Since quite early on in this project, something on the wish list was an embroidery machine. A few weeks ago I bit the bullet and finally invested in one.
Despite the large initial cost, due to the large number of varied badges the American Ambulance used, it is by far more economical to make our own than get them from an external company. This way we can make smaller quantities, tweak our designs and make changes to the material we use to try and make them look more authentic.
First we’re looking at the distinctive American Ambulance arm badge, the gallery shows the progression of the embroidery. The machine splits up the colours, white, blue, yellow then red. It takes about 25 minutes in total to embroider. Once done, the slightly tedious task of cutting all the excess thread off the badge. After this the stars are hand embroidered, this gives a more authentic look, and the machine struggles to do these small details. After all this the badge is cut out and ready to sew on.
This series of photos shows the process of getting our designs right, these are the service badges, given to members of the American Ambulance each year. The design and size I’m happy with now. These prototype versions are embroidered on white, I’m yet to track down the authentic looking “service dress” fabric but once I do they will be embroidered onto that!
Two hundred girl drivers of the American Ambulance were being reviewed to-day by the Queen at a stand-down parade at Buckingham Palace. (…) Among the drivers representing units from all parts of England and Wales – are girls with whom the Queen talked during her tours of the bombed cities with the King.
At 3PM on Wednesday the 24th October 1945, around 50% of the American Ambulance drivers and some other staff gathered in London for a very special celebration. The occasion was their stand down parade, they were inspected by The Queen and Princess Elizabeth along with Aneurin Bevan (Minister of Health ), John Winant (American Ambassador) and the American Ambulance Directors.
Drivers from up and down the country piled in the back of ambulances to head down. My great grandmother, Betty Bacon drove her Ambulance (JEV 896) down from Leeds for the occasion, in the front she had Miss Robinson with her, in the back were eight more of Leeds’ drivers! I’m sure it must have been a snug fit but I can’t begin to imagine how much fun it must have been for them.
Below I have included a selection of original press photos. Many of these have never been published online and I have never posted this many photos in one go on here! I hope you enjoy looking through them, they all show the parade in the courtyard of Buckingham Palace with all the dignitaries present.
Back in June, I wrote to various different politicians and leaders of both Great Britain and the United States to tell them about the history of the American Ambulance and that this year marked the stand down of the organisation. Although I haven’t been able to do anything face to face due to COVID I am still keen that this is an aniversiary that is not forgotten. Owing to the current political and health climate I wasn’t expecting a single reply to the letters however hoped that either the recipient or their advisors would at least be able to learn something about the history of the American Ambulance through it. Imagine my surprise then when today, this letter landed on the doormat!!
Today’s the day, 75 years ago today the American Ambulance held a series of celebrations to say goodbye , remember the work they had undertaken and commemorate their stand down.
On the morning of the 24th October 1945, at American Ambulance headquarters Mr. Gilbert Carr received a letter from the Minister of Health giving thanks for the work that the American Ambulance had done and the work to donate their assets to voluntary hospitals. One part of this letter always stands out to me:
The deep and spontaneous goodwill with which, in this country’s greatest hour of need, a group of American citizens living in London conceived and created this organisation, and the remarkable speed with which it was placed at the Ministry’s service, will never be forgotten.
Sadly, as those of you who follow this project know they were all but forgotten by history but hopefully we are changing that slowly but surely.
Keep an eye on the blog for a few more posts today I hope you find them interesting.
Rarely do I know the exact times of the activities of the American Ambulance but today I do know at least one. 75 years ago, at 10:30 am Mr. Gilbert Carr, Director General of the American Ambulance meets with the Minister of Health, Aneurin Bevan to discuss he program and finalise plans for the American Ambulance Stand Down parade due to take place in two days time.
By now, drivers up and down the county will be perfecting their uniforms and some of the vehicles in preparation for their Royal Inspection.
Following on from yesterday’s post, today we look at this letter from the 19th October 1945. In this letter, Director General Gilbert Carr invites the Minister of Health to a cocktail party at a top London hotel after the stand down parade on the 24th October.
