Creating a world without war: project completed

We are delighted to announce that we have completed the core work of the Wellcome Trust funded project to catalogue and preserve the records of the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) and Friends Relief Service (FRS) from World War Two. 

Both collections have been repacked in conservation grade materials, and fully catalogued on our online public access catalogue to make them accessible for research. 

We are very grateful to the Wellcome Trust for funding this work, and their support during the pandemic, and also to our heroic project archivist Jill Geber who managed to maintain a positive attitude throughout, when the pandemic made this project seem at times impossible. 

One of the most important, and satisfying elements of this project was the conservation work. Parts of these collections were completely unfit for use due to their fragility, and most of the collection was in danger of becoming unusable due to the damage being wrought by rusting metal fastenings. Paper was crumbling in some parts, and due to overfilled files and boxes, a lot of the material was under strain.  

Despite the huge setback of not being able to work with the collections for much of 2020, Jill managed to repack the collections, cleaning paper, removing damaging fastenings, transferring into archival quality files, protecting individual documents with melinex sleeves where required, and packing all into acid-free boxes within the project timeframe. One mind-boggling figure which demonstrates the size of the job is the number of brass staples used across the collections: over 9,000! The photos below show the difference which has been made; ensuring these collections suffer no further deterioration.

An example of a file before conservation work. Note dirt at edges of paper, rusting metal fastening causing damage to paper, dirt on file cover making it difficult to handle.
A file after conservation work. The paper has been cleaned with a smoke sponge, delicate pages placed within plastic sleeves, all fastenings removed and papers enclosed in an archive quality folder.

The cataloguing work was the other major task, made no less difficult by the complexity of Quaker organisations; FRS had no less than 12 main committees, some with sub (and sub-sub-) committees, and attached departments for each committee, plus extra departments not governed by committees (phew!). They needed organizational charts to keep track at the time, and Jill created a few herself trying the understand how both organisations functioned. 

One of the attempts at an organisational chart for FAU to help arrange the catalogue series

Both collections are now available on the online catalogues under the below links. Under these top levels records, you will see the hierarchy browser where you can expand to see the whole collections. 

Friends Ambulance Unit World War Two catalogue

Friends Relief Service World War Two catalogue

These collections provide a huge amount for researchers. From detailed insights into day-to-day life in evacuation hostels for children and the elderly in Britain, to high level discussions about how this work influenced development of social services theory for postwar planning; from accounts of incredibly varied medical work in the field in China and North Africa, to eyewitness testimony to the destruction left behind in mainland Europe, and the tangled chaos of the postwar political scene, there is huge scope for new research as well as much for the family historian and those with general interest in humanitarianism and World War Two.

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7 Responses to Creating a world without war: project completed

  1. Kate mccord says:

    Great work

  2. Janie Cottis says:

    Congratulations! As a retired archivist I can appreciate the amount of conservation and cataloguing work that was involved.

    Janie Cottis, Farigndon LM


  3. Sylvia Stevens says:


  4. Congratulations on a huge undertaking completed! My grandfather and his brother, sons of Quaker missionaries in Lebanon, serf in the FAU during WWI.

  5. Michae Hargreave says:

    What a great effort from all involved in honouring the memory of those who served in the FAU – I look forward to delving into the hidden crevices of the records and to discovering even more about our, often modest, forebears.

  6. Well done – what a tremendous amount of hard and painstaking work

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