#whitefeather diaries
Laurence Cadbury

About Laurence Cadbury

Laurence Cadbury was a Quaker engineer from Birmingham. As the son of George Cadbury, then head of the famous chocolate firm, he was immersed in the world of Quakerism. He was fascinated by cars – at a time when most people in Britain had never ridden in one. He was particularly attached to his own car, which he named “the Beetle”.

War came when Laurence was 25. Shortly after the war started Laurence joined the newly-formed Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU), dedicated to providing relief from suffering at the front.

Beastly cranks

Thursday 29 October 2015
Laurence Cadbury

By 1915 opinions were divided within the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU). Formed by young Quaker men at the outbreak of war, it provided ambulance services to wounded soldiers (unlike Hilda's group, which worked with civilians). Fears began to grow within its ranks that it was effectively helping the war effort by freeing up other men to go and fight.

Laurence Cadbury, one of the Unit's founding members, had no such doubts. As time goes on, his letters home show his increasing sympathy for the war and sense of comradeship with members of the armed forces. This is an abridged version of a letter to his parents in January 1915. As usual, most place names have been deleted by the censor.

I am afraid it is some time since I wrote last, partly through slackness and partly because nothing much has happened lately.

As the British occupy the lines in front of us, we come more and more into contact with them. A number of British troops, home from India, are now up here, and also some of the Canadians; I have met a few of the latter. They were first-class men.

All our cavalry are round here doing nothing, and on one pretext or another I have seen quite a bit of them. The rest of the army may be having a beastly time but cavalry officers certainly are not. They have not done a thing since early in December, except have their men instructed in digging trenches by officers and already they are beginning their third round of leave. They have very comfortable billets, are in quite decently wooded and rolling country–the only bit anywhere near here–and hunt two or three times a week. In fact, they are having a jolly good time and yet are being treated at home as "Our brave boys at the front"! They are a jolly nice lot of men, most of those I have met being Etonians.

Typhoid is getting pretty bad round here, and Rees has started a hospital, aided by the Queen of the Belgians, about 200 yards from the college in a commodious château. Typhoid is not surprising as the place and people are absolutely filthy. There is no pretence of drainage or water supply. My advice to anyone dissatisfied with new-fangled fads such as drains is–come to good old XXX where there aren't any and where we stick to time-honoured and well-tried methods. A few weeks here is guaranteed to cure anyone suffering from that distressing complaint­–drain trouble.

I am heartbroken to hear that good dog Dingo's name must be added to the casualty list; I hope he had a decent funeral and suitable gravestone.

I see in the papers, adverts, of some beastly cranks (antivivisectionists or other objectionable persons, who in the piping times of peace can be tolerated, but now want corking) that advise men not to be inoculated for conscientious reasons. The weak part of it seems to me to be that their argument is supposedly to show that the thing is medically bad, but if it is because of their conscience that they object, this is beside the point.

Anyhow, I wish somebody at home would round them and other interfering busybodies up and send them here to breathe the air and drink the waters of XXX for a while. The RAMC XXX is inoculating all the civil population round here where the British troops are. The French already have the matter in hand, and soon I hope will follow suit.

Laurence's experience of suffering may well have been increasing his impatience. The question of conscience was soon to come up in a different context: conscientious objection to compulsory military service.

Laurence inadvertently points out an issue that was about to be raised for people objecting to fighting: the distinction between claiming exemption as a matter of personal conscience and refusing to fight in an attempt to resist or change a whole way of doing things. How do you feel about this difference?

This is an edited extract of a letter from Laurence Cadbury to his parents, dated 20 January 1915 and stored at the Cadbury Research Library in the University of Birmingham. Used by kind permission of the Cadbury family.

Details of Laurence's service in the FAU
Thursday 31 March 2016

Laurence's brother Bertie Cadbury, who had joined the navy at the beginning of the war, received the Distinguished Service Cross in 1916. Laurence heard the news while helping an FAU section make arrangements to move.

Thursday 24 March 2016

When news reached the Friends Ambulance Unit of conscientious objectors being sent to prison, some of its members were quick to speak out about the situation. Laurence made his opinions clear in a letter to his parents.

Hospital ward
Thursday 17 March 2016

Laurence was promoted to Officer-in-Charge of Transport. He was so absorbed with his work that he forgot his own birthday. The FAU was attached to the French army rather than the British. In a letter to his parents, Laurence expressed his frustration with the British army's wastefulness. 

Conscientious objector sweeping up the trenches (cartoon)
Thursday 10 March 2016

In a letter home Laurence shares his thoughts on members of the Friends Ambulance Unit leaving based on their conscientious objection to compulsory enlistment.

Henry Dearden wearing a makeshift gas mask in France (c) Quakers in Britain 2016
Thursday 3 March 2016

At the beginning of 1916, Laurence Cadbury wrote home from the front, concerned that his mother was giving money to charitable appeals that he believed would not be effective. 

Bodies of soldiers in front destroyed buildings in Ypres
Thursday 12 November 2015

Laurence Cadbury was present at the Second Battle of Ypres in April 1915, the first time in the war when poison gas was used. He not only saw the battle but he helped to heal the victims.

FAU magazine
Thursday 5 November 2015

In early 1915 the army tightened up censorship rules for letters home from the front. Laurence's letters from the Friends Ambulance Unit show both amusement and frustration with the new regulations. The authorities did not want the public to know the extent of the typhoid outbreak at the front – so banned the word from being mentioned.

Friday 29 August 2014

Laurence wrote to his parents from a Friends Ambulance Unit station in France on Boxing Day 1914, picking up themes that had been cut short in his last letter. Here's an abridged version of his letter.

Friday 22 August 2014

Five days after his previous letter, Laurence wrote to his mother. The letter was cut short as his colleague Philip Baker was leaving for England and offered to take the letter with him.

Friday 15 August 2014

By December, Laurence was heavily involved in running ambulances in the Ypres area of Belgium and nearby parts of France. His enthusiasm for cars proved to be useful. 

Friday 8 August 2014

Shortly after the war started, several young Quaker men formed the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU), dedicated to providing relief from suffering at the front.

Related Materials

Laurence's passport
Thursday 29 October 2015

Bertie Cadbury was among around 30% of Quaker men who joined up in World War I. He trained as a pilot in the Royal Navy. In this letter he writes to his elder brother, Laurence, who was serving in the Friends Ambulance Unit.

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