The Real Ambulance Drivers: Part 1
The character of Jade is based on many real people including explorers, adventurers, and some women ambulance drivers. I’d like to spend a few blogs on the ambulance drivers since Mark Of The Lion opens with WWI, and can’t think of a better place to start than with the actual Hackett-Lowther Unit.
If you’ve seen the silent movie WINGS, you’ve seen Clara Bow play the role of a perky ambulance driver. Her character portrayed that of a jitney driver. Jitney duty transferred wounded soldiers from one hospital to another, from a sanitary train to a hospital, or from a hospital to a ship. It was considered safer since it took place far behind the front lines. That’s not to say that the work wasn’t dangerous. Front lines shifted and, even if they didn’t, aerial attacks still occurred. Ambulance drivers were injured or even killed doing jitney duty.
Jade’s ambulance corps fell into an all together different category. The Hackett-Lowther Unit, comprised mostly of British women with a sprinkling of Americans who had been studying abroad and joined up, were paid by the French army. In particular, they followed and served the French 3rd Army. While their duties might include some jitney work removing men from evacuation hospitals to the trains, they often took wounded from the front line field dressing stations poste de secours) to the evacuation hospitals. So how much more dangerous was this type of driving? Think “dukes of hazzard” meets blitzkrieg.
The usual route for wounded is described in Gentlemen Volunteers (Arlen J. Hansen) as follows: Comrades carried wounded soldier to a first-aid station in the trenches. Next, stretcher bearers carried him through communication trenches to the field dressing station, usually less than a mile from the front line. This poste might be in a farmhouse cellar, or a reinforced cave. Finally, drivers took the wounded to a triage hospital where they were divided into three groups: dead, in need of immediate surgery, able to be sent to rear-line hospital. Drivers took the men to one of those places. As you can see, it gave the enemy a lot of opportunities for blowing your little ambulance (and you) to smithereens, especially when you also had to avoid un-detonated shells lying around.
In placing Jade in the Hackett-Lowther Unit, I was able to give her the opportunity to show her bravery and resourcefulness that might be more hidden in the equally important jitney units.