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These struggles over voluntarist identity highlight the contested meanings of service and conscience in wartime. The struggles that both organizations and individuals within them faced in reconciling the competing pressures that this new relationship created form a legacy of the war which continues to have important implications for the place of medical voluntarism in wartime today. The history of such voluntary aid in wartime had, in Britain, since the middle of the nineteenth century, involved numerous struggles between different organizations over the scope of their roles in both war and peace.
At the heart of these struggles was the conflict between the humanitarian principles of neutral medical aid, as envisioned by the International Committee of the Red Cross, 3 and the practical realities of providing care in the highly partisan context of a society of war, when the interests of the military and the nation tended to override all other concerns.
This article examines the struggle over the voluntarist identity of both the Red Cross, the overarching organization for medical and humanitarian aid in Britain during the First World War, and the FAU, a unit within that organization whose debates over the role of the medical volunteer in war time highlight the contested meanings of ideas of service and conscience.
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The struggles that both organizations and individuals within them faced, to reconcile the competing pressures that this new relationship created, form a legacy of the war which would have important implications for the place of medical voluntarism in Britain throughout the twentieth century. In the context of total war, the need to explicitly locate voluntary medical aid in relation to the state helped define social and cultural understandings of such aid, understandings which continue to shape the place of voluntary medical caregivers in conflict zones to this day.
The outbreak of war in united the many groups seeking to provide medical aid to soldiers, both those already established and those formed in direct response to the declaration of war, under the umbrella of the t Committee of the British Red Cross and the Order of St John of Jerusalem.
Nor was it only, or even chiefly, the administrative level of voluntary medical aid that was forced to integrate with the national military effort during the war. The various units on the ground that the t Committee represented also had to find accommodation with the military services they sought to aid. Such accommodation was often problematic, especially as the war went on and military demands for manpower increased. For units such as the FAU, the questions raised by their choice of serving in a non-combatant unit dedicated to care-giving were increasingly inflected by assumptions about combatant military service as the most appropriate role for men in wartime.
The question of the role of the First World War in defining and redefining the place of medical voluntarism in British society must be located within the wider history of British philanthropy and voluntarism. States increasingly treated the national Red Cross societies as part of their war effort, and the Red Cross societies, desirous of being accepted by their governments, accommodated.
However, these developments were by no means consistent across the world. It was not untilduring the Second Anglo-Boer War, that the War Office convened a separate recognized Central British Red Cross Committee with the intent of planning voluntary aid to meet the supplementary requirements of the Army Medical Service. Nor were the divisions only between the armed forces and the National Aid Society. There were equally important divisions within the Society itself, principally over how to use funds donated for the relief of suffering in wartime at the end of the conflict.
Although the National Aid Society and the Central British Red Cross Committee were forcibly merged in to form the British Red Cross Society BRCSwith the king as patron, the queen as president, and Sir Frederick Treves, surgeon to the king and veteran of the South African conflict, as chairman of the executive committee, divisions continued to affect the organization of voluntary medical aid in Britain.
Thus, despite the moves towards national unification, and the international revision of the Geneva Conventions Looking for a new military friend 34 recognized all national Red Cross societies as an integral part of their own army medical services in time of war, 22 when war broke out inthe established voluntary medical aid organizations in Britain were ill-prepared for a major European conflict.
Not only were the BRCS and St John Ambulance in competition with each other, they were also poorly coordinated with the military medical services, a fact that was to have practical implications for medical care in the early months of the war. Next day he was in Havre reporting unfavourably on the lack of bearers to deal with battle casualties. There continued, however, to be a lack of coordination with the military authorities, as seen in the initial confusion over rail evacuations, which saw the Adjutant-General, the Director General of Medical Services DGMSand the Red Cross Commissioner Looking for a new military friend 34 issuing uncoordinated orders.
Who precisely was responsible for this confused state of affairs remains a matter of some debate. Our volunteer help was then accepted and claimed and even clamoured for, so long as battle continued. But no sooner had the fighting died down than our emergency presence became an offence. It reflected upon the foresight of the senior officers responsible for the regular provision […].
