GRANNY AND WK DURING WORLD WAR I

During World War I, Granny worked with the American Ambulance Corps at Neuilly of which she was a founder. Her friend Lady Decie had this recollection of Granny:

" ...(she) would glide sinuously down from the wards to join us, picturesquely attired in the white piqué uniform (the couturier) Worth had made for her with an impressive cap like a Russian headdress and an enormous rose as her only adornment. She was quite the most zealous person in the whole hospital. "

When war broke out, WK and Granny were living in Paris at 11 rue Leroux in the swank 16th arrondissement just between the Avenue Foch and the Avenue Victor Hugo near the Arc de Triomphe. WK shared his wife's active interest in supporting the French war effort and nearly singlehandedly financed the formation of the Lafayette Escadrille who were an American volunteer flying corps who flew between 1916 amd 1918 for the French aviation service. He was honourary President of the group and was awarded the cross of the French Legion of Honor in 1918. Because of her extensive work for French war relief, Granny received her Legion of Honor cross in 1919 and became an officer of the group in 1931.

Granny wrote a memoir which was published in Harper's Magazine in January 1917 about one of her visits to the Front.

 

A Memoir of the Vanderbilts' Support for

the LAFAYETTE ESCADRILLE

In the early days of the war, when the American Ambulance opened its
doors to hundreds of French soldiers brought into Paris from the battle-
fields of the Marne, Mr. William K. Vanderbilt gave his generous sup-
port, and Mrs. Vanderbilt all her sympathy and tenderness to the work of
caring for the wounded. Throughout the year 1915 the thoughts and ener-
gies of both Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt were centered in this work. The re-
ceiving station at Le Chapelle railway terminus was improved, hospital trains
were equipped, surgical dressings collected and distributed to advanced
postes de Secours -- their generosity found vent in scores of practical ways
having a common object, the relief of suffering.
 
Like other Americans abroad who were in close touch with the war, Mr. and Mrs.
Vanderbilt was strongly opposed to the neutrality of the United States. They
were among the warmest admirers of the American volunteers who were
fighting in the Foreign Legion. They took a keen interest in their welfare re-
gretting that there was nothing which they could do to show them their appre-
ciation of the stand which they had taken. One evening, in December, 1915,
Dr. Edmund Gros called on them at 11, rue Leroux, their home in Paris, and told them of a plan, then on the point of realization, for organizing a corps of one hundred volunteer
American airmen for the French Service. Dr. Gros spoke earnestly and with
conviction, feeling that the support of Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt would mean
the success of the undertaking; and he was not disappointed. Both were
greatly interested. There was no need for pleading, and Dr. Gros left them
with a contribution which placed the Corps upon a firm basis.
 
From that time until long after the signing of the Armistice, Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt
assumed, almost alone, the financial responsibilities of the Lafayette Flying
Corps. Their generosity made it possible to distribute monthly allowances to
the volunteers, many of whom were without private means, to give them uni-
forms, to contribute to their mess funds, and in many other ways to make
their life, both in the aviation schools and at the Front, pleasant and com-
fortable. The Vanderbilts gave with no thought of reward or acknowledgment.
But although they kept always in the background he took a friendly personal interest
in every pilot. They not only foresaw the importance of the influence which the Corps
would have upon public opinion in America, but realized its value to the
United States in the event of war. They believed firmly in the plan for an en-
Iarged organization, and made it clear to the Executive Committee that their
contributions would be limited only by the needs of the Corps. Having this
assurance, the Committee, under the leadership of Dr. Gros, was able to
continue the work of recruiting and enlisting. The obligations which the
Vanderbilts had to meet became increasingly heavy during the last two years
of the war. They met them all gladly. It is not too much to say that through
them at least one hundred pilots were added to the personnel of the Corps.
 
(taken from "The Lafayette Flying Corps)
 
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