The Yankee Doctor

BACK IN PARIS, WHILE THE GERMANS were settling in next door to the American Embassy at the Hôtel Crillon, Ambassador Bullitt read a letter from the American Hospital’s chief surgeon, Dr Thierry de Martel. On 13 June, de Martel wrote, ‘I promised you not to leave Paris. I did not say if I would remain in Paris alive or dead. To remain living in Paris would be a cashable check for our adversaries. If I remain here dead, it is a check without funds to cover it. Adieu. Martel.’ A meticulous neurosurgeon, he prepared for the German occupation as for an operation. He woke early on 14 June in his elegant apartment at 18 rue Weber near the Champs-Elysées. After shaving and dressing, he went to his study on the apartment’s second storey and lay on a sofa. Hours later, a French colleague from the American Hospital found his body. Beside him lay a strychnine solution syringe. Nearby were two documents. One was a note with instructions that nothing be done to save him. The other was the play Hernani, ou l’Honneur Castillan, about the suicide of a Spanish nobleman, open at Victor Hugo’s words, ‘Since one must be tall to die, I arise.’ By the time Bullitt read his letter promising not to desert Paris, 65-year-old Thierry de Martel was dead.

Thierry de Martel was the son of Count Roger de Martel de Janville and Sybille de Mirabeau, who wrote romantic novels under the name Gyp. His mother’s books mocked the French aristocratic society of which she was a part, and they denigrated late nineteenth-century Jewish arrivistes. Adrienne Monnier thought her books were ‘disgustingly stupid novels’. Born in 1875, de Martel grew up under the new Third Republic in his family’s royalist milieu that believed in the guilt of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, the Jewish officer charged in 1894 with treason, unjustly convicted, imprisoned and later exonerated. During the Great War, Dr de Martel fought, was wounded and received military citations before joining the American Hospital as a surgeon in 1917. Together with Dr Clovis Vincent, he revolutionized brain surgery in France. Their techniques reduced mortality during brain tumour operations from 60 to 16 per cent, and he was made a Commander of the Legion of Honour. His devotion to patients impressed the American Hospital’s staff as much as his surgical skills. In 1931, when another physician’s neglect of the American poet Pauline Avery Crawford forced him to amputate her infected leg, he came to her bedside in the American Hospital afterwards. ‘Do not cry!’ he said. ‘I have just returned from Italy where I found that all the most beautiful statues in the museums were those that were a little broken. And I thought of you, my little patient!’

On 13 June, the day de Martel wrote to Ambassador Bullitt, Dr Charles Bove made ‘one attempt to rouse him from his melancholy … we were standing on an upper verandah [of the American Hospital] overlooking the gardens that had once been so beautiful and now were disfigured by tents, barracks, and entrances to air raid shelters’. De Martel said he had a plan, and Bove asked what it was. ‘No,’ de Martel said. ‘It’s not a very interesting plan.’ The American recalled, ‘His gaze wandered to the garden. After a moment he turned to me with a puzzled frown. “Those birds out there in the garden–those damn birds–they keep on singing as if nothing has happened.”’ Bove approached the hospital’s director, Dr Edmund Gros, with his concerns about de Martel. ‘I know,’ Dr Gros said. ‘We Americans feel badly enough about this thing. But the French …’ Bove called de Martel that evening, but no one answered.

De Martel had told friends about his son’s death in the Great War and his subsequent vow never to speak to any German. The writer Jacques Bernard insisted to Georges Duhamel, whom he had succeeded as editor of the journal Mercure de France, that de Martel’s son had killed himself, possibly as a result of war trauma: ‘There is a kind of reverse heredity, the son’s act operating on the father, the same moral defect.’ Thomas Kernan, the American editor of Vogue magazine in France, believed that de Martel had cancer. De Martel was a complex man, a philanthropist and yet a member of right-wing, anti-German and anti-Jewish political groups like Action Française. But writer André Maurois, born Émile Salomon Wilhelm Herzog in 1885 to Jewish parents who had left Alsace when the Germans occupied it in 1870, detected no anti-Semitism in his friend. Maurois and his wife would learn of de Martel’s suicide more than a week afterwards, when their New York-bound Pan American Airlines Dixie Clipper from Lisbon stopped to refuel in the Azores. Reading the news in the American papers, Maurois reflected,

In him we lost an incomparable friend, and France one of the noblest types she has bred. This surgeon was a great gentleman. He had made fortunes and used them to support free clinics in which he operated on thousands of unfortunates. I know of a case in which he saved from death, by an operation that he alone could perform, a man who had pursued him for years with jealousy and hatred. He had proved on a thousand occasions his physical and moral courage.

