FRIENDS
AMBULANCE
UNIT

THE STORY OF THE F.A.U.
IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR 1939-1946

A. TEGLA DAVIES

THOMAS L. TANNER
from a portrait by W. Dawson Thomson

 

Published for the Council of the Friends Ambulance Unit by
GEORGE ALLEN AND UNWIN LIMITED
First Published in 1947

 

TO OUR FRIENDS
WHO GAVE THEIR LIVES

---------------------------------

Raymond Pasteur Alderson
Norman Lewis Booth
John Clifford Bough
Quentin Douglas Boyd
John Stephen Briggs
Alan Russell Dickinson
Joseph Denis Frazer
John Douglas Hardy
Albert Thomas Ross Hogg
Peter Joseph Hume
Dennis Edgar Mann
Norah Evelyn Loyd Protheroe
Louis Rowan Rivett
Thomas Lesley Tanner
James Philip Tonks
Clement White
William Allan Wyon

 

The vastness of the need inevitably leads members to put emphasis on tangible results, on statistics of patients treated, operations performed, tons of drugs hauled and delivered. But that does not blind them to the truth that what is done is less important than the spirit in which---the Spirit by which---it is done.

CLEMENT WHITE,
who lost his life in China.

 

Preface

NO TWO MEMBERS of the F.A.U. would write alike about it. In writing of the Unit as I knew it I found that one of the most difficult decisions was what to omit; for many omissions there must be, even in a work requested as an "official history" rather than a popular selection of the more spectacular episodes in the Unit's story.

Without the help of many of my colleagues my task would have been an impossible one. The majority of those whose comments on the whole work or on individual chapters led to many changes in the final revision must be thanked anonymously, as must those from whose reports, letters and diaries I have quoted so liberally. Special thanks are due to the following, who prepared material or collected documents for particular chapters: Theo Cadoux (Finland); Ralph Barlow and Leonard Elliott (Air Raid Relief) ; Tony Allt, Tom Burns, Harold Cadoux, Oliver Coburn and Gordon Cox (British Army Work); Michael Rowntree (Hadfield Spears Hospital) ; Glyn Johns and Bill Spray (S.I.84155); John Gough (Syria Clinics) ; Richey Mounsey (Ethiopia) ; John Parry Jones and Bernard Llewellyn (China) ; Horace Alexander and John Burtt (India); Ian Nicolson (Hospital Work); Gordon Cox (Mediterranean Relief Work) ; Richard Wainwright (North West Europe Relief). I am indebted to Fred Hannant and Sandy Parnis for the Appendix on Finance, to the Personnel Office staff for the list of members, and to T. Stuart Rose, M.S.I.A., who, though never himself a member of the Unit, has given much professional help in piloting the book through the press. Finally, I must record the invaluable services of Vera Norgrove, whose secretarial assistance greatly simplified my work.

No principle is followed in the mention of members' names. They are mentioned if they happen to arise in connection with particular episodes. The complete anonymity which some would have liked to see would be virtually impossible in a work of this kind. But for every member who figures by name there were many more whose service to the Unit was as great. Some readers may be surprised by the constant use of Christian names. That was the invariable custom in the Unit, and to the members who read this history any other form would be unnatural.

It was my privilege to be asked to write the Unit's story. I hope that what has been written is not altogether unworthy of its subject.

A.T..D.

 

CONTENTS

 PROLOGUE

 THE EARLY DAYS

 The Beginning
 Finland and Norway
 Slump and Recovery
 Air-Raid Relief
 Growth and Fulfilment

 WITH ARMIES IN THE FIELD

 Egypt, Greece and Prison Camp
 With the British Army. 1. The First Campaign
 The Hadfield Spears Hospital Unit
 With the British Army. 2. From Alamein to Germany
 With the Fighting French

 CIVILIAN CLINICS OVERSEAS

 Syria
 Ethiopia

 THE FAR EAST

 The China Convoy. 1. The Burma Adventure
 The China Convoy. 2. Learning the Job
 The China Convoy. 3. An International Team at Work
 India

 HOSPITALS AND TRAINING IN BRITAIN

 CIVILIAN RELIEF IN EUROPE

 The Plan Develops
 Sicily and Italy
 The Balkans and the Dodecanese
 North-West Europe and Austria

 EPILOGUE

 APPENDICES

 1. The Unit Council
 2. List of Members
 3. The Constitution
 4. Finance

 ILLUSTRATIONS AND MAPS

 

