Creating A World Without War: new project to open up World War Two research materials

LSF FRS stationery Help War Victims

Friends Relief Service letterhead

In the week that many have been commemorating the start of World War II 80 years ago, we have some news to share about an exciting new project to open access to some of our key collections from that period.

The Wellcome Trust have given us funding for a new project: Creating a world without war: pacifist approaches to humanitarian relief in World War II and after. The project aims to catalogue, preserve, and promote the papers of the Friends Ambulance Unit (1939-1946) and the Friends Relief Service (1943-1948). The project will involve recruiting a dedicated Project Archivist who will not only do the hard work of cataloguing and repacking the collections so that they are accessible to researchers, but will also be able to devote time to promoting the collections widely and creating related resources such as subject guides, exhibition materials, and more.

Working with the Wellcome Trust involves a focus on promotion of these collections to the academic community, and particularly to academics researching health and the history of medicine. This work has already started, with a successful working group on emotional responses of relief workers, led by Dr Suzan Meryem Kalayci, held at Oxford University in March. Several of the academics present offered their support for this project: some who had worked with these collections in some way before, and some who were excited to hear about them for the first time. Dr Toby Kelly (University of Edinburgh), who worked with us on the Conscience Matters exhibition at National Museums Scotland, wrote the following about these two archive collections:

 The archives are an invaluable source for all people interested in the history of medical humanitarianism. They are globally significant…I can think of few sources, anywhere in the world, that provide such a nuanced, complex and personal record of what it is like to work in the medical humanitarian field in periods of war and conflict.

We were incredibly grateful for, and definitely buoyed up by, the strength of support we received from researchers, and from groups such as Quaker Memorial Service Trust. We hope that by opening up access to these collections and promoting them widely, exciting new possibilities for research will emerge.

FRS Team 2

A Friends Relief Service team set sail for Europe


Friends Relief Workers pinning on badges at Friends House

The ‘Quaker Grey’ uniform set Quaker relief workers apart from other relief agencies who agreed to wear khaki uniforms. This was one distinctive feature Quakers insisted upon in line with their testimony to Peace.

We will also be looking to engage Quaker communities, Britain Yearly Meeting staff and other public user groups to use the collections in creative and innovative ways.

We learned a lot during the World War I centenary about the wide variety of people who are interested in pacifist responses to war, medical work in conflict zones, historical treatment of refugees, and the many other topics that relief records can illustrate. We want to build on the success of our World War I digitisation project, which made the Friends Ambulance Unit World War I personnel cards freely available online, and part of this project will involve identifying new avenues for digitisation.


Many associate the Friends Ambulance Unit with overseas work in conflict zones, and tales of derring-do in far flung places such as China and the Middle East, however many FAU members carried out more prosaic, but no less needed work in Britain. This was quite wide ranging, from hospital work, setting up rest centres for evacuees and those who lost their homes through bombing, to manning Citizens Advice Bureaus to help people with wartime regulations, and gaining access to provisions.

We hope to start recruitment for the Project Archivist soon, and we will no doubt be introducing them on the blog shortly after – watch this space!

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3 Responses to Creating A World Without War: new project to open up World War Two research materials

  1. Sarah Sheils says:

    Excellent news.We have some relevant material in the Mount School ARchives at York and also in the Bootham School ones.Also some reminiscences of Michael Rowntree, and letters of Richard Rowntree, both in F.A.U in Ww2.

    • Library of the Society of Friends says:

      Hi Sarah, thanks for the information – I am hoping the project might include reaching out to Quaker schools and developing school resources, so I am sure we will be in touch and learn more about the collections you hold.

  2. Sarah Sheils says:

    Hope people saw the programme on BBC 2 last night ,5th September, on the home movies of Britain in WW2. Lovely film of the Quaker school at Yealamd Conyers in Lancashire run by Elfrida Vipont Faulds.

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