before the war:
Experiences in the Friends’ Ambulance Unit
with no petrol or oil in China…
the war ended…
Thinking before the war:
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.
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
My Experiences in the Friends’ Ambulance Unit
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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…
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.
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.
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.
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’
When the war ended…
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.
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.
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.
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.
us be quite clear that war is wrong and should have no place in this world of
ours today. Contents