Dr Thierry de Martel’s suicide was one of fourteen recorded in Paris on 14 June, but it received more coverage than the others when the Parisian press resumed publication four days later. Under the headline, ‘Death of Dr de Martel’, Le Matin reported that one of his relatives, on hearing a false rumour of his death, called the doctor’s house. Believing a servant had answered, he asked for the date of the funeral. ‘The surgeon, who was at the end of the line, responded, “I don’t know yet, but I’ll tell you when I’m dead.”’ The funeral, attended by his medical colleagues, took place on Sunday, 16 June. His loss created havoc at the American Hospital of Paris, where other doctors had depended on his leadership as much as the patients did on his surgical expertise. Direction of war surgery fell to de Martel’s colleague and friend, a modest genito-urinary specialist from Maine, Dr Sumner Waldron Jackson.

Dr Jackson was a model of the tall, strong and silent Yankee. Born in Spruce Head on the rocky shore north of Portland, Maine, on 7 October 1885, he stood 6 feet and 1 inch tall. His sky blue eyes contrasted with heavy, dark eyebrows. As a youngster, he had worked on farms and in quarries. His rugged looks and powerful physique marked him as an outdoorsman of the harsh American northeast. A Frenchwoman who fell in love with him remembered him striding out of a lake: ‘He wore only a brief bathing slip and at a distance he looked like one of the heroes of a Fenimore Cooper novel.’ Having worked his way through Maine’s Bowdoin College and Jefferson Medical School in Philadelphia, he served his internship at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. His next post was with the Harvard Group of volunteers, well-bred young Americans who joined the British Army in 1916. He arrived in France as a field surgeon in time to treat thousands of casualties thrown up by the Second Battle of the Somme. The five-month engagement inflicted bullet and shrapnel wounds, burned flesh, gangrene, trench fever, gas poisoning and the gueule cassée or broken face that left men without jaw, cheek or eye socket. Doctors frequently lacked pain-killers or anaesthetics for major surgery, and the medical use of antibiotics had yet to be discovered. Jackson dealt with all types of wound, and he achieved the respect of his British colleagues for his steady work under impossible circumstances.

A year after Jackson’s arrival in France, the United States armed forces joined the Allied cause. Captain Sumner Jackson transferred from the British Army to the American as a lieutenant. One of the few American physicians with modern battlefield surgery experience, he was posted to American Red Cross Hospital Number Two in Paris to treat severely wounded men brought back from the trenches. Jackson met a French Red Cross nurse, Charlotte Sylvie Barrelet de Ricout, and stole a first kiss from her in a linen cupboard. Charlotte had taken up nursing when the war began in 1914. Her lawyer father and her mother were Swiss Protestants, who had settled in France. She loved playing tennis and sailing on a lake near Paris at Enghien-les-Bains, where her family had a holiday house. Jackson called her by her family’s pet name, Toquette, and she called him Jack. Jack had just turned 32 when he married 27-year-old Toquette on 19 November 1917. Nine months after the Armistice of November 1918, the couple sailed to the United States.

When Jackson left the army in September 1919, he and his war bride went from Fort Dix to Spruce Head, Maine, the hometown he had left in 1905 for Bowdoin College, medical school and France. The people of Maine were famously hardy and insular. Most of them voted Republican and minded their own business, and few had been as far from home as Europe. Toquette felt unwelcome. Jackson’s experiences of France and war had alienated him from his New England roots. Before the icy winter set in, the couple moved to Philadelphia for Jackson to take up a medical practice. Somehow, they did not fit. The infamous Palmer Raids that deported aliens for their political opinions exposed a streak of American xenophobia, and the new prohibition on alcohol seemed silly to a couple used to wine with dinner. Jackson wrote to the director of the American Hospital of Paris, Dr Edmund Gros, to inquire about employment. Dr Gros, who had met Jackson during the war, replied that he would be welcome. However, French law required foreign doctors to obtain a French high school diploma, the baccalauréat, and earn a French medical degree. For a 36-year-old physician with his experience it would be difficult to sacrifice four years of his professional life. Dr Gros told him that another American physician who had worked in France during the war, Dr Charles Bove, had taken his baccalauréat and was studying at the École de Médecine in Paris. Jackson agreed to do the same. He and Toquette sailed to France in September 1921.

Jackson studied French with a 30-year-old tutor named Clemence Bock. Despite hard work by teacher and student, Jackson failed the philosophy section of the syllabus and thus did not qualify for medical school. The Jacksons went to Algiers, where he could take the examination again under a regime that was said to be somewhat easier. After nine months of study in Algeria, Jackson passed the exams and was admitted to the École de Médecine in Paris. Two years later, he successfully defended his thesis, moved into an apartment at 11 avenue Foch in the expensive 16th Arrondissement and began work as a surgeon and urologist at the American Hospital.