Prologue

IT WAS OUR UNIT, and we were proud of it: not with the uncritical pride which is blind to weaknesses, for we ourselves were most conscious of its faults, but with the pride of those who, for better or worse, had made it what it was. Rarely was there a body of young people which so much depended on what all its members made of it. We did not inherit a settled organization made ready by others to receive us, its methods and traditions formed and fixed. The Unit started with the war, and we who became its members were the Unit---young workers with young leaders among whom anyone over thirty-five, at first even over thirty, was rare. Before long the older men who brought it into being, not themselves members, wisely left us to it. We all had ideas of what we wanted it to be, of what we wanted it to do. We argued and we laughed and we sweated over it: for the war years it became our life: it bounded our horizons: our friends were in it: we talked little, perhaps too little, of other things: and only when we left it did we realize fully what it had meant to us. It was indeed our Unit, for it was our responsibility to make it what we wanted it to be. And therefrom arose what strength it had.

New organizations must take risks or die. They may become indefinite and nebulous, with no clear appeal and no guiding purpose. Or else, through causes largely unpredictable, through the interplay of personalities striving together after some ideal, above all through being ready to venture on jobs which seem too big for them, they may attain a personality of their own, clear and distinct, with the spark of inspiration in them, evoking loyalty and drawing out of all their members resources of initiative and responsibility, which in isolation they could not possess. Such an organization the Unit at its best became.

 

THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN was at its height when I left London. In my kit-bag and suitcase was packed everything down to the last detail of the kit list supplied: four blankets, stout boots, gym-shoes, one "tidy suit (not new)", down the list to the knife, fork and spoon. I got off the train at Birmingham, staggered to the tram stop, mounted a tram which clattered southwards down the Bristol Road, past Edgbaston and the University, then along beyond its satellite colleges, faintly tinctured with missionaries and Quakerism. At Hole Lane I hauled my baggage out, climbed the hill about two hundred yards towards Northfield, and there on my right I found, as my instructions said I should, a farm set slightly back from the road and screened by woods, with a modest sign in black and white: "Friends Ambulance Unit Training Camp." I found the Commandant and reported to him, then made my way to my bunk in what used to be a cowhouse.

So at Manor Farm I was introduced to the life that was to occupy my next five and a half years. I was one of sixty who arrived that day, one of more than a thousand who, during the years of the war, passed through the Training Camp. For them, six weeks at Manor Farm were the gateway into a new life. From every kind of background they came-bank clerks, actors, mechanics, teachers, students, carpenters, lawyers, salesmen, men from the factories and the fields, many straight from school. They all had one thing in common. They were pacifists, exponents of an unpopular creed in wartime, but anxious together to do a job of work.

The average age was nearer twenty than thirty. Most of them had therefore for the background of their thoughts the 1930's. The highest single group were members of the Society of Friends or had been educated at Friends' schools. Others had fought their way alone to their pacifist faith, or had come to it through one of the many pacifist movements which caught the tide a few years before the war. They all found that a movement which carried the name of Friends was a rallying point for those anxious to serve in ways which conscience would allow.

When war had come upon them, the State had treated them with surprising leniency. Some conscientious objectors, some members of the Unit, went to prison, but for the majority the battle of the prisons had been won by the steadfastness of their fathers in the previous war. Now they felt that pacifism, having been recognized by the State, should show in action what it could do to relieve the suffering and agony which years of war were bound to produce. And they would serve on a maintenance basis, without payment. No doubt the motives of most members in joining the Unit were as mixed as motives often are, an amalgam of the lofty and utilitarian, of worthy and unworthy, of altruistic and self-justifying. But the urge to give service where service was most needed was their main inspiration, bursting into flame in times of crisis and rigorous conditions, sometimes burning low when gnawing inactivity or uncertainty sapped morale, but rarely crushed completely.

It is not the purpose of this book to argue the case for pacifism in philosophic or religious terms. It is an account of practical pacifism, pacifism in action in the lives of a thousand young people. There were some who had the vigorous certainty and single-mindedness of strong convictions, men and women who rarely seemed to have any doubts that they were right. Others, now that war had come, found themselves torn by a bewildering tension of conflicting loyalties. Faced with the monstrous evils of oppression, they did not find their pacifism easy. As time went on some gave it up and went into the Armed Forces, just as a few men from the Forces joined the Unit. Most members found that through the Unit more than in any other way could they find in wartime an outlet for the energy and idealism of young people who would not fight.

 

THERE ARE FEW who have not at some time heard of the Society of Friends, the Quakers. Perhaps the name brings visions of pacifism and bonnets, of chocolate and good works, with William Penn and Elizabeth Fry hovering uncertainly in the background. For many that is all, beyond perhaps an association with a certain brand of breakfast cereal.

