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 mention typhoid
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.
In this letter from February 1915 (slightly abridged here), Laurence poked fun at the censorship rules by deliberately including words that he knew would be deleted, hoping his parents would be able to guess his meaning. The first rule he mentions is the ban on writing ‘typhoid’.
Dear Father and Mother,
I am afraid my last letter arrived sadly defaced and with its usual little bits of illegibility grossly increased by the censor's inky smudges. You might think it flattering to be treated thus but don't be misled. I have no military secrets to give away; if there is any special movement on, everyone but XXX XXX, so the news and opinions generally current are usually wrong.
Just before Christmas all the Frenchmen were hugging themselves, and each other, in the belief that they were about to take a through ticket (to Berlin?) XXX for New Year, because of Joffre's message.
I received a neat little copy like everyone else, and have it pinned on the wall of the office. It declared that the furious assaults of the enemy had been withstood for three months and now the horn had sounded. Bluff and bunkum. There never was any attack at all, but everyone thought there was going to be one, the Germans included presumably, and so probably sent fewer troops to Poland as a result.
We have just had issued a new lot of censorship regulations for the Unit, quotations from which you may be interested to hear, as they will explain my last letter being so blotchy.
1. The use of the word XXX forbidden and any remark suggesting the XXX in this part of the country.
2. Any references to the disposition of the forces, or criticisms subversive of discipline.
3. Any reference whatsoever to movement of troops, ships or aeroplanes.
4. Success or otherwise of allied armies.
5. Numbers or condition or remarks with reference to German wounded.
6. Numbers of allied wounded or sick.
7. Any reference to XXX or any remarks about conditions in any part of the country; also any information that can be of any possible use to the enemy.
It is pretty wide as you see, and not at all free and easy like Bertie's naval censor.
I am still at XXX but now practically surrounded XXX. XXX is a welcome change in many ways. I mentioned this fact in my last letter but believe all reference to XXX was crossed out (this is fatuous), as not putting in where I am, except in the region behind Dunkirk, I merely show XXX also there which the Kaiser knows already.
During the last week or so they have also had several XXX in here. One of the French doctors was telling me the other day that it was because we used putties and they stopped the circulation of the blood a little. The Germans don't use them and he said they suffered very much less with frozen feet.
I was very interested to get Bertie's and Paul's letters.
Your affectionate son,
It is remarkable how much the government and the army leadership hoped to keep from the British public. Newspapers and other sources of information were highly regulated and some of the worst news remained hidden for lengths of time that are almost unimaginable in today's age of 24-hour news.
Some say social media has freed things up and allowed us to find out more about what's really going on in the world. Others argue that the internet favours the powerful as much as older forms of media. Where do you get your information from today? Do you consider some sources to be more trustworthy than others? How do you decide which sources are credible?
This is an edited extract of a letter from Laurence Cadbury to his parents, dated 23 February 1915 and stored at the Cadbury Research Library in the University of Birmingham. Used by kind permission of the Cadbury family.
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.
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.
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.
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.