‘This hospital is a little bit of the United States right here in Paris, Bove,’ Dr Edmund Gros had told Dr Charles Bove a few years before. When Jackson went to work there in 1925, its leading medical practitioners were Dr Gros and Dr Thierry de Martel. The little hospital that admitted its first patient in 1910 had served the French and American armies in wartime, when medical tents covered its expansive gardens. Its American Ambulance Service became United States Military Hospital Number One, treating American casualties from the battles at Château-Thierry and the Argonne. Since the war and the post-war influx of Americans to Paris, it had outgrown its original confines at the corner of the boulevard du Château and rue du Château in Neuilly. The new Memorial Building, designed by American architect Charles Knight, opened next door on boulevard Victor Hugo in May 1926. Looking like a comfortable seaside hotel, the Memorial Building housed 150 patient beds in a central block with two matching wings. The hospital’s charter, signed into American law in January 1913 by President William Howard Taft, required it to offer medical services free to American citizens in France. Wealthy Americans and foreigners, like the kings of Yugoslavia and Spain, paid for private rooms. Indigent Americans were placed in wards. Among Americans without funds was Ernest Hemingway, who came to the hospital at least twice during the 1920s. Dr Bove removed his appendix, after which he began writing The Sun Also Rises in a ward bed. Dr Jackson stitched and bandaged Hemingway’s head when a skylight in his bathroom fell on it. James Joyce was made an ‘honorary American’ to receive eye surgery at the hospital in 1923. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, came to the hospital in 1926 with gynaecological ailments, and Dr de Martel operated on her. Gertrude Stein, the poet e e cummings and other American writers relied on Dr Jackson and the American Hospital for medical care that, as often as not, was given free of charge.

In January 1928, Charlotte Jackson gave birth to a boy. They named him Phillip. In this family of nicknames, young Phillip became Pete. When the Depression that came to France a few years after it hit the United States forced many Americans out of Paris, the hospital lost patients and cut staff salaries. The board of governors sought donations in the United States, and the Paris branch of Morgan and Company Bank extended an overdraft at reduced interest. ‘The permanent American colony in Paris in those days divided quite sharply between those who worked for a living like the newspapermen and those who kept country chateaux and moved between Paris and various spas,’ wrote Eric Sevareid, then a reporter at the Paris Herald by day and for the United Press at night. During the Spanish Civil War, he remembered, it became an ‘impossible task’ for Americans wounded in the service of the legitimate Spanish government to ‘break into that fortress of snobbery, the American Hospital in Paris’. The official American community in Paris, Sevareid noticed, looked down on those who fought against the Nazis in Spain. They were ‘dirty Reds’ to some on his own newspaper and to ‘Dean [Frederick Warren] Beekman, the sententious head of the most fashionable American church’.

Sumner Jackson belonged to the established American colony of Paris. He lived in the most chic district of the Right Bank, and his family spent weekends in the country. His patients were from European aristocracy and American high society. Dean Beekman, the anti-communist Episcopal firebrand of the faux-Gothic American Cathedral in the avenue George-V, was a friend. Yet Dr Jackson was a dissenter. He and Toquette were both agnostics from Protestant, free-thinking families. They had known war and poverty, and both distrusted Hitler. His entry in Americans in France: A Directory, 1939–1940 listed the American Legion as his only membership. Most of the other Americans in the Paris version of the Blue Book belonged to fraternities, country clubs and alumni associations like the Harvard and Yale clubs. As a member of the hospital’s medical committee, Jackson braced the institution for war and took a special interest in his poorer patients.

Soon after the Munich agreement in 1938, the American Hospital’s governors offered their facilities to the French government to treat the wounded if war broke out. When war came in September 1939, casualties were far fewer than in the Great War. The hospital took them in, and Jackson operated on wounds similar to those he had seen between 1916 and 1918. Over Christmas 1939, Josephine Baker sang and danced at the American Hospital for injured French troops. The soldiers, in pyjamas and many in wheelchairs, toasted her beside a Christmas tree. The hospital established a temporary centre on the Normandy coast at Entretat. When the Germans invaded France in mid-May 1940 and made swift advances through the north, the facility had to move. The New York Herald Tribune reported on 8 June 1940 that the hospital’s doctors had already ‘selected a building at Angoulême in the Charente, which has been requisitioned to be turned over to the hospital for this purpose by the French government’. The 100-bed field hospital was on the direct Paris–Bordeaux railway line, so the wounded could be moved there without being trapped on roads blocked by refugees. Other temporary American hospitals and dressing stations opened at Châteauroux and in the casino of Fontainebleau, just south of Paris. Dr Jackson, Dr Bove, Dr Morris Sanders and other American surgeons laboured day and night on the growing number of French soldiers whom the Germans had seriously wounded. Most of the casualties came to the hospital in ambulances of the American Ambulance Corps, paid for by donations from American citizens and driven by American volunteers. When French friendly fire hit one ambulance and wounded a French soldier, Jackson had to amputate his leg in darkness. The amputation was nonetheless clean enough for the leg to take a prosthetic. When he was not operating on patients, Jackson took care of anaesthesia for other doctors. It was grinding, bloody labour without any reassurance that the suffering would save France from German conquest.

French General Lannois came to the American Hospital to award the Médaille Militaire, France’s highest military decoration, and the Croix de Guerre to a wounded Zouave dispatch bearer named Maurice Longuet. With the general was the soldier’s father, whose eye patch marked him as a wounded veteran of the previous war. His 19-year-old son lay in bed, while the general pinned the ribbons on his pyjama shirt. Drs Jackson, Bove, Gros and de Martel watched the informal ceremony. Jackson whispered to Bove, ‘Tel père, tel fils,’ such a father, such a son. More sons were brought in every day.

