Just because the US declared war in 1917 didn’t mean we were able to send millions of troops to the front within months.
And just because the US had declared its neutrality in 1914, didn’t mean there weren’t Americans in the mix. A few crossed into Canada or used family connections in Britian to join Kitchener’s army.
Others, for religious reasons, wanted to contribute but were pacifists. These men of good family and good education (it was a requirement for the job) signed up to drive ambulances, and they brought their cars along as well. On the outbreak of the war, men were carried from the front by stretcher bearers to the clearing stations up to 3 miles away. Some carried the wounded on mules or wagons to speed up the process. But the Americans drove their vehicles to the edge of the lines and soon this practice became standard. It was a small change, but the effect is staggering. Original estimates put the casualty rates at 30%, but the invention of triage and moving the vehicles so close to the front cut that rate to 10%. Think of the carnage. Ten million dead at the end of the war could easily have been 30 million.
While the British refused most American offers of assistance (even refusing offers of Tin Lizzie’s in favor of English Wolseleys), the French and Belgians (speaking primarily about the Western Front) accepted the offers. American Ambulance companies were associated with the French Army (Automobile service) but the drivers weren’t given ranks.
American women doctors also pitched in to help. They opened American Wome’s Hospitals in France all from private funding. Some treated wounded (which they had to pick up and deliver to their hospitals) but they also treated the citizens, primarily women and children who’d be deprived of medical care as the governments supported their soldiers. Others worked with the Queen of the Belgians to open hospitals that treated the soldiers wounded in Flanders.
Neither was the American military sitting idly by. Thinking ahead to a time when the US might have to enter to European fray, they opened military hospitals in France with the second one being opened in February 1915.
Americans also contributed something else. We are a nation of immigrants, and when the call of war sounded, many immigrants rushed home to answer. In one case a ship of 800 men headed for Germany on a neutral ship. The French intercepted it, forced it to dock and unloaded all aboard. Those German immigrants were sent to Devil’s Island for the wars duration. Those with American citizenship papers were allowed to return. In all only a dozen men returned.
Until next time