Quakers praised for war work
Quakers often received a hostile press during the war, but at times there was surprisingly positive coverage. In these cases, the reports tended to focus on the Friends Ambulance Unit and sometimes the Friends War Victims Relief Committee.
This article from the Newcastle News Chronicle, which appeared on 14 November 1916, is a particularly extreme example. The journalist, whose name does not appear, applauds Quakers in a manner usually reserved for units of the armed forces. The article was headed “Society of Friends: How They Have Helped in the Great War”.
Though opposed to strife in every form, the Friends were in at the beginning. No sooner had war broken out than the Quakers rose to their feet and started out to do something. I have many friends among the silent body but I am happy to say that the majority of them are out in France where they have made a speciality of motor ambulance work. Some of my friends have made the great sacrifice, losing their lives, and in doing so have upheld the divine injunction - “greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” The Society of Friends have many graves in France enclosing those who, though they took no life, lost theirs in succouring their comrades who belonged to fighting forces.
The Friends' Ambulance Unit has just held its second anniversary. Their Secretary, Mr. J.R. Little, gave the meeting something to ponder over when he announced that 1,116 men had gone through their course of instruction with the unit; 450 were engaged in Red Cross work in France; 170 were on board Hospital Ships; and 255 were at present preparing to do their share. Their hospital cars had journeyed in search of or in charge of wounded and sick 700,000 miles, and carried no fewer than 91,470 patients.
This does not cover all they have done. Poor suffering Belgium has been relieved. Over 1,100 children and 600 adults have been fed daily, whilst about 200 are being cared for in orphanages. The Society of Friends provide the money to supply a quarter of a million bottles of milk which mean also that this vast quantity has also been distributed.
The Friends have also accomplished good work elsewhere. Russian and Serbian refugees have been succoured in Salonika and Corsica. Our own distressed in many places, interned because of their race, have been relieved, and the splendid record of Mr Trevelyan's Italian unit is well known to all. In this beneficent activity, the Society of Friends, though opposed to every form of warfare, have thrown themselves into the operations of war with a clean hand and have rendered sterling service to mankind.
Source: Newcastle News Chronicle, 14 November 1916.
As Quaker relief work in France extended, Hilda chose to move from where she had been working to Sermaize, where life was slightly calmer but facilities more basic despite increasing levels of illness in the area. In one of her last surviving letters from the war years, she said that some things are too complicated to explain in writing.
In 1947 Quaker work was recognised in the form of the Nobel Peace Prize. It honoured the relief work during and after the two world wars. Helen Drewery, General Secretary of Quaker Peace & Social Witness, discusses the ongoing responsibilities of those awarded it.