The Society has no written creed, no imposed dogma, but since it came to birth under the flaming inspiration of George Fox in the seventeenth century it has maintained the traditional attitude of pacifism. In 1660 the Harmless and Innocent People of God called Quakers made a declaration to King Charles II: "We utterly deny all outward wars and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatever; this is our testimony to the whole world. The Spirit of Christ by which we are guided is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil and again to move us unto it; and we certainly know and testify to the world, that the Spirit of Christ, which leads us unto all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ nor for the kingdoms of the World." And one of the Advices which are read from time to time in the Society's meetings says: "Be faithful in maintaining our testimony against all war as inconsistent with the spirit and teaching of Christ. Live in the life and power that takes away the occasion of all wars. Seek to take your part in the ministry of reconciliation between individuals, groups and nations."

Not that in this war was the Society completely pacifist.. Faced with an international situation of bewildering complexity, many young Friends could see no alternative to service in the Forces. But corporately the Society maintained its testimony for peace.

Work undertaken by Friends may be of two kinds: some activities in welfare and relief are corporate and official expressions of the Society's religious life, organized by committees responsible to its Yearly Meeting or Meeting for Sufferings, which is its monthly executive committee still bearing a name suggestive of bygone persecutions. These activities are such as the Society as a whole can unitedly support. Other pieces of work are initiated and sponsored by individual Friends without the Society taking official responsibility. The Unit was founded by a group of individual Friends acting on their own responsibility; but gradually, as the work developed and the Unit spread throughout the world, most Friends came to regard its work as being as much in the tradition of Quaker service as anything which was done through the Society's own appointed machinery. But to the last the Unit was constitutionally independent, nor can the Society of Friends be held responsible for what it did.

The Unit had existed in the war of 1914-1918, first as the Anglo-Belgian Ambulance Unit and later as the Friends Ambulance Unit. Trained at Jordans, that quiet Buckinghamshire village which is the Canterbury of Friends, it worked on ambulance convoys and ambulance trains with the French and British armies. It numbered over a thousand men in France and Belgium. In 1919 it had broken up. Its members, now at or approaching middle-age, had many of them become prominent in politics and letters, in industry, medicine and other professions. Occasionally between the wars there were the inevitable reunions. In 1938 there was such a reunion, and it was under their inspiration that the new F.A.U. was formed. Having served themselves in France or Belgium at a time when such service was the clearest and most positive expression of the faith that was in them, they were determined that for young men of this generation there should be the same opportunities for hard and rigorous service.

But the Unit in the new war was in many ways different. No doubt those who came together at Manor Farm in 1939 and early 1940 thought that they would largely repeat the pattern of the previous war, but that was not to be. France fell, and the war spread to the ends of the earth. To the ends of the earth the Unit took its work. It started off with a short-lived but adventurous expedition to Finland and Norway; then came a period of difficulties and dilemmas while it was still unsure of itself. Gradually, 1941 and onwards, it gathered strength and confidence and built up work which took in all over eight hundred of its members to see service in twenty-five different countries in Europe, Africa and Asia.

The men and women of whom you will read in these pages were not saints or heroes; they were no better than their comrades who with equal sincerity fought throughout the war in the Armed Forces. Nor were there many great men or women among them ---one or two; perhaps, who helped more than most towards moulding the form of the whole, but mostly they were ordinary men and ordinary women who aspired, through comradeship and mutual support, through persistence and hard work, to tasks which singly they could never have accomplished.

It was not all effort and adventure and achievement. There was frustration and uncertainty and failure. As always in war, patches of exhilarating work were interspersed with months of dull routine or inactivity. Pacifists are not immune from violent changes in morale. War, as Thucydides said, is a hard task-master; for it assimilates the characters of men to their conditions.

The first men to enter the Training Camp in September 1939 issued a statement to express their purpose. They were the first sixty, little knowing what they themselves would do nor what the thousand members of the Unit who followed them would do.

"We purpose to train ourselves as an efficient Unit to under take ambulance and relief work in areas under both civilian and military control, and so, by working as a pacifist and civilian body where the need is greatest, to demonstrate the efficacy of co-operating to build up a new world rather than fighting to destroy the old.

"While respecting the views of those pacifists who feel they cannot join an organization such as our own, we feel concerned among the bitterness and conflicting ideologies of the present situation to build up a record of goodwill and positive service, hoping that this will help to keep uppermost in men's minds those values which are so often forgotten in war and immediately afterwards."

"A record of goodwill and positive service": that was the Unit's purpose, and the following pages tell something of its story.


The Early Days