my rear axle in the fresh shell holes between Montzèville and Esnes. I stopped for a moment at the former post and found McLane there. He had run into a huge log, obstructing the road between the two posts and had come back here to get help. Word had been sent to Crowhurst the mechanic who came out in Houston’s car. He arrived just after I did and as we were entering the abri, a shrapnel broke overhead and threw mud and éclat down the doorway.<br>
Eight or ten more shells fell in the town while I was there and since they seemed to be after the convoys of ammunition caissons which flew by on a gallop I also kept up a pretty good speed until I was out of the place. When I passed McLane’s car there was a shrapnel hole in the cowl and a piece of éclat in the radiator. Logs were scattered all along the road and the shell-holes became more and more numerous. I managed to get to the château finally and found three grands blessés waiting for me outside. I drove very slowly and carefully on my return trip, but sometimes I struck a bad hole which I hadn’t seen and the poor fellows moaned and shrieked pathetically. I managed to get them into Dombasle finally. Here I found there was no one to relay them on to the hospital at Ville and that I would have to take them myself. So I continued on through Brocourt and Jubécourt to the H. O. E. at Ville where I left my wounded. Then I went back to Esnes again for more and kept on working until four o’clock the next afternoon. I didn’t sleep for thirty-five hours and some of the men, those who had been on duty before, went four or five hours more than this.<br>
There were a lot of fresh shell holes just outside of Esnes on one of my trips the next afternoon. I certainly prayed as I passed them with my load of couchés that God would help me back safely, at least to bring my car back without disaster. And I am sure my prayer was answered, for five of our cars were broken down that night and four the next, some of them rather seriously. Two machines ran into ammunition wagons and four collided in the woods. There were also several minor accidents such as running head on into a stone-wall or having a rear-wheel drop off. Of course, this seems like a good many, but I really think we were fortunate in not having any more trouble than we did. You can’t expect to come out untouched on roads like these which make the worst stretch at home seem like the Lincoln highway, and with fifteen cars out at once, the majority of them driven by inexperienced drivers. Furthermore, the night was pitch-black and much of the way lay through thick woods. Then there were the lovely star-shells which come up every minute or so and after lighting up the whole landscape for eight or ten seconds, die out and leave you half-blinded by the glare.<br>
The result of our two days’ work, ending Tuesday night, was three hundred and seventy-seven wounded, carried a total distance of ten thousand kilometres. Both sides suffered severely but very little ground changed hands; and when the whole affair was over the first line trenches were nothing except a mass of shell-holes, and in many places only fifteen feet apart.<br>
I have finally seen what I came over for, and a lot more besides war, real war, stripped of glory. For what chance has a man against a shell? And how does the awful suffering of trench life compare with the thrilling battles of the Revolution. I don’t mean that it doesn’t take ten times the nerve and the endurance, but there’s the rub, for we have become machines, not men. I know God will protect us over here, but you realize how absolutely weak and helpless you are when a load of dead are brought in, some with arms and legs gone, others with heads and trunks mixed together; and quite often you learn there wasn’t anything left to bring. <br>
This matter of being under shellfire for the first time and of trying to drive back in the dark from Esnes, gives one a queer feeling. Payne told me on the boat coming over that he wasn’t a Christian and that he didn’t believe in prayer. But he said to me yesterday that he had prayed for the first time in his life out there on the Esnes road. Just as he was rounding “Kelly’s Corner,” a “77” landed in the road in front of him. Then two more shells came, one in the field to his right and the other a few yards behind him. “Why, Doolie,” he said afterwards, “there wasn’t anything else to do except to pray. I felt so little, so absolutely helpless, that I had to ask God for help. I got it too. That fourth shell didn’t explode.”
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