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.
A brain full of cars
In 1916, Laurence received a promotion in the Friends Ambulance Unit, becoming Officer-in-Charge of Transport. He was so absorbed with his work that he forgot his own 27th birthday. The FAU was attached to the French army rather than the British. In one letter to his parents, Laurence expressed his frustration with the British army's wastefulness. Here's an abridged version.
As was normal at the time, Laurence uses the word ‘car’ to mean any motorised vehicle, including an ambulance.
A hospital run by the Friends Ambulance Unit. © The Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain 2016.
Dear Father and Mother,
Many thanks for your letters and also for the fruit, which has been much appreciated. That from Bournville was in as good condition as that from Barrow's and they arrived very little bruised. Most extraordinary thing – I forgot clean about my birthday until a day or two later. My brain is so full of cars and drivers and the almost infinite arrangements and groups into which they may be put, that minor matters like birthdays are apt to get overlooked.
The new Division we are with is very stingy indeed. They have gone so far as to restrict the petrol for the cars, and we have had to borrow a horse and cart and fetch our ravitaillement every morning from XXX, eight kilometres away. We are also allowed practically no paraffin for cleaning our cars with, which makes it very difficult to keep them up to the shining level of the British ambulances in the next town; they of course can use petrol and paraffin like water and take the opportunity of doing so.
As a matter of fact there is this distinction between the two armies all through – one army is extremely thrifty and the other is run regardless of expense. The costliness of the British troops' kits is always a wonder to the French, as also are their great rations of jam, cheese, bacon, etc, which we never see at all.
In matters that are of vital importance the French usually seem on the spot. Take for instance shrapnel helmets; most French troops have had theirs for months; we have had ours since December, and yet the British troops have not got theirs yet.
In the British areas you certainly used to be able almost anywhere to find places littered with petrol cans, packing cases that had brought food, and sometimes valuable shell boxes, that were just left around for the local peasant to pick up and retail at one franc or 1.50 a piece. We on the contrary never get any food in cases or sacks; we have to go to the ravitaillement with our own boxes and gas and bring away our rations; whenever we have petrol or oil, we have to bring in an equivalent number of tins and cases.
It is true of course that the French have been woefully deficient in some cases; for instance in the care of the wounded after the first battle of XXX when we worked in the sheds at XXX. But there were many extenuating circumstances in that case, and we are not blameless after Mesopotamia, and the different standards that the French work to in this respect – partly because public opinion does not demand an improvement vociferously – must be remembered.
You may have noticed that Tym Thompson got the DSO the other day. I am extremely glad, as I am quite certain the old man thoroughly deserves it. I had a letter from Phil the other day; he is gradually recovering, but not good for much yet.
Your affectionate son,
Interestingly, Laurence doesn't give any reasons for what he considers to be the British army's extravagance. Is it in the nature of large and bureaucratic organisations to be wasteful? If so, how did the French army manage so much better? Or is Laurence perhaps showing his bias towards the army to which he is attached?
Copyright: This is an edited extract of a letter from Laurence Cadbury to his parents, stored at the Cadbury Research Library in the University of Birmingham. Used by kind permission of the Cadbury family.
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.
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.
In a letter home Laurence shares his thoughts on members of the Friends Ambulance Unit leaving based on their conscientious objection to compulsory enlistment.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
In 1917, a dispute over rations on German ships docked in Wilhelmshaven escalated, leading around 600 sailors to walk off their ships and call for an end to the war. Albin Köbis was sentenced to death for his part in it. He wrote a letter home before his execution.