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.
As conscription was introduced in Britain, the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) was facing controversy in France. Members of the Unit were exempt from conscription because of the work they were doing at the front. Some felt they were benefiting from a privilege denied to others and that they should leave the FAU to go home and resist conscription with their fellow pacifists. Other FAU members saw this as abandoning vital work.
Writing to his parents two days after conscription was introduced, Laurence Cadbury made his views very clear. He also praised his mother for challenging the more radical members of the Society of Friends (Quakers). Here's an extract from the letter.
Cartoons by 'A.E.', which portrayed “The conscientious objector at the front”, ignored the work carried out by groups such as the Friends Ambulance Unit. [Image copyright below]
A French army order was issued the other day to the effect that all beards were to be shaved off. It has caused a good deal of consternation. It is wise, however, as a beard made it very difficult to get a gas-tight joint round the edge of a respirator. There have also been some other useful orders lately. One was that hair must be kept cut shorter.
I am glad to hear Mother is taking in hand the job of counteracting the effects of the blighters in the Society who have been advocating the employment of strike methods in regard to compulsion, and bleating about their precious, pampered and over-sensitive consciences.
There have been a few fellows in the Unit who wanted to go home because they were exempted as long as they were with the Unit, because it was doing useful work and not given total exemption; not because the work they were doing had any value, but because of their blighted consciences. Most have been pretty well sat on, I am glad to say.
I hear there has been quite a lot of snow at home. Richard Barrow, who has been on leave, told me he spent most of his time in front of the fire. Thank goodness, the snow here has not been very deep, though quite enough to make matters very unpleasant and the work difficult. As I anticipated in my last letter, directly the wind went round to the east we were in for trouble. We have had two gas attacks, disgusting weather and of course sufficient careless drivers to score four or five cracked cylinders.
I am sorry you get further people pestering you for subs. I strongly advise not subscribing to any unless you have inside information; working only on information that certain things are no good, but the rest, about which nothing has been heard, are all right is not enough. The only thing I know about the last affair that Father sent me is that it has spent a great deal of money on a perfectly useless motor soup kitchen. A little hut and a few primuses could have done the work equally as well as the elaborate apparatus that has cost considerably over £1,000.
I would always be suspicious of committees with titled gentlemen on them; there are two ways of running things – either with these high-sounding names to draw money and the necessarily inefficient methods that the inclusion of them in the spending of it causes, or more commonplace people who are merely on the job because they are either capable or keen, and who don't perhaps tap so many pockets, but spend better that which they do get hold of.
Thanks very much for socks from Mother, and books, which have arrived all right. I should very much like some small hampers of fruit from time to time, as though the French rations are more than liberal with meat, bread and wine, the 20 centimes allowed for vegetables and luxuries do not go very far.
Laurence clearly values the “useful work” of the FAU in relieving suffering. But he is evidently frustrated by those who feel that their voluntary service is undermined by the compulsion to help the war effort, and therefore support the prosecution of the war itself. Is Laurence right to be irritated by this? Can a claim of conscience be a selfish act, emphasising personal conviction while overlooking the needs of others?
Copyright: This is an edited extract of a letter from Laurence Cadbury to his parents, dated 4 March 1916 and stored at the Cadbury Research Library in the University of Birmingham. Used by kind permission of the Cadbury family.
Image copyright: There have been many attempts by authors and researchers to trace the copyright-holder of "A.E.”. If you believe you own the copyright for this image, we will be very pleased if you contact us.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While many Quaker groups supported the position of absolutist conscientious objectors, others disagreed. A group of prominent Quakers in Birmingham signed a letter declaring their support for alternative service.