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They left Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Michigan, and Stanford to drive ambulances on the French front, and on the killing fields of World War I they learned that war was no place for gentlemen. The tale of the American volunteer ambulance drivers of the First World War is one of gallantry amid gore; manners amid madness. Arlen J. Hansen’s Gentlemen Volunteers brings to life the entire story of the men—and women—who formed the first ambulance corps, and who went on to redefine American culture. Some were to become ...
They left Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Michigan, and Stanford to drive ambulances on the French front, and on the killing fields of World War I they learned that war was no place for gentlemen. The tale of the American volunteer ambulance drivers of the First World War is one of gallantry amid gore; manners amid madness. Arlen J. Hansen’s Gentlemen Volunteers brings to life the entire story of the men—and women—who formed the first ambulance corps, and who went on to redefine American culture. Some were to become legends—Ernest Hemingway, e. e. cummings, Malcolm Cowley, and Walt Disney—but all were part of a generation seeking something greater and grander than what they could find at home.
The war in France beckoned them, promising glory, romance, and escape. Between 1914 and 1917 (when the United States officially entered the war), they volunteered by the thousands, abandoning college campuses and prep schools across the nation and leaving behind an America determined not to be drawn into a “European war.” What the volunteers found in France was carnage on an unprecedented scale. Here is a spellbinding account of a remarkable time; the legacy of the ambulance drivers of WWI endures to this day.
Foreword George Plimpton v
Introduction Arlen J. Hansen xiii
Part I The Three Beginnings
1 The Harjes Formation 3
2 Richard Norton and the American Volunteer Motor-Ambulance Corps 21
3 A. Piatt Andrew and the American Ambulance Field Service 39
Part 11 Works and Days
4 Under Fire 59
5 En Repos 79
6 The Cars 97
Part III The End of Something
7 Politics, Motives, and Impressions 119
8 Some Female Drivers and Other Noteworthy Volunteers 137
9 Militarizing the Gentlemen Volunteers 161
Posted January 2, 2012
In spite of the introductory remarks about the tremendous (and somewhat poignant) efforts of the author to publish this work, I found it disappointing for a number of reasons.
Although my interest in the subject is high, thus inclining and motivating me to engage the book (my grandfather was an American ambulance driver in WW1), I found it difficult to overlook a number of serious flaws:
1) The Nook edition is pathetically proofread, with the most common problem being the transposition of the letter "d" for the letter "s" in italicized French words. Other issues have to do with punctuation and hyphenation. The problems are inconsistent but pervasive enough to require a constant mental adjustment as you read. It's just plain annoying. Admittedly, this is not the author's fault.
2) The information is poorly organized. For example, after beginning with the principal figures who organized the American ambulance corps at the outset of the conflict, Hansen shifts to anecdotal information about action (a fairly logical sequence), only to change to the nature of the vehicles driven, then back to the politics of the matter. Very odd.
3) The work suffers from imbalance. A great deal of time and effort is spent on the minutiae of the subject, while the synthesis of historical narrative is almost entirely lacking. For example, 20+ pages are spent on the relative virtues of the Model T (and "relative" is the term--if Hansen qualified his assessment one more time I felt I was going to scream). I doubt not that some find the information about changes in the internal psi of the Model T's motor in relation to varying grades of octane fascinating. I, personally, found it tedious to an extreme when there was only a smattering of narrative history to be had--in other words, what makes history interesting and (more importantly) memorable.
I did come away more informed about this aspect of history. How could I not? But I wouldn't recommend the book as anything other than a source work for a historian doing a larger work on WW1.