April 2015 is exactly 100 years after A. Piatt Andrew negotiated an agreement with the French military to have ambulance units comprised of American volunteers serve closer to the front lines of battle. These units became known as the “American Ambulance Field Service,” and were later called the “American Field Service.” The photograph depicted above has been used as one of the signature images of the AFS Centennial in 2014-15, intending to commemorate the founding of AFS in the First World War. In addition to being an aesthetically pleasing photograph, the image includes a number of important features related to the history of AFS, and even a “clue” which helps date the photograph!
First- the individuals featured in the photograph are A. Piatt Andrew (left) and Stephen Galatti (right). Andrew was a former assistant professor of economics at Harvard University and director of the U.S. Mint before World War I. His Assistant Inspector General, Galatti, would later go on to found and lead the AFS secondary school exchange programs after World War II.
Second- the ambulances featured behind Andrew and Galatti are Ford Model T chassis, which had an ambulance body built on top. The Ford Model T ambulances were the standard ambulance used by AFS during the war. They had interchangeable parts, which was better for repairs, and were quick and easier to maneuver on shell-pocketed roads than earlier ambulances. In the beginning of the war the ambulance bodies had canvas sides, though wooden sides (shown above) were quickly adopted, which were easier to clean.
Third- the ambulance in the front clearly shows the name “American Field Service” rather than “American Ambulance Field Service,” which was the first name of the organization. AFS dropped the word “Ambulance” from the organization’s name in part because they were no longer affiliated with the American Ambulance Hospital, but also because they adopted the camion (truck) service in 1917. This important clue means the photograph could only have been taken in 1917.
There are many other photographs found in the AFS Archives that highlight important facts about the history of AFS, if you look for the “clues” in the images! Find out more about AFS Archives here.