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Friends in Flanders

Humanitarian Aid Administered by the Friends’ Ambulance Unit during the First World War

Linda Palfreeman is Lecturer in Journalism at the University of Cardenal Herrera, Elche, Spain. Her research on local aspects of the Spanish Civil War and of the International Brigades’ Medical Service resulted in ¡Salud! British Volunteers in the Republican Medical Service during the Spanish Civil War, 1936–1939 (2012), followed by Aristocrats, Adventurers and Ambulances: British Medical Units in the Spanish Civil War (2013), and Spain Bleeds, the final book in this informal trilogy, continues to provide long unavailable information on health care and medical assistance during wartime.

The Friends’ Ambulance Unit (FAU) was created shortly after the outbreak of war. The idea of the unit’s founder, Philip J. Baker, was that it would provide young Friends (Quakers) with the opportunity to serve their country without sacrificing their pacifist principles. The first volunteers went to Belgium on 31 October 1914, under the auspices of the Joint War Committee of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St John of Jerusalem.

The FAU made a sustained contribution to the military medical services of the Allied nations, establishing military hospitals, running ambulance convoys, and staffing hospital ships and ambulance trains, treating and transporting wounded men. Determined to bring succour to all those in need, the FAU also assisted civilians trapped in the war zone and living in desperate circumstances. Nowhere was this more acute than in the besieged and battered town of Ypres where thousands sheltered in the underground passage-ways of the town’s ancient fortifications – ‘a subterranean population, hopeless, often lightless’, wrote Geoffrey Young, the Unit’s young field commander, ‘living on what they might and breeding disease.’

The Unit provided hospitals for the treatment of civilians, and worked intensively in the containment and treatment of the typhoid epidemic that swept the region, locating sufferers, providing them with medical care, and inoculating people against the disease. It played a major role in the purification of the town’s contaminated drinking water, distributed milk for infants and food and clothing to the sick and needy. It helped found orphanages, made provision for schooling and organised gainful employment for refugees until, finally, it became responsible for the definitive evacuations of the civilian population.

Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-871-8
Paperback Price: £24.95 / $34.95
Release Date: June 2017
Page Extent / Format: 200 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: Yes


List of Illustrations
Author’s preface and acknowledgements
Chapter 1:The coming of war in Europe, 1914
Chapter 2: The ambulance unit – Friends and all
Chapter 3: Geoffrey Young brings news from abroad
Chapter 4: The Friends are mobilized
Chapter 5: Hospital St Pierre - the first FAU hospital in France
Chapter 6: Friends in Ypres
Chapter 7: The Sacré Coeur, Ypres – the FAU’s first civilian hospital in Belgium
Chapter 8: Typhoid in Flanders – containing the epidemic
Chapter 9: Château Elisabeth Civilian Hospital, Poperinghe
Chapter 10: A programme of welfare in Flanders
Chapter 11: Military Matters
Chapter 12:  The death of Ypres                  


Origins and Expansion of the Religious Society of Friends
A note on the finance of the Unit
Postscript, FAU leaders


This history chronicles the activities of the Friends’ Ambulance Unit (FAU), founded by Quaker Philip J. Baker and staffed by Quakers. The book details the FAU’s role in military medical services during the war, treating and transporting the wounded, staffing hospital ships, and starting military hospitals and orphanages. There is special focus on FAU’s efforts to help civilians living in underground tunnels in Ypres, stop the typhoid epidemic in the area, and purify the town’s drinking water. Black and white historical photographs are included.

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