#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.


Friday 8 August 2014
Laurence Cadbury

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

One of them was Laurence Cadbury, a 25-year-old engineer from Birmingham, who signed up on 7 September 1914. He was the son of George Cadbury, head of the famous chocolate firm. Brought up as a Quaker but given an elite private education, his background was a mixture of Quaker principles and upper class company.

After training in Buckinghamshire, the FAU arrived in France in autumn 1914 – in Laurence's case, accompanied by his beloved car, “the Beetle”. In a postcard home, Laurence poked fun at the rules imposed by the chief censor, Stanley Buckmaster, that meant references to place names were deleted.

Laurence Cadbury in the uniform of the Friends Ambulance UnitHad a good trip out here again with Geoffrey Young, though very rough crossing indeed. Fixed up Beetle again all right, except for usual trouble with lights.

The authorities are particularly anxious that the Kaiser should not know where I am, and if I say so Sir Stanley B. will pull out his red pencil. However, since I returned I have been out where I was before most of the time and am still here. The guns are still popping away exactly as before. The Belgians have all gone back to XXX for a rest cure, and nearly all our men are back at La Basee, getting their winter outfit.

We have been taking infirm old people out of the city near here (I showed it to you on the map) the last two days. They are still shelling it, and there is not much left upstanding. A strong dose of shells was administered today, as it is Sunday, when this always occurs.

The FAU was controversial among Quakers and other pacifists. People like Laurence thought they were serving people's immediate needs without breaking their commitment not to fight. Others argued that the FAU's existence allowed the army to divert men and resources that would have been used for ambulance work otherwise to the front. What do you think?

Your Thoughts

Submitted by LollyO on
I am particularly struck by the last paragraph of Cadbury's, from the postcard home. Those three sentences say a lot! Caring for the elderly ('infirm old people', whom he helped to get out of the city during the shelling. Since war had never been quite as it was in WWI, no wonder the FAU was controversial--never before had Quakers (and others) been in such dire circumstances, putting their own lives at risk while getting those most vulnerable out of harm's way. Such a matter-of-fact statement, with shelling so close. Cadbury was young, vulnerable, but far-sighted, and willing to put himself in danger for the sake of others. Having been at Woodbrooke several times as a volunteer, I can imagine him at Selly Oak--and he feels quite real to me, very solid, with such a strong sense of service to others. Clearly, he felt a calling, and acted upon it with confidence--yet he was humble, with a clear sense of purpose.

Submitted by Eddy Knasel on
Interesting that the the idea of Alternative Service was controversial amongst Friends at the time given that we are so proud of the FAU today.

Submitted by Linda Palfreeman on
The simple issue was that such men as Laurence were bound by their beliefs to help ALL those in need, irrespective of who or what they were or what they had been ordered to do. They committed themselves to front line work on the understanding that they would be 'saving lives instead of taking them'.
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.

Laurence's passport
Thursday 29 October 2015

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.

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. 

Related Materials

Throughout the war, Laurence poked fun at the censorship regulations that meant parts of his letters were deleted.

Laurence was one of the first people to join the Friends' Ambulance Unit (FAU) The unit's work caused disagreement amongst Quakers and other pacifists.

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12th May
No time for grass to grow over the earth yet, with a few charred stumps that were once trees https://t.co/H8qpUAVo66 #WW1 #whitefeather
31st Mar
This indescribable scene of chaos was not limited to one area but was the same everywhere we went https://t.co/H8qpUAVo66 #WW1 #whitefeather
31st Mar
Altogether anything seems likely, except peace #1916 https://t.co/H8qpUAVo66 #WW1 #WWI #FWW #whitefeather
31st Mar
We appeared still in the middle of that immense ploughed field, so completely had the village been wiped out https://t.co/H8qpUAVo66 #WW1
31st Mar
No time for grass to grow over the earth yet, with a few charred stumps that were once trees https://t.co/H8qpUAVo66 #WW1 #whitefeather