The AFS Ambulance Tour

AFS Ambulance Section 14 in the park at AFS Paris headquarters before departure to the front, March 1917.
AFS Ambulance Section 14 in the park at AFS Paris headquarters before departure to the front, March 1917.

To celebrate the centennial of WWI, the US Embassy France has partnered with American Field Service (AFS) Vivre SansFrontière– France to develop a project in honor of youngAmerican ambulance volunteers—the AFS Ambulance tour.

This year not only marks the centennial of WWI but also of the American Field Service (AFS), the precursor to AFS Vivre SansFrontière – France. Shortly after the outbreak of the war, American-born A. Piatt Andrew founded AFS. He led youngAmericans living in Paris as volunteer ambulance drivers for the American Hospital of Paris before the involvement of the US in 1917. AFS participated in every major French battle and carried more than 500,000 wounded soldiers during World War I. By the end of the war, 2,500 men had served in the American Field Service with the French Armies. AFS was reactivated as an ambulance service during World War II, and in 1947, the organization launched student exchanges between former warring countries to pursue its mission of peace.

To mark the Centennial of the American Field Service and World War I, AFS Vivre Sans Frontière – France has transported a reconstructed AFS ambulance 255an original 1916 Model T Fordfrom the US. The ambulance, along with its owner, Mr. George King III, and a 14panel exhibit, are traveling on a “Tour de France” from June until November 2014. The exhibit panels can be viewed here:

Residing in small town Connecticut, owner Mr. King, a formerUS coast guard, is an avid antique car collector—with no fewer than 6 Model Ts—and runs a car/engine restoration business. He likes to describe himself as “a man who lives in the past,” an identity evident in both his work and hobbies. He has rebuilt and built engines for the steam boat Sabino, the famous boat African Queen (used by Humphrey Bogart in a film of the same name), and the Henry Ford Museum, among others. Even King’s ambulance driver uniform has carefully been recreated from the original 1916 design.

The tour started in Sarlat (Périgord) at an international Ford T meeting and will end in Verdun at the World Peace Center. In between these destinations, the ambulance and owner King aretraveling in the different regions of France and participate in local public events organized by AFS chapters and volunteers in city halls, schools, museums, and more.

In Paris, Mr. King and his ambulance joined in the Embassy’s July 4th celebration. On July 13 and 14 in the Jardin des Tuileries, they also participated in the bivouac organized by theFrench Centennial Mission and the Gouverneur Militaire de Paris, which has been visited by President François Hollande, MOD Yves Le Drian and tens of thousands of French people and tourists.

This tour permits a larger audience to learn about the involvement of the American civil society during the conflict, even before the military involvement of the United States in WWI. Amongst many Centennial commemorations, the AFS project tells a different story about the war through the eyes of young American volunteers who created a service that would aid wounded soldiers and eventually become an international peace organization.