#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.

Firing to miss

Friday 29 August 2014
Laurence Cadbury

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.

Label on a packet of sweets or chocolate sent by Cadbury's - the chocolate firm owned by Laurence's father - to wounded soldiers at Christmas 1914Luckily 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?

Your Thoughts

Submitted by Linda Palfreeman on
How do I feel about the soldiers' actions? That it is the most wonderful demonstration of man's humanity to man in spite of desperate , life-threatening circumstances and under duress to perform one's military and 'patriotic' duty.

Submitted by james millward on
perhaps one of the only good things to emerge from this terrible war are stories like this, how re-assuring it is that even amidst the propaganda,horror and fear real humanity shone through from those who had the most to lose by showing it. I lost what little faith I had in the biblical god because of how the story has been twisted and re-narrated by the mainline churches but I respect the quakers and I appreciate their courage and tenacity over the centuries in pursuing the meaningful teachings like forgiveness and love compassion and peace and appreciation. No nation can call itself a land of free people if it can force its people by law to kill others and make murderers of us all, when that act goes against our conscience, and any nation that claims the right to execute you for refusing to wear the mask of a murderer is itself a nation of monsters and is a greater demon than the alleged foe
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 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

Friday 29 August 2014

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.

Friday 29 August 2014

News of the truce arrived only gradually in Britain, and parts of the pro-war lobby were keen to discourage reports of it.

Latest Tweets

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