More on Malcolm Cowley
Letter No. 211 | November 26, 2000

I was happy to find your site on Malcolm Cowley.

During World War I, Cowley was a member of the American Field Service's “Réserve Mallet—a unit of Military Transport driving for the French Automobile Service. He contributed a number of articles to their History of the American Field Service (1920) which chronicled a collective experience most celebrated for the work of its ambulance drivers.

After the War, Cowley returned to study in France on an American Field Service French Fellowship. Among other characters he frequented with there was Harry Crosby, another AFS veteran.... In fact, there were quite a number of former WWI ambulance drivers on the literary scene—and not just from the AFS. Dos Passos and his friend Cummings—from the Norton-Harjes—are two examples. (Such was the prestige of those drivers that Hemingway, ever the self-promoter, played down his work as a Red Cross canteen worker in Italy, and claimed ambulance driver status—based on his two weeks' service in that capacity!)

All the above is part of the context of my current project: the history of the American Field Service from its roots in the 19th century to its current form as organizer of international high school exchanges. The WWI era is pretty well covered, including links to primary documents—but it's slow going and, right now, I'm working on the French Fellowships of 1919-1942.... The link is: which is an image map, clicking on which will take one to the different eras.

You'll find the complete scan of the three volume History of the American Field Service in France, Friends of France, 1914-1917, Told by its Members, Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1920, on our Great War Primary Documents Archive where you can link to Cowley's contributions—or offload them, of course.

One of Cowley's literary colleagues from the AFS crowd—probably not known to Cowley himself and certainly little known to Americans—was Julian Green. Green was born of American parents in Paris, served briefly with AFS in the summer of 1917, and eventually went on to take his place in contemporary French literature. He was a member of the French Academy before he died (in his nineties), a year or so ago.

Details, details—all the above—but I remain convinced that those battlefield experiences of young men, driving ambulances or military transport trucks, represented rites of passage which marked them for life.

Keep up the good work!

Ramsey Canyon RV Park
Hereford, Arizona

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