The Friends Ambulance Unit:

Manor Farm during World WarII

barn001 250 optMany people may be unaware of the role that Manor Farm played in the Second World War; training members of the FAU [Field Ambulance Unit] for service in the field of war providing medical aid to the wounded.

The FAU had first been established by Quakers as part of their testimony to peace during the First World War, but stood down at the cessation of hostilities. When war was declared in 1939 a committee was set up to re-start the Unit and Dame Elizabeth Cadbury, then the owner of the Manor House and Farm agreed to support it by providing a training facility for members to prepare for their various róles in the work.


Telga Davies wrote a history of the Unit in the 1939-45 war and spoke of his own experiences.

"I got off the train at Birmingham, staggered to the tram stop, mounted a tram which clattered southwards along the Bristol Road, past Edgbaston and the University then along beyond its satellite colleges, faintly tinctured with Missionaries Quakerism. At Hole Lane I hauled my baggage out, climbed the hill about two hundred yards towards Northfield and there on my right I found, as my instructions said I should, a farm set slightly back from the road and screened by woods, with a modest sign in black and white: "Friends Abmulance Unit Training Camp". I found the Commandant, reported to him and then made my way to my bunk in what used to be a cowhouse.

So, at Manor Farm I was introduced to the life that was to occupy my next five and a half years. I was one of sixty who arrived that day, one of more than a thousand who, during the years of the war, passed through the Training Camp. For them, six weeks at the Manor Farm were the gateway into a new life. From every kind of background they came: bank clerks, actors, mechanics, teachers, students, carpenters, lawyers and salesmen; men from the factories and the fields and many straight from school. They all had one thing in common. They were pacifists, exponants of an unpopular creed in wartime, but anxious together to do ajob of work.

The average age was nearer twenty than thirty. Most of them had, therefore, for the background of their thoughts, the 1930's. The highest single group were members of the Society of Friends or had been educated at Friend's schools. Others had fought their way alone to their pacifist faith, or had come to it through one of the many pacifist movements which caught the tide a few years before the start of the war. They all found that a movement which carried the name of Friends was a rallying point for those anxious to serve in ways which conscience would allow."

Another Friend, Tony Reynolds wrote:

"I decided that joining the FAU was the thing to do. It was a great relief to be in company with a lot of other young men from different backgrounds, not all Quaker by a long way, who had taken the same decision to be conscientious objectors. I went to the Training Camp at Manor Farm in Northfield, Birmingham. In that camp there was group camaraderie. We learnt various things such as marching, which was necessary, because if you are going to do relief ambulance work with an army, you need to move as an army does. Actually, marching is a very efficient way of moving people around and making sure you arrive with the same number you left with. Because I had been trained in various manual crafts, I stayed on at Manor Farm in a work squad doing jobs like putting up blackout entrances to the bunkrooms and repairing all the bunk beds which were falling to pieces."

Fellow-member of the Unit, Jack Skurr remembered:

"I didn't join the Friends Ambulance Unit until their fifth training camp at Manor Farm in Northfield, Birmingham. The first camp converted the barns into sleeping and eating accomodation. Each camp after that did a bit more to improve it. We used the big barn for lectures and training in first aid.It's a big, very old wooden barn. It's still there. We trained there for five or six weeks altogether."

A number of the FAU members who passed through Manor Farm in those difficult years lost their lives in the service of the Unit.


Setting up the Camp.

(Excerpt from "Friends Ambulance Unit" by Telga Davies)

"By 12th September six pioneers had arrived at Manor Farm to convert farm buildings into a camp. Many local Friends gave invaluable help; help came from the Bournville Village Trust; but the mainspring was Paul Cadbury---here, there and everywhere, interviewing prospective members, attending tribunals, seeing officials, turning up at all hours of the day and night with new pieces of equipment for the camp. Indeed, in claiming to have made the Unit what it was, its members sometimes forgot how much had been done in those early days to make it possible. It is never easy to sell a new idea; it was doubly difficult when a war had just begun.

On Wednesday, 27th September, fifty-eight men began their training. The name was still uncertain, but two days later the Council, now established, decided that what had so far been called the "Ambulance Training Camp for Friends" should adopt the old name, the Friends Ambulance Unit. It was hoped that there would be early work in France. As was fitting, Paul Cadbury was confirmed as Chairman of the Council. The Vice-Chairman was Arnold Rowntree, the elder statesman who had urged him on. It had all been a matter of days".

Further interesting reading can be found here.


Thanks to FoMFP Association member, Mr., Peter Ullathorne for preparing so much of this material.

DAB-P [3rd May 2012]








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