Hello! My name is Lisa Matson and I have been working as the World War I Daybook Research Assistant Intern this fall. I graduated in May from St. Olaf College with a History major and a Women’s and Gender Studies concentration. Over the last few months I have been continuing the research started by the first two World War I Daybook interns, Molly and Mary. I spent most of my time during the internship in the Gale Family Library reading through manuscript collections. These collections were largely in the form of letters, journals, and other accounts of the war written by men in military service, or men and women serving overseas with other organizations such as the Red Cross and YMCA. There were also a few collections relating to the role of Minnesotans at home during the war. Many of the manuscript collections that I researched will be included in the World War I Daybook blog.
One interesting source that I researched consisted of letters written by Willard W. Bixby, a Minnesota man who worked as a Red Cross ambulance driver in Italy beginning in June 1918. Bixby’s work driving ambulances as a Red Cross volunteer involved moving injured soldiers between hospitals and working on the front lines removing injured soldiers from the battlefields to hospitals where they would be treated. Bixby’s letters to his family describe Italy and his life as an ambulance driver. These letters provide an interesting and unique insight into the war as Bixby served in Italy, while most of the other collections I researched were written by people serving in France, and he was the only ambulance driver in the manuscript collection that I encountered.
In a letter from June 16, 1918, Bixby describes driving an ambulance in the midst of an attack that started the day before and (as he states in later letters) lasted for eight days. It was written from “somewhere on the Piave” in Italy. Here is a selection from Bixby’s letter:
“The anticipated attack started yesterday morning about 1 A.M. I have been on the go every minute and have had about 6 hrs. sleep in the last 48. I am well and safe but have certainly seen the thick of it. . . . I have a machine now so we all have to be on duty as it is a night and day affair. . . . I can see shrapnel bursting from my window and believe me it is not the most pleasant of sounds.”
In later letters, Bixby describes his work throughout the following months and his role in the “grand advance” at the end of the war. See more posts about Willard W. Bixby’s life as a Red Cross ambulance driver in the World War I Daybook blog!
These are two types of ambulances driven by the Red Cross ambulance men. This photo is captioned, “The Fiats carry twice as many wounded as do the Fords. The contrast in size is plainly to be seen here.”
Citation: Willard W. Bixby and Family Papers. Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul, Minnesota. [A/.B624]
Don’t forget to check out the World War I Daybook when the blog launches in April 2017 and keep up to date with the research process blog posts until then!
Lisa Matson, World War I Daybook Intern