A remarkable number of well known authors were ambulance drivers during World War I. Among them were Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, E.E. Cummings, and W. Somerset Maugham.
There were three predominant WWI volunteer ambulance groups: the American Field Service (AFS), Norton-Harjes, and the American Red Cross operation in Italy. The United States entered the war on April 6, 1917 and both AFS and Norton-Harjes were merged into the U.S. Army Ambulance Corps by August 30, 1917.
Many of the future writers left the war rather than join the army where they would have become privates. In the volunteer groups they had been considered "gentlemen drivers" and the equivalent of officers. "Richard Norton is hanging on by his eye teeth," wrote E.E. Cummings to his mother on August 2, 1917, "God help us from being taken over by the American Army!!!!!!"
The American Field Service started as the ambulance arm of the American Hospital in Paris. Its driving force was A. Piatt Andrew, a former U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Treasury and professor of economics at Harvard University. A mid-1915 agreement resulted in the ambulances being attached to French line divisions.
The AFS got an eighteenth century mansion of five acres as headquarters and cut its ties with the American Hospital. AFS had recruited its drivers directly from colleges and universities around the United States. Individual ambulance units were made up exclusively of drivers from particular universities. Thus there were Harvard units, Yale units, etc.
The Norton-Harjes Ambulance Corps was created through the merger of the Harjes Formation of the American Red Cross and the American Volunteer Motor Ambulance Corps organized in 1914 by Richard Norton, son of Harvard's Charles Eliot Norton. Harjes was A. Herman Harjes, a French banker. Norton-Harjes reported no fatalities among its drivers.
Nearly all of the Literary Ambulance Drivers listed below injected their experiences into their books at one time or the other, some blatent like Hemingway, others somewhat more subtle. The following is in regards to one of the more subtle ones, the famed British author and playwright William Somerset Maugham:
In 1944 British author and playwright W. Somerset Maugham's novel The Razor's Edge was published. The story takes place just following World War I and follows a young American Maugham calls Larry Darrell as he searches for spiritual awakening. High in the mountains of India he experiences Enlightenment. However, what drove him on his quest initially was seeing his best friend die in front of his eyes following a dogfight with the Germans. Darrell had gone to Canada, enlisted in the Canadian military at age sixteen and was flying through them for the British in France by 1917. His best friend was an Irishman called Patsy. Patsy taught him everything he needed to know and how to survive. Inturn, in the end, it was Patsy that Larry saw die...after saving his life. Although the type plane both Larry and Patsy flew is never mentioned in the novel, it is known they were Sopwith Camels (source). Maugham had seen the war and the war's carnage at field level because, like Ernest Hemingway and other writers and authors of the time, he was a former volunteer ambulance driver, one of the so-called Literary Ambulance Drivers. (source)
Interesting enough two Literary Ambulance Drivers that show up on the list below, Charles Nordhoff, the author of High Barbaree, the same author that wrote Mutiny on the Bounty, and cartoonist Harry Ramsey, a preeminent comic book artist prior to, during, and just after WW II, and listed under Related Occupation as a newspaper artist on the list, played major bigtime roles in my early life, and of which of the two, through my uncle I met Ramsey personally.
During that meeting my uncle and Ramsey did most of the talking while I basically just listened. Some of it was interesting, some of it was boring. One of the things that came up was Ramsey's Red Cross service during the war. My uncle knowing there were a number of artists and writers that served with the Red Cross during World War I, he asked Ramsey if he knew any of the Literary Ambulance Drivers of the day. Although at the time I was just a kid I do remember they had a tendency to go on-and-on about Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. If they ever mentioned William Somerset Maugham, who was also an ambulance driver and whose main character Larry Darrel in his book The Razor's Edge, in real life, played such a major role in my life, I don't recall. Maugham by the way, one of the Literary Ambulance Drivers, did not choose to write Darrel to be an ambulance driver, but instead an American who joined the RAF to become a pilot after crossing over into Canada long before America entered the war. See:
LADY ON THE DOCK, PBY'S, AND HIGH BARBAREE
P-40 GOOSE SHOOT
Writers Who Were Ambulance Drivers in WWI
- Ernest Hemingway
- John Dos Passos
- E.E. Cummings
- W. Somerset Maugham
- John Masefield
- Malcolm Cowley
- Sidney Howard
- Robert Service
- Louis Bromfield
- Harry Crosby
- Julian Green
- Dashiell Hammett
- William Seabrook
- Robert Hillyer
- John Howard Lawson
- William Slater Brown
- Charles Nordhoff
- Sir Hugh Walpole
- Desmond MacCarthy
- Russell Davenport
- Edward Weeks
- C. Leroy Baldridge
- Samuel Chamberlain
- Gertrude Stein, visited hospitals and drove for American Fund for French Wounded
- Marjory Stoneman Douglas, worked at American Red Cross headquarters in Paris because she was in love with an ambulance driver
- Harry W. Ramsey, newspaper artist. Served with the Allied Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in service of the Red Cross in Italy, France, and Great Britain
- E.M. Forster, interviewed wounded in Egyptian hospitals
- Dorothea Francis Canfield Fisher, made home in France for husband while he was ambulance driver
- Archibald Cronin, doctor
- Edmund Wilson, stretcher bearer
- Anne Green, nurse
The above ambulance, so pictured in the 1923 Wonder Book of
Knowledge, is slightly newer than what Gertrude Stein drove.
ZEPPELINS: HIGH ALTITUDE WARSHIPS
LAFFAYETTE FLYING CORPS
THE SOPWITH CAMEL
ON THE RAZOR'S
As to the subject of donations, for those of you who may be interested in doing so as it applies to the gratefulness of my works, I invariably suggest any funds be directed toward THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT and/or THE AMERICAN RED CROSS.
Majority of article contributed by Steve Ruediger
Courtesy of First World War.com
THE BEST OF THE MAUGHAM BIOGRAPHIES:
SPIRITUAL GUIDES, GURUS, AND TEACHERS INFLUENTIAL IN THE RAZOR'S EDGE: