World War I photographs, journals, and documents following an American ambulance driver in France.Browse all items
Shortly after the United States joined the Allies in World War I, the French high command requested 6,000 volunteer Americans to man field ambulances on the Western Front. That call was directed mainly at college men, initially from Ivy League and Eastern universities, to join the American Field Service (AFS), an American volunteer ambulance corps under the French Army. Once in France, the AFS was divided into smaller sections, forty men with two drivers per car, called Sections Sanitaire [Etats-]Unis (SSU).
In May 1917, while still a student at the University of the South, Robert Frank Hodge, familiarly known as Frank, joined the 36-man unit recruited from Sewanee. Hodge and SSU 558 sailed for Europe in August 1917 aboard the S.S. Baltic and had arrived in France by September 1917. From then until December 1918, SSU 558 served along the Western Front, mainly in the Hauts-de-France region. The story map below follows Hodge and his unit throughout France, highlighting important documents and photos related to each location.
One of the highlights of this collection is Hodge’s photo album, which contains approximately 80 pages of black and white photographs (presumably taken by Hodge himself), postcards, tickets, passes, and other items he collected. Also included in the collection are two journals believed to have been written by the SSU 558 commander, David Van Alstyne Jr., who left them in Hodge’s care. The journals record members of SSU 558 and their service information, gasoline purchases and car repairs, and when the unit transfers to a new city or village.
After the Armistice was signed and the war officially over, Hodge stayed in France until 1919. He returned to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and built a career as a drug store and pharmacy owner. Hodge died June 4, 1975, at age 81. He is buried at Forest Hills Cemetery in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
Overall, this collection of papers and photographs give us insight into the American Field Service, their support role with the French Army on the Western Front, and the group of men from Sewanee that became SSU 558.