Parcels For The P.o.w's

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Parcels for the P.o.W's

Parcels for the P.o.W's

Perhaps the most important service rendered by American Express was inaugurated by Assistant Director General W. J. Thomas. In October 1914 he concluded an agreement with the British Government for American Express to handle the shipment of parcels to British prisoners of war in Germany. Later, when the United States entered the war, this service was taken over by the International Red Cross, but it had no organization capable of handling the situation in the early days of flurry and improvisation. During the two and a half years when American Express had this responsibility it delivered thousands of tons of packages from home to the unhappy captives of the German Empire.

In addition, American Expressmen went into the prisoner-of-war camps and cashed drafts for British and French prisoners and made arrangements whereby they could receive money from home.

As long as the United States remained neutral, so did American Express, in action if not in thought. The German offices remained open to serve Americans who were forced by business or official position to remain there, and to provide banking facilities for the American Embassy and consulates. Karl Volirath and many other officials were German, and at first there was no hostility toward the company. For this reason American Express was able to perform a valuable service that relieved the hearts of many a French and English family. This consisted of checking the whereabouts of Allied soldiers reported missing in action and presumed to be prisoners. It arose from frantic inquiries addressed to American Express officials in the Allied capitals and was performed with no gain and, indeed, at considerable expense.

Among the anxious parents who called daily at 6 Haymarket to ask for news were an elderly couple. Like the others, their faces were drawn and their eyes haunted by terrible uncertainty. But the white-haired gentleman bore a heavier burden than most on his shoulders. The saddest day the staff of the London office ever spent was when it had to break the news of his son's death in battle to Herbert Asquith, Prime Minister of England.

April 1917 saw the end of one phase of American Express war service and the beginning of another. As the offices shut down in Germany and the prisoner-of-war arrangements were handed over to the Red Cross, preparations were made in London and Paris to service the men of the A.E.F. They came in a trickle, then in thousands, and at last in millions. Leave in Paris was the nearest thing to heaven they could have, and for most of them the first stop was 11 Rue Scribe.

The staff, veterans now and equal to any crisis, served them as they had served the peacetime tourists. Billy Dodsworth okayed their personal checks, and all the other employees joined in giving advice and friendly service.

Then came the Armistice and the beginning of a new world that for a little while looked very brave and new indeed. Because of events that had meanwhile happened in the United States, the American Express Company faced an uncertain future, but faced it with resolution and initiative.

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What next? Holland


Perhaps the worst situation of all was in Rotterdam. Because Germany was at war with her neighbours on the east and west, virtually all the American tourists in Central Europe were funnelled into that small neutral city. There were no accommodations for such a horde of frightened people, nor enough places for them to eat, nor even enough cash money to take care of the business brought by the swollen population.

In place of the quiet diamond merchants, the American Express office was stormed by crowds of tourists in what Manager Van der Zeyde in an epic understatement described as "a highly nervous condition." Many of the company's Dutch employees were called for immediate military service. The remaining staff worked literally day and night to give the extraordinary service demanded. Their greatest difficulty was caused by the acute shortage of small currency. It seemed to have completely disappeared. Faced with financial chaos, Van der Zeyde had a brilliant idea and... see: Holland

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