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.
Firing to miss
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.
Dear Father and Mother,
Thanks very much for your letters and for the boxes which arrived safely in time for Christmas. We had a very good time here and I hope you had the same. The day was absolutely clear and frosty - the regular Christmas card specimen.
Luckily for us there was very little to be done on Christmas Day and in the afternoon we made great preparations for our dinner. We managed to get hold of an old piano that was horribly out of tune, but which served its purpose. We had an immense quantity of plummers, mincers, preserved fruit, etc, bottled beer, whisky and port, that had been sent to various people, and had an enormous dinner. After it was disposed of, the room was cleared of tables and bottles for music - of sorts - and dancing - also of sorts. At the latter, we were assisted by some obliging refugees. For the most part the programme consisted of pathetic, touching ballads, pure Boer War waltzes, and what called itself the latest from the Halls, with the Belgian National Anthem and God Save the King frequently interposed. We only once got dangerously near Tipperary. The men all stood the strain very well and only one is still seriously indisposed.
On Christmas Eve we had mass in the college chapel at 12.00. It was quite an impressive sight. The Bishop of Nancy spoke for about ten minutes in the middle and was very eloquent and simple: “You soldiers desire above all things victory, but I would ask that all of us present this evening, even you soldiers, may desire above all things peace." And all the soldiers stood silently in prayer while the low rumble of the guns echoed through the church.
I believe I had to stop my last letter in the middle of telling you what happened when the hare fell mid-way between the German and French trenches. A man got up from either side to claim it, and they both met and stood laughing at each other in the middle. The Frenchman then went back, brought out some tobacco for the German's share of the hare and both shook hands and the Frenchman took it back.
On Christmas Day, all along the front here the men had a rest from 1.00 to 3.00, and where the trenches were near together they threw bits of sausage and cigarettes at one another. Where the trenches are near, they are always shouting backwards and forwards and trying to make a mutual arrangement not to shoot. A French soldier returning from the trenches near Ypres the other day told us that where he was neither side had fired at the other for ten days. They had let off the regulation amount of ammunition all right, but it had gone off in the air and not into their enemies.
I believe this sort of thing is pretty common, and is not confined to just here; it is not to be wondered at when the men can talk to one another all the time. If it was not for the fact that both sides change their men round all the time, and are constantly replacing them by new troops, they might pair off like MPs; it would be a very amusing conclusion if all the armies went on strike and refused to fight any more.
I am sorry to hear about Dingo, and hope the good dog's leg will mend.
Your affectionate son,
The report on German and French soldiers firing into the air to miss each other is remarkable. Both sides later moved their troops around more frequently to prevent these sorts of conversations and agreements. How do you feel about the soldiers' actions?
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.
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.
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.
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.
It is impossible to know how many troops had doubts about the war after they had seen the humanity of their enemies on Christmas Day.