Ambulance Drivers during World War I

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Ambulance Drivers during World War I

World War I allowed for the emergence of many new types of warring equipment. The airplane proved to be very useful and successful. The armored tank became an integral part of an army. However, one of the many new innovations that is frequently overlooked is the introduction of the ambulance.

Even though ambulances were used as early as the 1480’s, they were first predominantly used in World War I. The main reason for this is the advent of the automobile. The first vehicles designed as ambulances were first used in 1792 by the French Army (Prose & Poetry). These were usually wagons pulled by slow animals, such as oxen. Because the ambulances were slow in addition to the rough terrain they had to pass through in battlefields, most patients were likely to die from the trip itself (Prose & Poetry). Additionally, the ambulances had bad reputations. They were considered as “driven by civilian drunkards and thieves who ran when they heard the guns” (qtd in Prose & Poetry). With the introduction of the automobile, the image of the ambulance changed. The ambulances were faster and performed their job much better. The novelty and the speed made driving an ambulance more acceptable to members of the better educated class in the United States (Prose & Poetry). This allowed ambulance organizations to recruit volunteers from ‘better’ schools, such as Harvard and Yale. Ironically, since the automobile was still new many recruits had to first learn how to drive. Because of the number of better educated volunteers, there were a significant number of famous authors that were ambulance drivers during World War I. They included Ernest Hemingway, W. Somerset Maugham, and E.E. Cummings (Literary).

Three predominant volunteer ambulance groups were active in World War I: the American Field Service (AFS), Norton-Harjes, and the American Red Cross. When the United States entered the war, the AFS and Norton-Harjes merged into the U.S. Army Ambulance Corps (Literary). Many of these volunteer groups recruited drivers directly from colleges and universities around the United States.

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