Dr Bove, who operated beside Sumner Jackson, recalled the chaos of the final weeks:

When the Allies, pushed to the coast, fought a rear-guard engagement at Dunkirk, Paris felt the full impact of things. All city hospitals were crowded with casualties. The nurses were so overwhelmed with work that additional women volunteered by the hundreds to wash the faces and feet of the wounded. They carried cups of coffee to those who were able to swallow. We surgeons operated until late into the night, cutting away on jagged wounds like butchers in a slaughterhouse. I lived on five or six cups of coffee and a few sandwiches daily … We rarely stopped before midnight. The agony of the men awaiting their turn in the outer room and begging us to relieve them made it impossible for us to quit. My feet became so sore that I could barely walk, and to attempt to straighten up out of the bent position I had maintained for so many hours over the operating table caused excruciating pain.

This went on for two weeks. Then, as the Nazis approached Paris, the city was virtually cut off; the wounded began pouring down to evacuation centers in the middle and southern parts of France. As the news filtered into Paris that thousands of British and French troops had been evacuated from Dunkirk, the crowds pushed and fought their way into the churches to light candles to their patron saints and to pray that their loved ones had reached England.

The day before the Germans entered Paris, Dr Bove told Sumner and Toquette, ‘It’s only a matter of a few weeks before Roosevelt brings America in and declares war on Germany. But this time the Boches will have Paris, and if we stay they’ll lock us up.’ Bove prepared to leave. Dr Gros, in Bove’s words, ‘seemed to age before our eyes’ and was no longer able to work. Sumner considered going, but his wife convinced him that the hospital’s French staff would not stay without him. Sumner asked Toquette, who had resumed working as a nurse, to take their son to safety. She and her sister Alice, nicknamed Tat, left Paris with 12-year-old Phillip for the family’s lakeside house at Enghien.

With his wife and son no longer in their avenue Foch apartment, Jackson moved into one on the third floor of the hospital. On the last warm June night before Paris fell, he ascended to the roof to smoke a cigar. He could see the fields where French kings hunted before the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie planted suburban villas in Neuilly. Artillery flashes on the horizon made it clear that the Germans were advancing on Paris from the east and north. It would not be long before they reached Neuilly. Jackson’s main concern now was to save the hospital from falling into German hands. Wounded French and British soldiers needed the institution, one of the finest in France, as much as the American civilians still in Paris. There were already rumours that the Germans had listed the hospital for requisitioning. Soon, Jackson would face another dilemma. Donald Coster, a young American who had come from Montreal to drive ambulances for the American Ambulance Field Service, asked for a safe haven. There was something curious about Coster. As an American neutral, he had nothing to fear from the Germans. Yet, for some reason, he was hiding in the hospital’s basement. If he were caught there, the Germans might seize the hospital and arrest Jackson for helping him. Jackson, 54 years old with a wife and young son to protect, had decided which side he was on. Helping Coster was only the first step along the anti-German road.

By the time the Germans consolidated their hold on Paris, most of the Americans who had vanished in the war’s chaos had been accounted for. Some of the American volunteer ambulance drivers, however, were still missing. They had either been killed or captured. Two American charities, the American Ambulance Field Service (AAFS) and Anne Morgan’s American Volunteer Ambulance Corps (AVAC), had dispatched drivers, crews and ambulances to France from the early spring of 1940. Americans from all forty-eight states donated a fleet of Chevrolet three-quarter ton trucks with the latest mobile medical facilities. At the end of May, seventy-five American drivers and sixty-six Chevrolets from AVAC and another thirty-eight men and six ambulances from AAFS were at the front. Drivers paid their own expenses and the cost of their equipment. Most were young Ivy Leaguers. One, Robert Montgomery, was a prominent Hollywood actor. When the Germans occupied Denmark on 9 April, the AAFS was attached to the French Tenth Army. Throughout May and June, the Americans went into action to retrieve wounded and evacuate civilians without cars or unable to depart on railway lines bombed by the Luftwaffe. Anne Morgan, although aged 67, led her drivers into the fighting in the Meuse Valley.

One American ambulance driver, 26-year-old Lawrence Jump, was reported dead in May after a German shell struck his ambulance. Life magazine declared the Oakland, California, native and Dartmouth graduate the ‘first American casualty’ of the war. Then, on 24 June, two days after the signing of the Franco-German Armistice at Compiègne, Life published a letter from his sister, Cynthia Jump Willett: ‘I received a telegram yesterday from the State Department informing me he was in a prison in Weinberg near Stuttgart.’ The American Embassy in Berlin arranged his release.

