Rachel Eveline Wilson papers and our new exhibition: an insight into the life of a World War I Friends Ambulance Unit nurse

Nurses at Queen Alexandra Hospital (TEMP MSS 1000)

Photograph of nurses at Queen Alexandra Hospital taken between October 1917 and December 1918. Rachel Wilson is standing at the back, second from the right (Lib. Ref. TEMP MSS 1000)

An interesting recent addition to the Library’s collections has been the papers of Rachel Eveline Wilson (1894–1993) of Kidderminster, which primarily relate to her time in the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) as a nurse at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Malo–les–Bains, Dunkirk, during World War I (TEMP MSS 1000).

The FAU was a volunteer ambulance service, founded by members of the Society of Friends as a practical expression of the Quaker peace testimony. It operated from 1914 to 1919, 1939 to 1946 and 1946 to 1959 in 25 countries around the world, and its members were chiefly registered conscientious objectors. The FAU provided most of the staff at Queen Alexandra Hospital which had been opened in March 1915 and was one of the largest and best known military hospitals attached to the French Eighth Army. An account of the hospital and its work is given in the official history of the Unit, Meaburn Tatham and James E. Miles, The Friends’ Ambulance Unit 1914–1919: a record (London, 1920), pp. 68–85.

After training at Kidderminster Infirmary, Rachel Wilson became a staff nurse at Kidderminster Red Cross, and worked for nine months at Uffculme Hospital, Birmingham, for the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), a volunteer organisation founded in 1909 to provide field nursing services. On 8 January 1917 she joined the FAU and was stationed at Queen Alexandra Hospital. She was there from October 1917 until it closed in December 1918.

Friends Ambulance Unit armlet (Lib. Ref. TEMP MSS 999)

Friends Ambulance Unit armlet (Lib. Ref. TEMP MSS 999)

The papers of Rachel Wilson document her time as a nurse in World War I and include photographs, sketches, poems and writings about her experiences. There is also a small diary entitled, ‘Dunkirk 1918 – A record of five eventful nights & days’ (20–27 March 1918), which provides a valuable personal record of her experiences and includes observations of life on the ward accompanied by the deafening noise of the “cracking and whizzing of shells”.

“Going on duty”, c. 1918 (Lib. Ref. TEMP MSS 1000)

Sketch by Rachel Wilson entitled, “Going on duty”, c. 1918 (Lib. Ref. TEMP MSS 1000)

The Library also holds the papers of Rachel Wilson’s husband, Paul S. Cadbury (1895–1984) of Birmingham, later chairman of Cadbury Brothers, whom she met at the Queen Alexandra Hospital and married on 24 June 1919 (TEMP MSS 999). He joined the FAU on 1 November  1915 and was later given absolute exemption from military service on the grounds of conscientious objection. Before joining the FAU, he had been a member of the Friends Emergency and War Victims Relief Committee (FEWVRC), a committee organised by British Quakers to provide help for refugees and victims during World War I. The collection relates to his service in the FEWVRC and FAU and includes diaries, reports, a passport and even his FAU uniform. It also contains Rachel Wilson’s nursing uniform (apron, cuffs, collars, sleeves, cap) and numerous photographs and drawings.

Both the papers of Rachel Wilson and those of Paul S. Cadbury complement the official archives of the FAU (TEMP MSS 881), documenting, as they do, the experiences of individual members of the unit.

Opening in time for Yearly Meeting, our new exhibition, Rachel Wilson, World War I Friends Ambulance Unit nurse, includes a selection of items from the Rachel E. Wilson and Paul S. Cadbury collections. You can see part of the uniform worn by Rachel Wilson while working at Queen Alexandra Hospital, her drawings and watercolours, FAU badges and photographs showing life at the hospital. The exhibition will still be on display after Yearly Meeting (during Library opening hours) – so do come in and have a look.

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8 Responses to Rachel Eveline Wilson papers and our new exhibition: an insight into the life of a World War I Friends Ambulance Unit nurse

  1. Margaret Page says:

    Thought the people of Kidderminster should know so passed on to the local paper. Just hope I can get to see the exhibition.

  2. sarah huxford says:

    Fascinating ! My Grandmother Grace Springhall and my Grandfather William Rowntree met here too during 1918. Really hope this exhibition is still on.

    • Library of the Society of Friends says:

      Interesting to hear about your grandparents! The display has been replaced by a new one now – we usually put on at least two a year.

    • Jane Devkar says:

      Hello Sarah – I ran across this entry while researching Grace Springhall Rowntree. Grace is a distant cousin through her grandmother, Marion Winchester (daughter of John and Margaret Winchester.) Have you any information on the Winchester family, specifically John Winchester and his wife Margaret Taylor Winchester? Marion’s sister, Isabella Hay Winchester, is my great-great grandmother. She married a William Edward(s) and they came to Iowa in the United States.

  3. Ruth Cadbury says:

    I was fascinated to see the papers, letters, journals, artwork and various artefacts of my grandparents, Paul and Rachel’s years in the FAU when I visited the FH library in May. I hadn’t really realised that they got to know each other in France/Belgium during their service in WW1, they married in 1919. Thank yo so much for the time you took to set up the exhibition and to talk me through the various items.

    • Library of the Society of Friends says:

      We enjoyed your visit – delighted that you found the display interesting. We showed some of the collection again on International Conscientious Objectors’ day, at the launch of the Quaker World War I project – including Rachel’s nurse’s apron and the photograph album. Hoping to post some more photographs of the material here or on the Library Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/libraryofthesocietyoffriends) so keep an eye out!

  4. Dave Stanley says:

    Hi,
    I have just read this. I am researching my Great Uncle’s work with the FAU in 1915/1916. His name was Thomas Malcolmson Greeves and he was a driver with SSA13. His sister, Kathleen I believe would have worked with Rachael and his cousin, William Edward met his future wife Marion Janet Cadbury there (I think she would have been sister to the Paul Cadbury mentioned by Ruth above and she went on to be first woman senator of Ireland).
    I assume this exhibition is long finished but a fascinating link nevertheless.

    • Susan L Kimura says:

      What a fascinating article. Geraldine Southall Cadbury, mother of Paul Strangman Cadbury, is my 7th cousin 2x removed. Our common ancestors are John Pim and Mary Pleadwell, who became Quakers under the direction of William Edmundson in the 1650s. In Utah, USA, we love Cadbury eggs.

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