Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) in WWII
When war began on September 3rd, 1939, the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) was immediately re-formed, to provide opportunities for active service for conscientious objectors. Its major activities were five.
Air-raid relief and hospitals in Britain. A 6-week training camp was followed by work as medical orderlies or porters in understaffed hospitals: 80 hospitals provided this work experience. When the blitz began in September 1940, many members were deployed in air-raid relief: in Rest Centres, Shelter Work, transport and the Work Squad which carried out maintenance and repairs. Later, as work abroad opened up, so did further training: in lorry driving and maintenance, tropical medicine, mass catering and foreign languages.
With armies in the field. Members served as ambulance drivers, medical orderlies and blood transfusion technicians with Casualty Clearing Stations and the Mobile Hospital with the 8th Army in North Africa from El Alamein to Tripoli and Sousse, and then on into Italy, while others served with a Free French Mobile Hospital in Syria and North Africa.
Civilian clinics overseas. In Syria up to 24 men served in clinics in the capital and villages near it, and in villages some distance from the larger towns, with one clinic in the Lebanon. In Ethiopia, after the Italians withdrew in 1941, forty men assisted with medical work and the development of medical and social services.
In Asia, 200 members served in the China Convoy over five years, in a remarkable range of medical and civilian support activities. In India the FAU assisted with the organisation of large-scale air raid precautions and post-raid information services in Calcutta, followed by flood and famine relief on a large scale.
The final country was Austria, in May 1945. Confusion prevailed with displaced persons, ex-internees, prisoners of war and refugees from all parts of Eastern Europe. FAU work included a “Searcher Service” to reunite families and friends, the sorting of Red Cross and German supply dumps and the provision of food, clothing and welfare at refugee camps, and the care of the German and Austrian Children’s Evacuation Camps.
Service in the FAU was a vocation rather than an alternative employment: food, clothing and pocket money of 25 shillings as month were provided, as against the Army Private’s 75 shillings and the miner’s 280 shillings. Sixteen men and one woman lost their lives while in the Unit, a death rate proportionately higher than in the Army up till June 1944.
The FAU ceased operations on June 30th 1946. Many members transferred to the Friends Relief Service (FRS) or UNRRA, United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, to continue their work, and many activities were handed on to other bodies such as the FRS, UNRRA and the local Red Cross.