Saturday 24 October 2020

Ambulance No. 10

Finished October 14
Ambulance No. 10: Personal Letters from the Front by Leslie Buswell

This collection of letters from the young Buswell seems to date from 1914, although no year is indicated on the letters themselves or referred to specifically in the preface or introduction, and encompass a few months. There is no indication of the recipient of the letters, although it would seem that it was a close friend back in the United States. Buswell served as an ambulance driver, part of a group of Americans who served in this way before the United States joined the war. The letters were originally compiled and published for private distribution in September 1915 before coming out in this book in August 1916. The book's preface and introduction were from the original privately distributed version, but there includes an editor's note about the book's publication, and both a facsimile and the text of a document from the French government giving permission for publication in America. Likely, this was given to encourage the U.S. to join the war. There is also a picture of Leslie Buswell in his ambulance uniform. A footnote to the preface indicates that Buswell himself also gave permission for their publication.
The letters begin on June 17th, when Buswell arrived at his ambulance station for the first time. He was stationed at Pont-à-Mousson, near Nancy. Near him are a railway line, and three rivers, the Marne, the Meuse, and the Moselle. The book includes simple drawings that appeared in the original letters as well as photographs taken by the writer of the area, activities, and people. 
Even when he is describing quite horrific situations or experiences, he maintains a calm writing style, and sometimes shows a bit of humour. 
Some of the experiences are quite amazing, such as how they could see the German line most of the time, and often were visible to the Germans while undertaking their duties or travelling around, yet were often not fired on despite this observation. Buswell describes the house he shared with another driver, the schedule they were put on, where they had a rotation that include overnight shifts, and on call shifts, and how they had to maintain their own vehicles. 
When taking injured soldiers to medical stations, there were competing priorities of getting there as quickly as possible and not making their injuries worse by travelling quickly over rough roads. Sometimes the urgent cases were dead by the time he got them to their destination and other times they still had a chance of survival with surgery. 
He makes occasional forays to the front lines, but recognizes the danger he is putting himself in by doing this unnecessarily and stops after a while. He describes the respect that the American ambulance drivers were given from the soldiers as well as any civilians still in the area. Any socialization that he did was mostly with the other drivers or the soldiers stationed nearby. 
He walks through trees and across meadows and picks flowers and notes the wildlife, from birds to animals. He sees the damage to the buildings and talks about the men he interacted with that were killed in the fighting or bombing. 
This is a very interesting book, showing the real experiences of this time 
The last entry is dated October 13th and he describes his experience of a near miss from a bomb, the following bombardment near them, the meal and music he enjoyed, a visit to abandoned trenches, and the discovery of two wooden crosses, one French, one German, indicating graves side by side in the woods. He listens to the owl hooting near by, the clock, the garden he has discovered that he goes to for solace and nourishment, reflecting on the appreciation he has for the friend he is writing to working to raise funds and awareness for this endeavor.

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