CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION
in Britain in Workd War Two



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COs ABROAD

The Friends Ambulance Unit was revived in 1939, and a number of COs were recognised on condition that they worked in it. There were 1,300 members, paid only pocket money. They wore uniform as they had done in the First World War, but stressed that the FAU was a civilian organisation; the uniform served only to make them recognisable. Previously the FAU's work had been what its name implied: an ambulance service (and operating on and near the front line). This time, apart from a group who went to Finland to help with casualties and evacuation during the fighting there, the first FAU work was in England, preparing 'ambulance trains' to evacuate hospitals for military casualties, especially if there was an invasion. Another group was based in the East End of London, working as medical orderlies or male nurses.

But after the Blitz (and no invasion) there was work to do in other countries hit by war. Some teams continued their traditional ambulance work with the army. Some worked as truck drivers in China, ferrying wounded soldiers and civilians, and transporting medical supplies. 'It was a filthy, dirty job, terrible roads, mud, living in Chinese inns, bed bugs, lice and never a bath until you got back to base. You felt you were making up for having refused to live as a soldier. And then on to the Burma front, where we went out behind the front lines, operating, saving lives, facing a very considerable amount of danger.'

Other FAU teams provided medical orderlies and drivers for a mobile hospital in North Africa, some moving on to do the same work in what was then Palestine. Some served on the Greek island of Kos. Here they helped to set up a hospital. When the Germans invaded, the hospital rapidly filled up with casualties: German, British and Greek. The FAU men were now prisoners, but kept on working until they were eventually taken to a prisoner-of-war camp.

One CO kept a particular memory of the first day of the invasion. He'd gone out into the hospital compound for a breath of air, and 'saw an English soldier going along in a crouching position, rifle in hand, along a wall about 100 yards away. A German soldier near me picked up his rifle and shot him. The English soldier fell over, wounded. Then the German soldier, with the battle going on all round him, ran out to fetch the English soldier, put him over his shoulder and brought him to the operating theatre.' It seemed to the young CO, helping to get the wounded man on to the operating table, to sum up the madness of war.

As the war drew to a close, and after it, many COs continued the work they had begun, providing relief for refugees and other civilians who had suffered from the fighting. Some went to the bomb-wrecked cities of Europe. The PPU had its own Food Relief Campaign, getting supplies to the people in occupied Europe. The Quakers' Friends Relief Service went wherever they were able to meet a need. The work went on long after the war was over.
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