#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.

Content to join up?

Friday 22 August 2014
Laurence Cadbury

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. Baker sent the letter on to the Cadbury family with a note attached adding,“We have put Laurence on a beastly job and a very difficult one, and he's doing it most remarkably well.”

Here's an edited version of Laurence's letter. As usual, place names have been deleted by the censor.

Dear Mother,

I came here last Monday; previously I have been at XXX driving round with Geoffrey Young, or relieving people on their ambulances. The personnel there is changed in rotation to a certain extent from Dunkirk, but owing to the rapid developments lately it has been the same, and we have had a very attractive social life there.

A receipt for Laurence's boots, bought from a firm in London but probably sent out to him in France A fellow from Henley, Watts, has been cook; he has produced wonderful meals. Our number varied from 15-20, and as we lived, cooked and slept in one room about 20' by 40' it was a close fit; the kitchen department and office took up all one end. First-comers had straw mattresses to sleep on, the rest bagged a blesse blanket and slept in the cracks between the mattresses. The last guard, from 5-6, made the porridge in the morning, and at 6 o'clock we rolled out for breakfast. The nuns at the little convent were wonderfully good, and allowed us to wash and shave every morning in their kitchen, supplying us with hot water, which was a great luxury.

At 8 o'clock all the cars started off in various directions. No-one ever knew when they went out where they might have to take their blesses or when they would be back; you might only make one trip, or if there had been a heavy German or French attack you might have to go on evacuating until late at night, and possibly go much further afield as the nearer field hospitals were filled up.

Before I came here I was pretty near bursting shrapnel every day, but have had no really close calls yet. We have had ambulances hit, and some of our men have had miraculous shaves, but no-one has been touched yet. I must say it looks very bad, and hope we get some casualties soon; it compares badly with others out here.

At one of our stations, similar to this one that I am in charge of, ten doctors who had just been meeting with our men, went out walking, leaving our men to follow in the ambulances. Just as they were turning into it, the Germans spotted them from an old tower and dropped a bomb in the middle of them. Three were absolutely shattered to bits, and seven badly wounded. When our men came up a few minutes later, the three left were running about absolutely off their heads. They had been together living, messing and working for ten years and were all the closest of friends.

There was nothing at all to grieve about in our life at XXX as far as it went, and if only we had been enlisted in the RAMC [Royal Army Medical Corps], I should have been quite content.

By one of our stations - whose name the censor will cut out, though you may find it in the Friend - the trenches are only 15 yards apart, and their occupants spend their time trying to get the other side to agree not to shoot if they will promise not to. This country abounds in hares, and as they run between the trenches each side fires, and that which hits claims the hare, and a soldier is allowed to go out unmolested and pick it up.

Unfinished as PJB just going to take this with him.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.


One of the most significant parts of the letter is Laurence's statement that he would have been “quite content” to join the RAMC – the Royal Army Medical Corps. This would have meant being part of the army and swearing allegiance – a prospect that would have horrified certain other Quakers such as Howard Marten.

Is it too much to say that we are already seeing a change in Laurence compared to his earlier letters? Was the war making him less pacifist or simply leading him to express pacifism differently?

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 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

Friday 22 August 2014

Laurence's descriptions of the horrors of war sit alongside his statement that German and French troops were prepared to do deals to avoid killing each other.

Friday 22 August 2014

In today's extract, Laurence said he would have been happy to join the Royal Army Medical Corps. Some Quakers went further and joined the army to fight.

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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