At least two American drivers were wounded, and nine went missing in action. Four of the missing, presumed dead, belonged to the AAFS unit with the French Tenth Army at Beauvais. Their chef de section was Peter Muir, the First World War ambulance veteran who would be captured by the Germans and escape to enjoy Charles Bedaux’s hospitality at the Château de Candé. The four missing drivers were Muir’s immediate subordinate, Donald Quested Coster, a Lawrenceville and Princeton alumnus who had worked in advertising in Montreal, Canada; John Clement of Brookline, Massachusetts; Gregory Wait of Shelburne, Vermont; and George King of Providence, Rhode Island. The last place Muir had seen them was the unit’s forward position at Beauvais: ‘Coster was in the Colonel’s office and spoke to me. He was taking his two cars to Amiens. There had been terrific bombings. The town was in flames. The Germans were coming in. Perhaps we would meet there. Good-by. Good luck. I never heard his voice again in France.’

Muir wrote that ‘with the knowledge that the Germans were in one part of the town, if not all of it, Coster was courageously leading his two cars back for a last load of wounded’. Muir waited all night for the men to return and, in the morning, made several attempts to find them. French soldiers outside Amiens stopped him each time for his own safety. ‘At noon I gave up Don Coster, Gregory Wait, George King, and John Clement as lost in action, and sent a report in to the Paris office to the effect that they had disappeared while carrying out a dangerous mission under orders from their [French] commanding officer, Colonel Soulier. They had been killed, wounded, or captured on duty.’ On 26 May, the New York Times reported, ‘Lovering Hill, commander of the American Ambulance Field Service, returned to Paris today after an unsuccessful hunt for four missing American ambulance drivers.’

The French government awarded Coster, Wait, King and Clement the Croix de Guerre with a citation that noted they had been killed in action–mort pour la France.

Coster and the others had, in fact, found shelter in the cellar of the Hôpital Châteaudun in Amiens. The city was ablaze, and only its cathedral was unscarred. Taking cover below the hospital with 150 doctors, nurses, wounded soldiers, women and children, Coster heard ‘exploding shells like punches against your chest’. The shelling stopped, but it was followed by a more ominous sound: heavy boots stamping overhead. Everyone remained quiet while they passed. Cautiously, Coster stepped outside. ‘I walked into the courtyard, and there for the first time saw the grey-green soldier’s uniform,’ he wrote. ‘The soldier’s rifle was aimed at a line of French prisoners backed against a wall.’ Fearing the soldier was about to execute the men, but unable to speak German, Coster held up the Geneva identification card that showed he was a civilian ambulance driver and an American. ‘He turned his gun on me, and seemed to be considering whether to squeeze the trigger. But the answer, at least for the moment, was no.’

Fellow driver George King spoke enough German to ask to see an officer. The soldier led them about fifty yards to the main road. ‘There,’ Coster wrote, ‘we were greeted by the most awe inspiring sight I have ever seen.’ It was a Wehrmacht mechanized unit speeding into Amiens.

You may have seen photographs of a Panzer column. But you haven’t seen the endless stretch of it. You haven’t seen its speed–roaring down the road at forty miles an hour. German tanks with officers standing upright in the turrets, sweeping the landscape with binoculars. Mean little whippet tanks. Armored cars with machine-gunners peering out through the slits. Motorized anti-aircraft cannon with their barrels pointed upward and crews ready for action. Armored touring cars with ranks of alert soldiers stiffly pointing rifles. Guns of every caliber, on pneumatic tires or caterpillars. Motor boats and rubber rafts mounted on wheels; fire engines; camouflaged trucks loaded with petrol–all ready at the first sign of resistance to disperse across the fields and take up positions of defense or attack. Over-head were reconnaissance planes.

Near where we were standing the French had thrown a pitiful wooden barricade across the road, which the column had mowed down like matchsticks; nothing yet invented by man, you felt with a shock of despair, could possibly withstand this inhuman monster which had already flattened half of Europe.

The German soldier stopped an armoured car and turned the Americans over to its officer, who drove them to his commander. ‘The general was a broad-shouldered, tough, six-foot-three mountain of Prussian efficiency,’ Coster remembered. ‘He listened to us with polite impatience. But either our French or the general’s was not too good because he took us for American doctors and scribbled an order that we were to be placed in charge of the Châteaudun Hospital, which we were to put in scrupulous order for use as a “German-American” hospital.’ Coster and his colleagues spent two nights bringing wounded British soldiers off a battlefield. The scene was horrifying in the darkness, but it was worse at dawn of the second day:

Under a hot, cloudless sky lay a wide field of high grass, simply covered with the English dead and wounded, and wounded and dead cattle. The British boys had been massacred by the tanks, as they had no artillery, only a few light machine guns to supplement their rifles–about as effective against a tank’s armor as a peashooter … Here, as last night, we didn’t find a single dead or wounded German. Out of possibly 300 British, we picked up maybe 25 or 30. The rest had all been killed.

When Coster asked one wounded Englishman what he thought of the Panzer columns, he said, ‘Beautiful to watch, but terrible to receive.’

