#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.

Don't give them money

Thursday 3 March 2016
Laurence Cadbury

Laurence Cadbury had held a senior position in the Friends Ambulance Unit since shortly after the outbreak of war. At the beginning of 1916, he wrote home from the front, concerned that his mother was giving money to charitable appeals that he believed would not be effective. This is an abridged version of his letter.

As was normal at the time, Laurence uses the word ‘car’ to mean any motorised vehicle, including an ambulance. Many of the place names were deleted by the censor.

Dear Mother,

With regard to that Belgian ambulance business: as I am running about a good deal and I miss my mail frequently and did not get your pamphlet until after your second letter, I sincerely hope you have not subscribed. I think I have expressed myself on the matter before, so trust that this was the case.

The Belgian army have all the cars they want and more than they really need. The French army have about 100 men to every car. I should think the Belgians must have about 1 to every 20 – and the way you see them joy-riding!

As far as cars are concerned, therefore, I am quite convinced that money can be put to better use than to be given for cars for them – better to keep it and spend it after the war. As far as medical equipment goes, I also have pretty conclusive evidence that they have ample. Du Page's great hospital at XXX has the most lavish equipment conceivable; but, as he is a political wire-puller and not popular at all with the army people, who hate using it and don't if they can possibly escape doing so, it is to a large extent wasted.

After months of a soft west wind, we have at last had a change – not at all a welcome one – to an east wind. Your prayers are now invited, as the parsons say, for a return of the wind to the west. An east wind means anxiety about cars freezing and bursting something, and as there are about 400 cylinders, 100 radiators, and rather fewer water pumps, where this is liable to happen, one does not enjoy that dreamless sleep that a healthy individual has a right to, when one knows the mercury in the thermometer, that is fixed outside the Car Office, is trying to take cover from the cold in the bulb, and one wonders how many careless fellows have forgotten to loose out their water.

Henry Dearden wearing a makeshift gas mask in France © Quakers in Britain 2016An east wind also means the possibility of a gas attack, and we have to check over our respirators, to be prepared. Further, it is only when it is blowing that the XXX can be shelled.

After the war, therefore, in view of future scraps on the “Western Front”, I think a place should be found in the Book of Common Prayer, after those for Fine Weather, Rain, etc, for a Prayer for a Westerly Wind.

We have added to the completeness of the Unit lately by instituting an itinerant dentist. He travels round between the stations with a patent collapsible chair and his drilling machine. At XXX he operates in the minute room of my billet, into which he can just squeeze. With the patient shivering in the chair, his mouth gagged open, while he works a mechanical mouth draining machine, the drill buzzing, and a pungent smell of chemical in the air, the dental surgery behind the lines is complete. To get still nearer the real thing, we not only see that there is an illustrated paper lying on the bed, but further that it is as near “ante-bellum” days as possible.

Your affectionate son,


Laurence was in a better position than his mother to see the effects of charitable appeals related to the war. It is easy to donate money without thinking much about it, but it is also easy to be cynical about all appeals and give nothing at all. How do we ensure that our contributions make a difference?

Copyright: This is an edited extract of a letter from Laurence Cadbury to his parents, stored at the Cadbury Research Library in the University of Birmingham. Used by kind permission of the Cadbury family. 
Image: Henry Dearden of the Friends War Victims Relief Committee wearing a makeshift gas mask in France. © 2016 The Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain.

Your Thoughts

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.

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

Croix de Guerre medal © Michael Preston for Britain Yearly Meeting
Thursday 3 March 2016

Oliver Watkins, a member of the Friends Ambulance Unit, received the Croix de Guerre for his work rescuing the wounded whilst under fire.

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