#whitefeather diaries

A Quaker in the navy

Thursday 29 October 2015

While Laurence joined the Friends Ambulance Unit, his younger brother Bertie took a different path. Although brought up a Quaker, Bertie supported the war and joined the Royal Navy. Around thirty per cent of Quaker men also joined up.

In the navy, Bertie trained as a pilot. This was before the creation of the Royal Air Force; aeroplanes were in their early stages and were operated by both the army and the navy. On 2 August 1915 Bertie wrote to Laurence from the Royal Naval Air Station in Great Yarmouth. Here's an abridged version of his letter, using some colourful language. (When he refers to a “Jack J”, this is a Jack Johnson, a type of bomb.)

You are a bloody shit, you have not answered my letters, even though I have written several times. I wrote and asked you your advice re joining up this show. I am still awaiting your reply! That was two months ago.

On arriving here I found that the machine most used for patrol work etc was the Sopwith two-seater and unfortunately I had not flown one before I came here. Thus I had bloody awful cold feet when I was sent up in one, although peeing my bags the whole time I was up, I nevertheless managed to stop the flow just before I landed and in consequence made a damn good landing. Although I have been up in them several times since, yet every time I go up I still get cold feet, as they are not a bit stable fore and aft and also they are controlled with a wheel instead of a joy stick! (Oh my God! I have just heard I have got to do my first patrol tonight!)

We have had quite a great many submarine scares lately, several machines being torpedoed off Lowestoft and farther down the coast. Every time a submarine is sighted they ring the air station and ask for machines to go up to try to locate them and drop bombs on them.

The men here, with one exception, are really not half bad sorts. The Commanding Officer is of course a brother Royal Navy man and is not so bad but bites your head off like hell about every ten minutes.

How is your "affair" progressing with Olga? You are a shit to pinch her from Norman, but as long as she remains in the family, I suppose it does not much matter! As for Joyce, well I have really had the luck of the devil himself. The very day, mark you, that I left Chingford for here, she went to nurse at a large hospital at Bethnal Green–only a few fucking godforsaken miles off. Now what do you call that for bloody awful bad luck. Eh!

She and I communicate frequently but damn it all one can't propose to a girl down the phone or by letter, that can only be done in one's own chamber. Besides, I am not quite such a bloody fool as to propose to a girl I have only seen for eight days in my life and those eight days spread over a distance of two years. Though I think I could probably fix it all right if I could only get at her, judging by the tone of her letters etc!

The casualty lists have been awful lately, pretty well the whole of last year's Lent Boat have been wiped out, either being killed or badly wounded. Damned pity about John Allen, Budger, Cyril Fairbairn (as a matter of fact it was a good ending for him, for he would have died very slowly of excess in drink and women), Fitch, Raikes, etc.

Well cheerish, old fellah. For God's sake don't get a Jack J in your elementary canal, as having beaten you at tennis last year and the year previous, I should like to do so again in 1916. Write some time.

Source: This is an edited extract of a letter from Egbert Cadbury to Laurence Cadbury, dated 2 August 1915 and stored at the Cadbury Research Library in the University of Birmingham. Used by kind permission of the Cadbury family.

Families were sometimes divided in their response to the war and people often chose different paths to their family's prevailing view. We have recorded some of these dilemmas and stories from letters and memoirs. You can listen online to these stories of conscience.

Related Materials

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.