Cotteridge Quaker Meeting

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George W. Parsons  

Thinking before the war:

For Pacifism--

My Experiences in the Friends’ Ambulance Unit

Working in China

Fleeing to India

Driving with no petrol or oil in China…

Leaving the Friends’ Ambulance Unit

When the war ended…

In retrospect…Would I do the same again?  

Thinking before the war: 

When I was a young man during the nineteen thirties there were several wars. Japan invaded China; Italy invaded Albania and Abyssinia; there was the Spanish Civil War and Germany occupied several of its neighbouring countries. It seemed certain that a war involving this country would start before long.

For Pacifism 

I thought about what I should do and decided that I did not believe in fighting. Instead, I would join the Friends’ Ambulance Unit in which I could help to relieve some of the hardships caused by the war. The Friends’ Ambulance Unit was formed by Quakers (proper name, the Religious Society of Friends) and consisted of young people like me who did not believe in war and were conscientious objectors.

My Experiences in the Friends’ Ambulance Unit 

When the war started, I went to a training camp and then to work in a hospital in the East End of London. Some time later, the Friends’ Ambulance Unit wanted to send some people out to China to help to relieve some of the suffering caused by the war there and I joined them.

As another training camp we learned how to speak Mandarin Chinese and how to drive and repair lorries. The only way into China at that time was through Burma over the Burma Road because the Japanese had occupied all of China’s east coast.

Working in China

     We sailed to Rangoon in Burma and found that our lorries had been shipped there from America. We drove them over the Burma Road to Kunming in China. It was a very long, rough and mountainous road with beautiful scenery.

Soon after this, the Japanese invaded Burma too and the Chinese sent an army to oppose them. some of us took our lorries back to Burma and joined up with an American Army medical unit. It was run by Dr Seagrave who had been a missionary in Burma before he join the army. He had trained some of the local Burmese girls as nurses and had brought twenty of them to work with the medical unit.

With our lorries we would go down to the battle area and pick up as many wounded soldiers as we could. We would take them ask to Dr. Seagrave and he and the other doctors and nurses would tend them. When they had been treated, we would take them to a hospital in a safe area farther north.

Fleeing to India 

The Japanese advanced and we had to keep moving back until we had nowhere else to go. We joined up with another American party and set out to walk over the mountains to India. The nurses walked with us in their little flip-flop sandals. They helped to keep us alive for we had almost no food with us and they knew how to collect roots and berries from the jungle which they would cook for us to eat.

It took a month to walk through the jungle and over the mountains to India and when we arrived we set up a hospital to care for the thousands of refugees who had walked from Burma by other routes and had suffered great hardship.  By now the Japanese had cut the Burma Road and the only way into China was by air. When our work with the refugees was finished, we flew across into China to rejoin the rest of the Friends’ Ambulance Unit there. China is a very big country and the job I was given was to deliver medical supplies to the hospitals and wayside health stations.

Driving with no petrol or oil in China… 

There was no petrol or oil in China so we converted most of our lorries to run on charcoal gas. We also found five diesel engines and, by using scrap parts, several of us built our own lorries with these engines. There was no diesel oil so we ran them on cooking oil.

For over a year I drove cargoes of medical supplies over the high mountains of Western China on journeys that often took two weeks or more. We would eat in wayside cafes and sleep in the backs of our lorries. 

Leaving the Friends’ Ambulance Unit 

During this time I longed for the war to end so that I could go home. I felt I was really doing nothing  to help speed it up and I began to think that the most important thing was to have it over and done with. I felt that I had to leave the Friends’ Ambulance Unit and join the army for only in this way could I help to hasten the end of the fighting.

In the army I stayed in China and, rather strangely, I was given the job of running convoys of lorries over exactly the same roads I had travelled in the Friends’ Ambulance Unit.

When the war ended… 

At last, in August, 1945, the war ended and I took a very large convoy of army lorries across China to Hong Kong. Hong Kong was then a British colony on the south east coast of China. It consisted of a large number of islands and an area of the mainland. Here I spent a year, still in the army, reorganising the transport of the colony. It was in a very poor state following almost four years of Japanese occupation.

This seemed to be a very worthwhile job to me and I did not regret leaving the Friends’ Ambulance Unit although I recognised all the very good work the Unit had done in the relief of suffering.

In retrospect…Would I do the same again? 

Looking back on it now I find it very hard to say whether I would do the same thing again. I always believed that war was wrong, even when I was in the army and I still believe it strongly now.

Whatever difficulties arise, whether at home, at school, at work or between countries, in the end they all have to be solved by talking about them. How silly, then, to go to war and kill people when, at the end of it, the two sides have to talk and make an agreement or a treaty. Surely it would be better to make the treaty in the first place instead of fighting.

Let us be quite clear that war is wrong and should have no place in this world of ours today. Contents