On The Fence
This powerful short story by Alison Carter is set during World War I.
Other Americans were undecided about the war, but Katie knew her duty . . .
ALL right, Miss Phelps, I agree. You can drive.” Mr Murdoch’s back was pressed against the passenger seat of the Ford. “That was quite a trip! A . . . rollercoaster.”
“So what about it, Mr Murdoch?”
He turned to face her. “I’ve received many applications for my new private ambulance units, and I can only appoint six women to three locations at the Front.
“But since you seem fearless behind the wheel, you should be among them. You will receive instructions about the crossing in a few days.”
Katie could have kissed him, but that would have been improper, and she had done enough improper things already that year.
It was the autumn of 1916, and Katie Phelps was in Eastbourne,
England. She was amazed that she’d taken the plunge of coming to Europe, and more amazed that (after the driving demonstration) she would be crossing the Channel to war.
It seemed for ever since she had left home in upstate New York, but in fact it had been barely three weeks of boats and trains and excitement.
The United States was officially and (to Katie) stubbornly neutral in the war. Her mother and father approved of this, but Katie was unable to accept it.
When she heard of the new independent ambulance units, the idea of joining one stuck with her. She knew that her parents wouldn’t hear of it.
“A foreign war is none of our business,” her father said. “The US is observing.”
“It’s sitting on the fence. That’s cowardly!”
Her father threw his napkin on the table.
“Katherine, that is enough!”
She felt as if she were a child again, though she had just celebrated her twentythird birthday.
Katie’s mother tried to include her in the charitable activities of New York ladies, raising funds for troops “across the Pond” with needlework and knitting. But in Katie’s view it allowed women like her mother to dodge the issue.
How could they ignore other women’s sons and brothers bleeding in the trenches?
Then her school friend Ruby Wilsher wrote to her. Ruby was the daughter of a diplomat, and her parents