A German soldier mistook Coster, whose ambulance uniform was similar to a British soldier’s, for an Englishman and stole his leather gloves. Coster grabbed the gloves back. ‘In the fraction of a second, his revolver was pointed at my stomach. I pointed to the American Field Service band on my arm and explained, “Amerikanisch”.’ The officer saluted him and walked off. Other German officers complained of the Americans, ‘Ah–we never see any of you–on our side.’

On 14 June, the day the Germans occupied Paris, the four American ‘doctors’ were still working at the Amiens ‘German-American’ hospital. A Belgian Red Cross delegate and his wife, M. and Mme Alfred Chambon, arrived to visit the wounded. Coster asked if they would take him and his three comrades to Brussels. ‘We hurried to the Kommandant. At first his answer was definitely no; but we argued so loudly (and lied so convincingly about the pressure that would be applied by the American Consulate in Brussels when they heard of our plight) that at last he relented.’ The Chambons drove the four Americans in their small Ford to Brussels, where the American Ambassador placed them ‘under the protection of the Embassy’. Wait, King and Clement stayed in Belgium awaiting repatriation to the United States. On 1 July, American diplomat George Kennan, who was visiting from the US Embassy in Berlin, took Coster in his car back to Paris. ‘We were stopped three times,’ Coster wrote of the drive, ‘but Mr. Kennan’s pass and his perfect German took us safely through.’ Kennan wrote that he had given a lift to ‘one of the American ambulance drivers, who was trying to get down to Paris to recover his clothes’. The French peasants along the roads evoked strong sympathy from the two Americans. ‘Refugees were laboriously making their way back northwards, in search of their homes,’ Kennan recorded in his diary. ‘Most were traveling on the great two-wheeled horse-drawn cart of the French peasant, which could accommodate a whole family and many of its belongings.’ Kennan noticed a young girl on one of the carts:

Her dress was torn and soiled. She had probably not taken her clothes off, or been able to wash, for days … All the youth had gone out of her face. There was only a bitterness too deep for complaint, a wondering too intense for questions. What would be her reaction to life after this? Just try to tell her of liberalism and democracy, of progress, of ideals, of tradition, of romantic love; see how far you get … She saw the complete moral breakdown and degradation of her own people. She saw them fight with each other and stumble over each other in their blind stampede to get away and to save their possessions before the advancing Germans. She saw her own soldiers, routed, demoralized, trying to push their way back through the streams of refugees on the highways. She saw her own people pillaging and looting in a veritable orgy of dissolution as they fled before the advancing enemy … She saw these French people in all the ugliness of panic, defeat, and demoralization.

In Paris, Kennan dropped Coster and his luggage at the Hôtel Bristol, ‘a place of refuge for the remaining Americans’. After making a nostalgic tour and dropping his car at the American Embassy after the ten o’clock curfew, Kennan walked to the Hôtel Bristol. ‘At the hotel the ambulance driver and I, feeling much too near the end of the world to think of sleep, cracked out a bottle of rye,’ Kennan noted. ‘We were joined by our next-door neighbor, a female and no longer entirely young. She was a true product of Parisian America and was accepting her privations with such excellent good humor that she kept us in gales of laughter with the account of her experiences.’ The next day, Kennan drove through the city looking up ‘friends of friends’. Having known Paris before the war, he thought the German-occupied city looked the same but was no longer itself: ‘Was there not some Greek myth about the man who tried to ravish the goddess, only to have her turn to stone when he touched her? That is literally what has happened to Paris. When the Germans came, the soul simply went out of it; and what is left is only stone.’

Coster learned that a French officer had seen his Ambulance Number 20 near Amiens, burned out with four charred corpses beside it. ‘This explained why King, Wait, Clement and I had been awarded the Croix de Guerre–posthumously!’ Rather than linger at the Bristol or return to his room at Cité Universitaire, Coster went to the American Hospital at Neuilly. There was no indication that he knew Dr Sumner Jackson, but he asked the surgeon for help.

Donald Coster was more than a naïve volunteer. After his graduation from Princeton in 1929, he moved to Montreal, the nearest venue for American diplomats and others to perfect their French. He worked there as an advertising executive, and he had no difficulty leaving the job in 1940 to serve in France. When he arrived in Brussels from Amiens on 14 June, he had the option of awaiting repatriation with his colleagues. Instead, he went to Paris. Coming back to France after the Germans had arrested him once was a gamble. Under international law, as an American he would not have been apprehended. The Nazis could have arrested him only if they suspected him of being a spy. Coster probably returned to Paris to collect–not his clothes–but information on France, German troop strength or the new escape routes through which British and French soldiers were making their way to England. Dr Jackson, having served in the British and American armies in the last war against Germany, was organizing an underground railroad. When Coster found him, Jackson agreed to obtain the papers he would need to cross the border to Spain. Until the false identity documents were ready, Coster stayed out of sight under the American Hospital.

