In this article you will find out about:

  • The roots of AFS, founded during World War I as a humanitarian organization, and its transformation into a secondary school international exchange program,
  • The life of an exemplary American Field Service (AFS) volunteer ambulance driver, Julian Allen. Mr Allen also served on the Board of Directors created to guide the newly created secondary school exchange programs in the 1950s.

Julian Allen in uniform. Courtesy of the Allen family.

Paris, August 1989. Frederick “Freddy” Allen was working at the offices of J.P. Morgan at 14 Place Vendôme when he unexpectedly received a typed, well-written letter from a woman named Dorothy Colemere. Although he had never heard of her before, Ms. Colemere indicated she was a good friend of Freddy’s father, Julian, who had passed away more than two decades prior. Stunningly, she revealed they had both worked for a top-secret British intelligence agency involved in cracking German codes during the Second World War.

Freddy was thrilled to learn the information, as it helped him piece together a period of his dad’s life of which he could previously only speculate. As was typical with many veterans, Julian had spoken little to his family about not only his service during World War II, which took him from the British military to the U.S. Army Air Forces, but also his service as a fifteen-year-old volunteer with the American Field Service (AFS) during World War I. Julian Allen was a lifelong volunteer to all who knew him, though also a man of some mystery to those who loved him most.

The Kid Chauffeur

Julian Broome Livingston Allen was born on April 8, 1900 to Mr. and Mrs. Frederick H. Allen in Pelham Manor, New York. The second youngest of six children, he spent much of his childhood traveling back and forth to France with his parents.

Julian volunteered for AFS while still a student at St. Paul’s School in Concord, New Hampshire. He lied about his age on his AFS application, claiming to be seventeen years old and eligible to volunteer. At only fifteen years old, Julian found himself overseas, engaged in a bloody war that horrified much older men.

Julian left Paris with AFS unit SSU 4 for the contested region of Lorraine in November 1915. They spent the holiday season at Vaucouleurs, an area of lowlands and streams that was experiencing heavy rains. In the winter and spring of 1916, SSU 4 moved on to the Toul-Flirey sector and in June moved to Ippécourt. This devastated town was about twenty miles behind the front-line trenches of Verdun, one of the longest and bloodiest battles of the First World War.

Julian Allen (bottom left) with other SSU 4 volunteers. Julian wrote home about the wartime conditions they experienced, noting "My hands are disgusting. There is no water to be had. Gasoline is more cleansing. I spent the other night in the depths of an abri [dugout] that smelt of all the disgusting things one could imagine."
Julian Allen (bottom left) with other SSU 4 volunteers. Julian wrote home about the wartime conditions they experienced, noting “My hands are disgusting. There is no water to be had. Gasoline is more cleansing. I spent the other night in the depths of an abri [dugout] that smelt of all the disgusting things one could imagine.”

Julian, nicknamed “The Kid Chauffeur” by his fellow AFS volunteers given his young age, became known for embarking on exceptionally daring work in the face of danger. The postes de secours (dressing stations) they were serving near Verdun were indeed dangerous. Their nightly ambulance runs went from Ippécourt to their main base at Fromeréville, a town badly damaged by shellfire and situated between Verdun and the lines of the Mort Homme and Hill 304. The night sky was illuminated by the French batteries, helping light the way as they drove over roads deeply rutted with shell holes on to postes de secours closer to the front lines of battle. One underground poste was cut into the dirt and stone, supported by an arched roof of corrugated steel, with straw-filled bunks on the floor and lining the passageway. The entrance was in the line of shellfire, and the heavily bandaged and disillusioned wounded were quickly loaded into ambulances for the nerve-wrecking drive back to Fromeréville.

The roads were so bad that one night Julian and three other SSU 4 volunteers were forced to unload the wounded from their ambulances and carry them by hand over a particularly bad patch on the road. “I can assure you that it was no fun to carry a stretcher over a shell-torn road and in mud several inches deep,” Julian wrote in a letter home. “I thought that my arms would fall off when finally all the blessés [wounded] were transported.”

In November 1916, Julian volunteered to transport wounded requiring urgent care from relief posts to hospitals over a route frequently shelled and swept by enemy machine gun fire. He sustained wounds on the road near Verdun and was forced to return to the U.S. on November 29, 1916.

Julian was unable to sit still for long, and on May 26, 1917 he returned to service as section leader of the newly formed SSU 29. The AFS unit left Paris on the morning of June 30 and found comfortable quarters two days later in a wooden barrack that formerly served as a hospital ward in Condé-en-Barrois. Julian and his fellow volunteers celebrated July 4 (American Independence Day) and July 14 (Bastille Day) there in style, eating a multi-course feast and singing French and American songs from the “Marseillaise” to the “Star-Spangled Banner.”

John Newlin's ambulance beside Charles Ball's ambulance after the August 3, 1917 shelling in Montzéville.
John Newlin’s ambulance beside Charles Ball’s ambulance after the August 3, 1917 shelling in Montzéville.

On July 23, the unit moved on to Ville-sur-Cousances, where they relieved SSU 2. Julian’s time with the unit was short-lived, however. On the night of August 3 a shell fell only a few feet from the entrance of their dugout at Montzéville, destroying two ambulances and sending shell fragments through Julian’s knee and John Newlin’s back. The two were rushed to the nearby hospital at Fleury, and Julian was evacuated to the American Ambulance Hospital outside of Paris on August 4. Tragically, nineteen-year-old John Newlin died from his wounds that night.

