#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.

The Friends Ambulance Unit splits over conscience

Thursday 24 March 2016
Laurence Cadbury

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 took a different view. He made his opinions clear in a letter to his parents, of which this is an edited version.

When Laurence uses the initials TCPC, he is referring to his close colleague Corder Catchpool, the FAU Adjutant, who had become worried that he was doing more to help the war than to resist it. The “Tennant” referred to was the government's Under-Secretary for War, Harold Tennant.

Conscientious objectors were often portrayed as lazy as well as weak. This cartoon appeared in the pro-war paper John Bull. Copyright information below.

Dear Father and Mother,

The only thing to be said for being thus constantly kept on the bustle, is that it keeps one from becoming too desperately depressed at the idea of two or three more years utterly wasted in this infernal war, and one’s heart from being made too unutterably sick to perform its normal functions. One consolation is that every day is a day nearer the end of the war, and no power on earth can shake that comforting thought.

The first commotion was about consciences. I don’t object to consciences, not even over-manured ones, so long as they only prompt people to self-regarding actions, but when they start seriously and adversely affecting other people, I consider it time to remind their owners that there are other considerations besides their own particular and peculiar individualities, that there are other people in the world, and that their welfare should at least be given a thought, if only a passing one.

Anyway, our conscientious purists completely forgot everything else, and when they heard that people were being sent to prison, dashed round the country getting people to sign a memorandum, telling the government that all people who claimed conscientious exemption were sincere and holding the awful threat over their heads that, if they did not reform their wicked ways, then, in the name of the FAU, they would return home.

The whole thing was engineered by a little group, quite regardless of the wishes of the vast majority of the Unit. Consequently, there has been a row with the authorities over unauthorised, and what they regard as highly objectionable, people visiting the trains.

More serious still, when going to the Adjutant General the other day about something, we learnt that the whole thing had been brought to the notice of GHQ and also the General Staff, by the Intelligence Department, and that, as a result, they were very doubtful whether our continued presence was desirable.

Ultimata Numbers 1 and 2 followed. Number 1 was to the personnel of the Unit, pointing out the difference between one’s behaviour as a private individual and as a member of a Unit working in the war area. It has led to a few going home, one or two of whom I am sorry to see the last of, such as TCPC, with whom I have been closely associated so long, and who is such a thoroughly genuine old man.

The course taken was, however, the only possible one, and should make for things going more smoothly internally in the future. It meant appointing another Adjutant. We finally arranged a compromise – Mordey being Adjutant and Watts Deputy Adjutant.

Ultimatum Number 2 was the result of our strained relations with the British authorities. Maxwell and Newman did not beat about the bush, but went to Tennant and told him that, unless the Unit was duly authorised, and GHQ given distinct orders that the work was to be facilitated in every way, they did not see that the carrying on of the Unit was further possible. We got all we wanted, and I hope everything now will be plain sailing as regards the British authorities.

The only objectionable feature is that, having got Mordey fully conversant with all affairs, he has gone off for three weeks to get married.

I hope to get home for Whitsun very much indeed, but things don't look at all hopeful at the moment; Maxwell's heart, Catchpool's conscience and Mordey's marriage have formed a succession of hindrances in this direction.

Your affectionate son,

Laurence Cadbury

Was Laurence right? Were relations with the authorities the more serious concern, if it meant that the FAU was allowed to operate and relieve suffering? Or was it important to speak out despite the consequences?

Copyright: This is an edited extract of a letter from Laurence Cadbury to his parents, dated 26 May 1916 and stored at the Cadbury Research Library in the University of Birmingham. Used by kind permission of the Cadbury family. 

Image copyright: John Bull is no longer in print and the copyright status is ambiguous. This image is often shared without acknowledgement of copyright. If you believe you own the copyright for this image, please contact us.  

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.

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 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

A photo of Corder Catchpool
Thursday 24 March 2016

Corder Catchpool was one of those who left the Friends Ambulance Unit to follow his conscience. This is his speech from his tribunal.

Mobile phone on old-style newspaper
Thursday 24 March 2016

Tim Harman, Peace Project Officer for the Quaker Council for European Affairs, discusses QCEA's recent peace advocacy and reflects on the calling to work for peace.

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