#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.

Charred stumps that were once trees

Thursday 31 March 2016
Laurence Cadbury

Laurence's brother Bertie Cadbury, who had joined the navy at the beginning of the war, received the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) in 1916. Laurence heard the news while helping an FAU section known as SSA 14 (Section Sanitaire Anglaise) to make arrangements to move. Here's an abridged version of his letter to his parents.

As was normal at the time, Laurence uses the word ‘car’ to mean any motorised vehicle, including an ambulance.

I received a great shock some weeks ago when at XXX, on seeing Bertie's photo on the back of the Daily Sketch. Since then, of course, I have seen about his DSC in the French papers, but know nothing more. As you will see by my address, I am not at HQ for the moment, but expect to be back there shortly, where about three weeks’ mail should be awaiting me with, I hope, full accounts of Bertie's exploit and, incidentally, an explanation of what the DSC actually is.

SSA 14 are at the disposal of the Director of the Santé. At his instructions, we made ourselves acquainted with the sector and had incidentally one of the most interesting times I have had for a considerable period – going right over the ground taken in the last offensive. We saw the Lieutenant of the Section Sanitaire in question. Their HQ were in a village just behind the original French front line, a miserable enough little place, with seas of mud flung by the incessant traffic far and wide over everything in a brown, grey pall to a height of eight or nine feet.

From it, we went on to the main road and into the village of XXX, one of the first to be taken and over the original lines. Talk about shell holes! The German trenches were nearly wiped out; the whole ground was chewed up and pocked with holes. It looked as though the country had gone through a mincing machine or had been made to resemble the face of the Moon. But the amazing part of the thing was that this indescribable scene of chaos was not limited to one area, but was the same everywhere as we went on.

We continued along the main road to the first Poste de Secours in the Ravine. XXX might have been a very pleasant little wooded valley once, and had a casino in it with German notices up all round, and spacious dug-outs in concrete. Now, it is not more than a fold in what looks like an interminable ploughed field, as there has been not time for grass to grow over the earth again yet, with a few charred stumps sticking up that were once trees. I trust all the country we advance over may not be like this, as, for one thing, there are no billets or roads left and we had the utmost difficulty in getting along at all with the car.

We then went on to the next Poste, marked on the map as in the village of XXX; after a bit we found we were where the village once stood, though to all intents and purposes we appeared still in the middle of that immense ploughed field, so completely had the place been wiped out and then pounded into the mud and shell holes.

Your affectionate son,


P.S. Everyone down here is full of rumours. Everyone wants to know how much more the British are going to take over, and where. Another fruitful subject is the discussion of where the pushes of the Germans, French and ourselves are going to be next year. Altogether anything seems likely, except peace.

Laurence's FAU personnel card

Details of Laurence Cadbury's service, as recorded by the Friends Ambulance Unit. © Quakers in Britain. FAU personnel cards are available to search and view online at fau.quaker.org.uk

Laurence continued to work with the Friends Ambulance Unit until 1919, although he seriously considered joining the army on several occasions. After the war, he returned to Birmingham to work for his father's chocolate firm, where he used his engineering skills to develop new machinery in the firm's factories.

Laurence became chairman of Cadbury's in 1945, a position he held for fourteen years. He died in 1982 at the age of 93.

Copyright: This is an edited extract of a letter from Laurence Cadbury to his parents, dated 22 June 1916 and stored at the Cadbury Research Library in the University of Birmingham. Used by kind permission of the Cadbury family. 

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. 

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

Crater in no man's land
Thursday 31 March 2016

There was a spate of British mutinies in December 1918 and January 1919, shortly after the end of the war. Soldiers were angry that they were not being discharged and there was a widespread feeling of frustration with what the war had achieved – or failed to achieve. This is an account of a mutiny in Folkestone in Kent in January 1919.

Mobile phone on old-style newspaper
Thursday 31 March 2016

Sunniva Taylor, Sustainability and Peace Programme Manager for Quaker Peace & Social Witness, explores the links between the action of conscientious objectors of World War I and activism today, asking what working for peace calls us to do in the context of climate change.

Latest Tweets

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