Those who saw my previous post will understand how life has got in the way a bit recently and I haven’t posted as much as I would have liked to. However for the next two weeks I’ll be delving into the archives and posting letters, documents and photos exactly 75 years after they were created.
First however I’d like to re cap what has happened since the 1st of October in 1945:
1/10/1945 – The Ministry of Health receive a letter from Major Penn at Buckingham Palace advising the Minister of Health that The Queen could inspect the American Ambulance stand down parade on the afternoon of the 24th of October or the morning of the 25th.
3/10/1945 – After returning from leave, the Minister of Health confirms with the Palace that the 24th of October would be most convenient, suggests a time of 3PM and advises Major Penn that he will send a suggested program to The Queen shortly.
10/10/1945 – The Minister of Health writes to Mr. Gilbert Carr to suggest meeting on the 22nd October to go over plans for the 24th.
Now we’re back on track!
18th October 1945, 75 years ago today – Mr. Summers at the Ministry of Health writes to the Scottish Office asking if the Secretary of State for Scotland would like to add anything to a letter that Aneurin Bevan is sending to Mr. Gilbert Carr giving thanks for the work of the American Ambulance.
Today I thought I’d share a picture, one that now will always hold a special place in my heart. I recently purchased this and a few other photos online. When I received them I scanned them in and started looking through them. On the 2nd of September I sent this photo to my dad, he always loved seeing photos and finding out what I’d discovered about the American Ambulance so it felt only right to send it to him, the next morning on the 3rd of September he replied to my message about it. Sadly, that night he died suddenly, this photo was the last thing we ever spoke about. I couldn’t have gotten where I am today without his encouragement and support, he helped me so much with this project and I will truly never forget all the things he did for me. I only hope that as time passes this can continue to grow and we can keep sharing and discovering the story of the American Ambulance and making him proud.
So, onto the photo. This photograph was taken in July 1940 and shows Ambulance Number One being presented to the American Ambulance by the then American Ambassador Mr Joseph P Kennedy on behalf of Mrs Kennedy who had donated it. Stood beside Mr Kennedy is Mr Wallace Phillips, one of the founders and director general of the organisation.
Stood in front of them are three drivers of the Mechanised Transport Corps. It’s interesting to note all the differences in their uniform, in fact none of them match. The two ladies on the left are likely early recruited to the MTC from 1939, the lady in the middle wears a hat that differed from the standard pattern and is similar to those worn by other female organisations. The lady on the right wears a shoulder title “M.T.T.C” the Mechanised Transport Training Corps, this is what the MTC were originally called before it was shortened. She also interestingly wears crossed flags of a different organisation, it’s likely that they denote she was part of a unit of the MTC who were destined to go to Belgium however were diverted to staff the American Ambulance when it was formed.
This fortnight I thought I’d share another great photo. This photo shows the American Ambulance’s second birthday parade in Hyde Park, London in June 1942. It shows a lineup of first aid posts with their drivers in front of them. Amongst the those in attendance were the directors of the American Ambulance as well as the Minister of Health and American Ambassador.
I’m grateful for Jon Mills for sending me this photo a while ago.
Throughout the war, the number of stations that the American Ambulance used fluctuated quite a bit and different sources give different numbers. I think this is partly because of the fact that the American Ambulance operated from “Sub Stations” as well as their main ones. When I first started this project and indeed wrote my book on the organisation I was under the impression there were 17 Stations. However from a recently uncovered monthly report on mileage to the Ministry of Health from 1945, it shows that in January of 1945 there were in fact 30. These were split into two groups ones run by the Mechanised Transport Corps and those run by the American Ambulance themselves.
Mechanised Transport Corps run stations
M.T.C. HQ (London)
American Ambulance Great Britain run stations
A.A.G.B. HQ (London)
The distinction between normal Stations and Sub Stations is still unclear although this could likely be assumed from the number of vehicles that were at each one. Below is a map showing all the stations, the ones in blue were operated by the American Ambulance and the ones in green by the M.T.C.