#whitefeather diaries

Divisions

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.

Most of these were “birthright Quakers”, who were in Quaker membership because they were born to Quaker parents, but who may not have been actively Quaker by the time the war came. Nonetheless, others struggled with their consciences and Quaker principles before choosing to join the army.

There were differences of opinion over whether Quakers who became soldiers should be expected to resign their Quaker membership. In November 1914, the independent Quaker magazine The Friend reported:

At Warwickshire North Monthly Meeting held on the 10th inst, a letter was read from a Friend resigning his membership on account of having enlisted. The Meeting was in much difficulty as to whether to accept it or not, and eventually, a representative committee of 14 Friends was appointed to consider the right course to pursue, and was asked to report as soon as possible.  

From The Friend, 20 November 1914. Used by kind permission of The Friend Publications Ltd.

In some areas, it was agreed that Quaker soldiers need not resign. Clifford Street Quaker Meeting in York minuted the following principle.

Realising that the question of taking up arms is one that must be decided by each individual according to the dictates of his conscience, our warm sympathy goes out to those who feel that their conscience will not allow them to respond to the call that is being made upon them and also to those who feel that their duty compels them to enlist.

Minutes of Clifford Street Preparative Meeting, 1915. Quoted in York Friends and the Great War by David Rubenstein (Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, 1999).

The pro-war press often took particular delight in reporting on ex-pacifists backing the war. The following report appeared in the Llanelli Star in December 1914.

Probably the most notable recruiting speech delivered in South Wales during the past week was one by Mr F.W. Gibbins, a leading member of the Society of Friends in Glamorgan.

Although the doctrine of the Quakers, said Mr Gibbins, repudiated war and standing armies, he could not, in regard to this great struggle with Germany, subscribe to this doctrine. The issues to civilisation were so vital that he surrendered that Quaker doctrine and stood a convinced supporter of England's part in the war. Mr Gibbins, who is a Justice of the Peace for Glamorgan, and a former MP for one of the county divisions, has for many years been one of the commercial and industrial leaders in South Wales, especially in the metal trades, and is at present chairman of the Tinplate Industry Conciliation Board.

From the Llanelli Star, 12 December 1914. Many thanks to the Cymru 1914 project and the National Library of Wales for making it available.

Related Materials

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 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.