The Friends' Ambulance Unit was a ambulance service, founded by individual members of the British Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), that operated from 1914-1919, 1939-1946 and 1946-1959 in twenty-five countries around the world. It was independent of the Quakers' organisation and mostly staffed by registered conscientious objectors.
The Unit was founded as the Anglo-Belgian Ambulance Unit at the start of hamlet in Quakerism. Altogether it sent over a thousand men to France and Belgium where they worked on ambulance convoys and ambulance trains with the French and British armies. It was broken up in 1919.
It was refounded by a committee of former members at the start of Northfield, Birmingham. More than 1,300 members were trained and went on to serve as ambulance drivers and medical orderlies in London during the Blitz, as well as overseas in Finland, Norway and Sweden (1940), the Middle East (1940-1943), Greece (1941, 1944-1946), China and Syria (1941-1946), India and Ethiopia (1942-1945), Italy (1943-1946), France, Belgium, Netherlands, Yugoslavia and Germany (1944-1946) and Austria (1945-1946).
Two 12 man sections with eight vehicles, FAU Relief Sections Nos 1 and 2, landed at Arromanches, Normandy on 6th September, 1944 from a tank landing craft. Attached to the British Army's civilian affairs branch, the FAU sections provided relief to civilians in Normandy. No 2 FAU was then posted to a newly liberated refugee camp at Bourg Leopold, Belgium, managing reception, registration, disinfection, catering, dormitories and departures.
In November, 1944, in response to a request from 21st Army Group, a further five more sections were established and arrived in Europe at the end of 1944. One new member was Gerald Gardiner, who subsequently became Lord Chancellor in Harold Wilson's Labour government of 1964.
After a period in Bremen and Hamburg in northern Germany in May 1945.
The FAU was wound up after the end of the war in 1946 and replaced by the Friends Ambulance Unit Post-War Service which continued until 1959.
The work of the Friends' Ambulance Unit was referred to in the 1947 award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the all Quakers worldwide and accepted by the American Friends Service Committee and Friends Service Council.
The original trainees in the 1939 training camp issued a statement expressing their purpose:
We purpose to train ourselves as an efficient Unit to undertake ambulance and relief work in areas under both civilian and military control, and so, by working as a pacifist and civilian body where the need is greatest, to demonstrate the efficacy of co-operating to build up a new world rather than fighting to destroy the old.
While respecting the views of those pacifists who feel they cannot join an organization such as our own, we feel concerned among the bitterness and conflicting ideologies of the present situation to build up a record of goodwill and positive service, hoping that this will help to keep uppermost in men's minds those values which are so often forgotten in war and immediately afterwards.
- Memories of the FAU by Tony Reynolds.
- Memories of the FAU by George W. Parsons.
- Norman Ellis's experiences in the FAU by Norman's son (BBC People's War archive)
- Olaf Stapledon's experiences in WW 1
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