Charlotte L. Read, ambulance driver/nurse/entertainer.


Charlotte L. Read, from her 1918 passport application

Manchester, MA-born Charlotte Louise Read (1892–1970) was the sister of geologist and mountaineer Norman Hatfield Read, who endowed the Norman H. Read Trust in Salem, MA, which supports science education initiatives in the town. It appears from her 1918 passport application that she originally intended to work with the American Women’s Oversea Hospitals (given a telegram from Dr. Alice Gregory). Instead, in World War I France and Germany, she worked in YMCA entertainment as well as the British Hackett Lowther Unit (an all-female relief unit  established by journalist Norah Desmond Hackett and fencer/tennis player May “Toupie” Lowther, which included US drivers and was attached to the French Third Army). In The Overseas War Record of the Winsor School, 1914–1919, she described some harrowing experiences:

We drove our ambulances (Fords) up at 8 am. We were within a mile of the Germans with only a small hill between the French trenches and us. Our poste (P.S. 112) was at — (Longeuil Annel), on a cross road in the direction of — (Ribecourt), in a ramshackle farmhouse where the wounded were brought in by stretcher-bearers over the hill from the trenches, given first aid in the cellar, which served as a dressing station, and then put in our ambulances for us to rush back to a first line dressing station, where they were changed into other ambulances, to be sent still further back.

The poste, at our arrival, was under heavy fire, the Boche having discovered our battery and tanks in the woods back of us. It was the most continual and deafening noise you can imagine. We were too new and ignorant to be afraid. The boom and scream of the shells overhead didn’t even make us realize that we could very easily be hit.

They kept it up all morning, and at about noon, while we were eating our usual mid-day meal of canned sardines, horse meat, and French war bread, there was a terrific crash and the whole corner of the house went down.

. . . . I never knew that anyone could run as fast and steadily as we did. . . . I went flat three times but save for a couple of scratches on my tin hat, I wasn’t touched.

It was not until I was in the middle of nowhere . . . that I realized they were shelling what I was running for—The Red Cross Dressing Station. In cold blood they aimed and one after the other hit its mark.

There were fifty yards of open space between where they were shelling and me. I hesitated for one second, took a deep breath and made one wild, desperate dash across that open space and slid on my stomach into our hole under the bricks as a shell hit outside the entrance—missed by less than a second. (82–83)

The members of the Hackett Lowther Unit received the Croix de Guerre. Read returned to the United States in May 1919. After meeting American Ambulance Field Service driver Henry Hollingsworth Stringham during her service abroad, she married him in New York on July 4, 1922. The marriage ended in divorce, as Read had returned to using her maiden name by 1936, and Stringham remarried that same year.

Further Reading:
Un oeuvre de preservation morale au front” [work to preserve morale at the front], Le Monde Illustre 7 Sept. 1918: 78. Article in French on the Hackett Lowther unit.

In the Soldier’s Service: War Experiences of Mary Dexter—England, Belgium, France 1914–1918. Dexter was a member of the Hackett Lowther Unit.

Hackett Lowther driver Maud Fitch of Utah

Toupie Lowther: Her Life by Val Brown