The American Hospital of Paris continued its assistance to the war’s victims after Paris fell under Nazi domination. ‘The Germans permitted Dr. Jackson to set up a dressing station for the French wounded at Fontainbleau [sic] and to evacuate selected patients to the American Hospital,’ wrote Dr Morris Sanders, chief anaesthesiologist at the American Hospital in 1940. Sanders, who called Sumner ‘Dr Jack’, went on the first ambulance to Fontainebleau with Drs Jackson and Gros, and he took part in surgery on the French wounded there. ‘With the Occupation of Paris,’ Sanders wrote, ‘Dr. Jack worked long hours, gave his blood numerous times and slept in the building, and visited his family only on weekends.’

From the first day of the occupation of Paris, the American Hospital expanded its operations from field hospitals to prison camps, where many of the newly interned soldiers were either ill or wounded. Facilities for prisoners were rudimentary, if only because the Germans were not wholly prepared to deal with almost two million captives. Otto Gresser, the hospital’s Swiss superintendent, recalled, ‘An impressive line of ambulances packed with bread and other essential products, all run by American and French volunteers, daily left the Hospital for the prisoner camps in the Paris area, some of them went even as far as Château-Thierry, Chartres and Alençon. From June 15 they visited 250,000 prisoners desperately in need of food.’ Dr Sumner Jackson, who worked without rest, did not believe enough was being done for the prisoners. He blamed what he called the ‘bullshit bureaucracy of old men’, both German and French, for failing to distribute all the American aid intended for the prisoners. The hospital, while providing assistance to demoralized French PoWs, had the most up to date intelligence on the locations, security measures and sizes of all the German camps in the Paris region. Some of the injured prisoners that the ambulances brought to the hospital did not, when they recovered, return to the camps. Dr Jackson made certain that those who walked out of the hospital left no trace for the Germans to follow.

Immediately after the Germans entered Paris, a report prepared by the American Hospital for its US governors in New York concluded, ‘Too much praise cannot be given to Dr. Sumner W. Jackson, who has been a member of the attending Staff since 1925 and who accepted the professional supervision of the wounded for the period of the war.’

Dr Thierry de Martel left a nephew, Jacques Tartière, an actor who used the stage name Jacques Terrane. Jacques’ wife was a glamorous, long-legged American actress, Drue Leyton. They had met in New York in 1937, while he was visiting his father and his American stepmother. Drue was acting in a Work Projects Administration (WPA) Theatre Project–‘for I had grown weary,’ she wrote, ‘of the part of the blonde heroine in Charlie Chan mysteries to which I had been confined in Hollywood’. She recalled meeting Jacques, ‘He was a good-looking, tall man, twenty-six years old, six years younger than I. He had been educated in England as well as France and spoke English perfectly.’ They went together to England, where Drue played in Clifford Odets’s Golden Boy. They married in London in 1938, the day before Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier ceded Czechoslovakia to Hitler at Munich. When war began in September 1939, Jacques enlisted in the French Army. His weak lungs kept him out of combat, so the army assigned him to liaise with British forces in Brittany. Drue, meanwhile, accepted a theatrical agent’s proposal to work for the Ministry of Information at its international Radio Mondiale. There, she produced programmes that promoted France in America, interviewing the French novelist Colette, the comedienne Mistinguett and American reporters like Dorothy Thompson and Vincent Sheean. Her broadcasts under the name Drue Leyton won the attention of the Nazis. German radio announced in five of its French language broadcasts that, when Germany conquered France, she would be executed.

In late May 1940, 35-year-old Drue Leyton Tartière watched Belgians seeking safety from the Nazis in Paris, ‘grandmothers holding dead babies in their arms, women with parts of their faces shot away, and insane women who had lost their children, their husbands, and all reasons for living’. It was then that ‘we realized that the so-called “phony” war was over, and that horror had begun in earnest’. Her desire to help contrasted with the response of another American, mining heiress Peggy Guggenheim. She had seen the same refugees dragging their meagre belongings through Paris and admitted later that she felt and did nothing for them. She was buying paintings from artists desperate to leave Paris before the Nazis reached it–acquiring for $250,000 a collection that would be worth over $40 million. When she called uninvited at Picasso’s studio, the artist told her, ‘Lingerie is on the next floor.’ Soon, as the Nazis shelled the outskirts of Paris, Guggenheim fled south. Drue Tartière was not far behind.

At ten in the morning on 11 June, the ‘forty-two assorted nationals’ of Radio Mondiale left Paris for Tours in a convoy of cars loaded with heavy bags.

The day was stifling, and there were panic, misery, and anxiety wherever one looked. On the road out of the city people were pushing baby carriages or pulling small carts, others were on loaded bicycles, and some were walking, carrying their children and their valises. Some were moving their families and possessions in wagons drawn by oxen. Farther on, we saw dead bodies on the side of the road, French men, women, and children who had been machine-gunned by German Stukas. Cars were lying in ditches, overturned, and men and women stood near them, weeping.

