Historical Background: The American Ambulance Field Service was organized in 1915 in France and served under French command. The function of the organization was to drive ambulances for the French Army. It was staffed by American expatriates and volunteers recruited from American colleges. After the entry of the United States into the First World War in the spring of 1917, the role of the organization was expanded to include providing drivers for French military transport. At this point the name of the organization was shortened to American Field Service, or AFS, to reflect its broader mission. Eventually the AFS was absorbed into the U.S. Army Ambulance Service. Following the US entry into Allied war effort, many AFS volunteers joined combat units, particularly aviation and artillery units, both French and American. Two-thousand five hundred men served in the AFS. Of these, 127 were killed.
After the Second World War the AFS morphed into an organization primarily dedicated to international student exchanges.
General Information: AFS personnel were issued French Model 1915 steel helmets, although there was never an official badge for the volunteers. In period photos AFS members can be seen wearing helmets with medical service or infantry badges, or helmets with badges removed. Some wore French-made brass badges with American shield enclosed in a wreath like the one displayed here.
Displayed Example: The name “R.T. HANKS” is scratched into the rear visor of this helmet. As it turns out, there is a Raymond Theodore Hanks who appears on the roster for American Field Service volunteers from the First World War. Further research uncovered an AFS service record. Hanks served with the AFS in France from June 20th to October 9th 1917 in unit Transport Material Unit (TMU) 133. He was a 23-year-old graduate of Western Reserve University.
The Transport Material Units functioned similar to the Ambulance units, but instead of bringing wounded from the front, they drove trucks with ammunition, food, and other supplies to the front.
According to available records, Raymond Hanks was rejected for service in the US Army. Apparently not one to give up easily, he volunteered for service in the French army and was training for artillery service at the Ecole Militaire at Fountainbleau near war’s end in October of 1918. During the Second World War he was listed as a representative to the AFS.
This piece came from a man who lived in Elkhart, Indiana. He said it had been in his family since before World War Two, but he did not know what the connection was between his family and the man whose name is scratched on the visor. Elkhart, Indiana, however, is just 239 miles due west of the home address given by R.T Hanks in Cleveland, Ohio. This proximity suggests that there might have been some relationship between Hanks and the last owner’s family.
The helmet is standard French Model 1915, size B, or medium size. It has a second pattern liner and a remnant piece of the original chinstrap. There is no sign in the exterior or interior to indicate that the helmet originally had another type of badge, so it may have been originally issued without a badge.
Collector Notes: There were only 2,500 AFS volunteers during the First World War. Among these, only a sub-set would have worn helmets like the one shown here with the brass American shield badge. That makes this helmet type exceedingly rare. Any helmets of this type that appear on the collector market, therefore, should be approached with a healthy degree of skepticism and wariness. There are more fakes than there are surviving original examples. Well-made reproductions of the AFS badges may be found on eBay and elsewhere. Some of these are mounted on original French M15 helmets and pawned off as originals.
 “AFS Intercultural Programs.” Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AFS_Intercultural_Programs. Accessed November 27, 2022.