Expatriate in France

Julian did not return to AFS after his injury, as the United States military arrived overseas and absorbed the organization into its ranks. Although he was a young man who had already saved many lives serving a country that wasn’t his own, Julian still had yet to obtain a high school diploma. After leaving high school early in order to volunteer overseas, he had to attend a “cram school” in 1918 to finish high school, and soon entered Harvard College.

Within a month he left Harvard to work in New York. Freddy Allen observed that his father’s early involvement with war at a young age probably caused him to feel college was unnecessary; he had already experienced life, and was a strongly self-educated man and an avid reader. Julian was soon employed by the Paris office of the Bankers Trust Company, and in 1933 he joined Morgan et Cie, a Paris firm associated with the American banking house of J.P. Morgan & Co., working from the same office where his son Freddy would later receive the life-changing letter.

Julian became part of the vibrant post-war expatriate community in Paris, known for its bons vivants and spirited parties. While not fully embracing life as one of the new bohemians, Julian did attend the famed Bal des Quat’z’Arts, the annual Parisian ball and all-night party that originated in the 1890s with the bohemians living in Montmartre. He was also among one of the 300 notables to participate in an eighteenth-century-themed country festival at the Bois de Boulogne in Paris in 1931, at which renowned American composer Cole Porter and his wife arrived in a themed flower wagon.

In 1936 Julian married Alice Moore Harding in Paris. Alice was an American from Alabama who had two children from a previous marriage to an American diplomat. In 1937, their first child, Mary Elizabeth Allen, was born.

ULTRA Intelligence

The hedonism of post-World War Paris was not to last; on September 1, 1939, World War II began. Julian sensed the war was coming long before it began, and commissioned an Italian mason to cover up the entrance to their medieval wine cellar in Quetteville, France, which contained bottles of rare vintages from as early as 1921. The cellar was filled with hay to prevent any echoes, and sick chickens and rabbits were placed in front of the hidden entrance as a further diversion. Despite a later period of occupation by the Germans (who left a thank-you note for the family when they departed), the wine stayed successfully hidden for the remainder of the war.

Julian Allen (seventh from left, wearing a dark coat) with the newly-arrived AFS volunteers at the Gare de Lyon on April 3, 1940. Photograph by Acme Newspictures.
Julian Allen (seventh from left, wearing a dark coat) with the newly-arrived AFS volunteers at the Gare de Lyon on April 3, 1940. Photograph by Acme Newspictures.

1939 also brought a renewed American Field Service, thanks in large part to Julian and his friends and fellow AFS veterans Joshua G.B. Campbell and Lovering Hill in Paris, who were coordinating with Director General Stephen Galatti in the United States. Allen helped with many of the initial contacts in France, including identifying sources of funding, coordinating with authorities, and helping Hill scope out a new headquarters in Paris.

Hill, his lifelong friend, even recommended Julian take over the AFS activities in France. In a letter to Galatti dated September 23, 1939, Hill noted: “In many ways Julian would be very good. He is a much better mixer than I am, gets along well with everybody, both French and American. He speaks French like a Frenchman. He knows a lot of people and his position… gives him ‘sur la place de Paris’ a much higher standing than my own.” While he must have been flattered, Julian added a quick postscript to Hill’s letter, telling Galatti that he wasn’t the person for the job and was liable to be called for the British Army, where he was still on the reserve list after having served with the British Coldstream Guard between 1918 and 1919.

Nonetheless, Julian was at the Gare de Lyon with French and American dignitaries to meet the first seventeen AFS volunteers who arrived from the United States on April 3, 1940. They moved on to the Cité Universitaire to have breakfast and take even more press photographs to publicize the newly reorganized humanitarian service.

Less than two months later Germany invaded France and established the Vichy Government, causing AFS to halt their official activities. Julian flew to the United States to see his wife and daughter, who lived there for the duration of the war, and to meet his newborn son, Freddy.

Julian returned to Europe and served in the European theater in the British Army and from 1942 in the European and Pacific theaters as a member of the U.S. Army Air Forces, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. His wife and children were proud of his wartime service; at least, the part they knew. What they didn’t realize was that Julian served as an ULTRA briefing officer for General Carl Spaatz during this time.

Julian was posted in the London office but traveled frequently to Bletchley Park, where Alan Turing worked with his team to crack high-level German codes, including those on the Enigma machine. Dorothy Colemere, the woman who sent the letter to Freddy in 1989, was a high-level secretary also working for Spaatz, and was even married in a civil ceremony to her husband by Julian in Bayeux, France, after D-Day.

Life in Peacetime

Julian went on to great success in his career after World War II, rising to the role of president of Morgan et Cie in 1955, and to vice president with responsibility for Morgan Guaranty Trust Company’s offices in Europe in 1959 until his

Julian Allen with his children in 1947. Courtesy of the Allen family.

retirement in 1965. Importantly, however, he never forgot his volunteer spirit. He continued his involvement with AFS, serving between 1954 and 1960 on the Board of Directors created to guide the new secondary school exchange programs. He also served on the Board of Governors at the American Hospital of Paris, the organization that helped him recover from his wounds during the First World War.

Julian B. L. Allen passed away on October 22, 1967 at age 67. During World War II, he was sworn to secrecy regarding his intelligence service for fifty years, and unfortunately passed away long before he could share anything about it with his family. Thanks to his lifelong friend Dorothy Colemere, his fascinating story lives on.


This article appears in the Fall 2016 issue of the AFS Janus magazine, produced by the Archives of the American Field Service and AFS Intercultural Programs. Read the full issue here.
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