When they reached Tours more than twenty-four hours later, they had to sleep in a bordello commandeered by police for the radio’s staff. ‘In Tours, there was even greater panic than in Paris, and no one seemed to know whether the government intended to stay there or go further south.’ Drue was astounded to observe Prime Minister Paul Reynaud ignoring British envoys Lord Gort and General Ironside. Although the two Britons were supporting him against his defeatist ministers, Reynaud brushed past them to the car of his mistress, Countess Hélène de Portes. The government then left Tours without informing Radio Mondiale. Early on 13 June, Drue and her international colleagues drove south to Bordeaux in pursuit of France’s elusive leaders.

‘From the Bordeaux radio station,’ Drue recalled, ‘we sent out frantic pleas for help for France, and we tried to give people across the Atlantic some picture of the wretchedness of the refugees who were pouring into the temporary capital of France. We described the machine-gunning of these refugees on the clogged roads by low-flying German planes, and we told of the misery of the men and women who were arriving in the atmosphere of panic and confusion which was prevalent in Bordeaux.’ An American named Smitty, who had volunteered to fight for France, found himself working as a broadcaster. At one thirty in the morning on 17 June, as the Germans were bombing Bordeaux, he bellowed over the air to the United States, ‘Hear that, America, the God-damned sons of bitches are bombing us now!’

By dawn, all had changed. Philippe Pétain, dressed in the gold-braided uniform of a Marshal of France, strode into Radio France’s temporary broadcast centre in Bordeaux to deliver an important announcement. At ten o’clock in the morning, the 84-year-old ‘hero of Verdun’ stepped into the studio, where, Drue observed, ‘a boy was arranging the microphone, but he did not do it fast enough to suit the old Marshal. Pétain gave him a kick.’ As the new head of government, he announced, ‘I say that by the affection of our admirable army … [and] by the confidence of all the people, I give to France my person to assuage her misfortune … It is with a broken heart that I tell you today it is necessary to stop fighting. I addressed myself last night to the adversary to ask him if he is ready to seek with me, soldier to soldier, after the actual fighting is over, and with honor, the means of putting an end to hostilities.’ Drue was unimpressed. ‘I had stood next to him in the small broadcasting studio and had seen no signs of the broken heart he said he had when he told the French people that he had asked the Nazis for peace terms.’ Pétain had given up the fight, but Drue Tartière had not.

The scheme that Paul Reynaud and Charles de Gaulle had urged, to fight on from the colonies, did not seem far-fetched to the French people that New Yorker correspondent A. J. Liebling met between Tours and Bordeaux. Liebling was driving with fellow American reporters Waverly Root from Mutual Radio and John Elliot of the New York Herald Tribune in Root’s ‘old Citroën with a motor that made a noise like anti-aircraft fire’. They stopped for the night in the house of a garage owner in Barbezieux. Liebling wrote, ‘We had our café au lait with a professor of the local lycée in the garden of a restaurant the next morning. None of the little people one met, like the garagiste and the professor, considered that France might drop out of the war altogether or that Germany might win it. They took it for granted the Government would retain the fleet, go on to North Africa and fight from there. We weren’t so sure. The little people hadn’t seen the ministers and their mistresses.’

Reynaud’s mistress, Countess Hélène de Portes, had long urged capitulation–persuading her lover to appoint the ministers who would finally throw him out of office and end the battle. When Pétain called on France to quit, the Germans held only 10 per cent of the country. France still had its empire and a vast armada. Reynaud, de Gaulle and Churchill were urging the government to move to North Africa and fight on. Many Frenchmen had already gone to Algiers, including Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The famed aviator and writer recruited forty other pilots, commandeered a plane in Bordeaux and flew to North Africa to continue the struggle. Some French forces were counter-attacking, and the Germans were taking heavier casualties than at the beginning of the invasion. But Pétain, Weygand and the rest of the new leadership called an end to the war. Eleven days after Pétain’s armistice broadcast, Mme de Portes died in a car accident.

A. J. Liebling and many other Americans went to Lisbon to take the Pan Am Clipper home. The Clipper had limited capacity only, and hundreds of Americans were waiting in Portugal for a flight. Others booked passage on ships that usually called first in South America. The neutral Portuguese capital was filling with Allied and Axis spies, as well as refugees. Liebling was staying at the Grand Hotel do Mont Estoril on 18 June, when the radio in the lobby broadcast a message from London. It was the first time Liebling heard the clear French of Charles de Gaulle: ‘The voice spoke of resistance and hope; it was strong and manly. The half-dozen weeping Frenchwomen huddled about the radio cabinet where they had been listening to the bulletins of defeat and surrender ceased for a moment in their sobbing. Someone had spoken for France; Pétain always seemed to speak against her, reproachful with the cruelty of the impotent.’

In the hotel bar, an Englishman, who proudly claimed to be a fascist and to support Franco in Spain, declared, ‘Within three years all Democrats will be shot or in prison!’ Liebling considered knocking out the man’s brain ‘with an olive pip, adapting the size of the missile to the importance of the target’. Instead, he drank a glass of Vermouth and remembered something that Jack McAuliffe, ‘the last bare-knuckle lightweight champion of the world’, had told him: ‘In Cork, where I was born, there was an old saying: “Once down is no battle.”’

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