War Poet.ca - A CFAP Project by Suzanne Steele

Notes from PhD Land: the Quakers

I’m currently “polishing” 20,000 words on the VAD Mary Borden for a doctoral committee and have come to London to do a bit of research. For a variety of reasons I’ve become quite interested in the Quakers, or rather, the “Friends” as they are known.

Last time I was up to London I discovered that my “club” used to be the Quakers’ Field Ambulance HQ during the First World War. So this morning I took a few hours and visited the Friends’ archive to see what they have which might be relevant to the current chapter I’m writing. Well as things go, the Field Amb. Corps., SSA.14 Section sanitaire Anglaise Quatorze, were working in the same sector as Borden with the French Army.

I had the profound experience of looking through the SSA 14’s records, photographs, and read their “Souvenir” publication which was published just after the war in 1919. I read of their losses, those killed under bombardment, and those who grew ill, were gassed, and shell-shocked.

But I also read of the camaraderie, the pets who kept them company and handily, kept the camps free from rats, just as the camp dogs I saw in A’stan kept the cobras away, and the dedication – these pacifists walked towards the most dangerous, gruesome kilometres of earth imaginable. They walked towards it, did their job with conviction.

And what strikes me as poignant is that the Quakers are pacifists who went to war. But, as they say in their literature of the time, their remit is not to run away, but to roll up the sleeves and see what can be done.

The following two passages are from a 1926 publication, A Quaker Adventure: The Story of Nine Years’ Relief and Reconstruction by A. Ruth Fry. I read the book before I looked at the boxes of photographs and drawings that the lovely Friends’ archivist dug out for me:

‘The [Quaker’s] testimony against all war, which is well known as a Quaker tenet, is not a mere isolated, negative one. It springs from our belief in the potentiality of the divine in all men—the Inner Light, as we call it, which is in every man, however hidden and darkened it may be. It follows that our duty is to move among our fellow-men, kindling their highest nature by the fire in our own souls’ (xvii).

‘Friendliness and love in us kindle their like in others, and it is therefore our privilege to use them in our dealings with all our fellow human beings. […] If this be true of personal relations, we believe it to be true equally of civic and international ones, and that in so far as they are on a much larger scale, they are more delicate and more important, and that they need raising not merely to a moderate standard, but to the very highest. […] we believe that nations need to trust everything to the positive forces of goodwill’ (xvii).

Fry, A. Ruth. A Quaker Adventure: The Story of Nine Years’ Relief and Reconstruction. London: Nisbet & Co. Ltd. 1926.


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The page you're reading contains a single diary entry entitled Notes from PhD Land: the Quakers. It was posted here on May 29, 2013.

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