We were then abruptly disclaimed, and an attempt made to shuffle us back out of sight. The only way in which the British Red Cross could achieve the success it ultimately did was by allying itself directly with the aims of the military body authorizing its activities. While the increased coordination between the BRCS and the AMS, at the administrative level, demonstrates the role of the First World War in defining the parameters of medical voluntarism, it also had a more ambiguous impact, as this definition struck at the roots of the ideological aims of medical relief as an international act of humanitarianism in wartime.
The name was changed in early This description is slightly disingenuous. The relationship of the unit with the BRCS, and through it, to the British military and national war aims, dates from early on in the war. Messages flew over the country. Forty men and some eight ambulances were collected and driven rapidly down to the coast. What is notable about all the recollections of the formation of the unit and, indeed, its first year and a half of service, however, is the consistency of this enthusiasm of recollection. I think there were three motives. First, they were not content to remain passive with folded hands in the midst of the conflict, because of their religious views, upbringing, or conscientious objection to war.
Secondly, they desired to stand beside their companions and friends who went to fight, and share their dangers, their self-renunciation, devotion and sacrifice. Thirdly, they were impressed with the inadequacy of the means and agencies then existing for dealing with the miseries and desolations of war, particularly in the invaded portions of Belgium. Such a use of language allowed young men, whose religious convictions set them against militarism and warfare, to lay claim to a share of the ethos of service in wartime, an ethos that was key to ideals of appropriate masculine identity.
Such a position allowed them to garner cultural approbation and status for actions that might otherwise have condemned them in a wartime culture which gave primacy to combatant service. In this way, the FAU was, at least initially, able to position itself in relation to both the Red Cross patriotism of the BRCS, and the humanitarian pacifist traditions of the Meeting of Sufferings, in a way that could be acknowledged as valid, if not fully accepted by both these institutions.
Yet the conflict between, on the one hand, their desire for a form of war service, and the cultural approbation such service would bring, and, on the other, the principles of Quaker pacifism, could not be eliminated by the gloss of chivalry which clothed the desire of a group of young men to engage with what they perceived as the great adventure of their lifetime in romantic language. All three groups had a missionary tenor, aiming to engage young Quakers in their religion through active service for the alleviation of suffering, whether in peace or war.
Although their motion was defeated, it nonetheless precipitated a clear declaration of pacifist principles on the part of the majority of those present. Each young [male] Quaker had personal decisions to make; and from the first there was a whole spectrum of choice before him. He might volunteer as a soldier, or the non-combatant service in the Forces, or work in ancillary bodies such as the Red Cross or the Y.
He might apply to the Friends Ambulance Unit; or prepare, as conscription grew near, for alternative service on the land, in forestry or in a hospital. He might offer to go to France or Holland, or later, to Poland or Russia, for the Friends War Victims Relief Committee; or he might stay at home and work for the Emergency Committee set up for the relief of distressed enemy aliens in Britain.
He might refuse to acknowledge the authority of the state and prepare for a series of prison sentences, or even at one stage the distinct possibility of being shot as a traitor.
While deeply imbued with Quaker principles of service to the suffering of others, which also animated the war relief campaigns, and eager to avoid overt militarism through its use of the language of romantic chivalry, the unit was not an official body of the Society. Nonetheless, it continued to raise money via the Society, publicize its doings in the Friend and, above all, use the title which established a close association in the mind of the public. By entering into these negotiations and agreeing to such a scheme, the Unit were putting themselves in a doubly false position; for they were not an official Quaker body, and they had no authority to represent the Society of Friends, which had repeatedly and emphatically declared that it would accept no special arrangements or privileges for its members.
In March,the Friends Service Committee was driven to disown the Friends Ambulance Unit, and a period of intense suspicion and bitterness followed. This was deepened […] by the conduct of the Friends Ambulance Unit itself.
It advertised its willingness to help the government, and allowed its principal field officers — who by this time were not Quakers — to accept honorary commissions in the Army to facilitate their work. The stance taken by the FAU leadership was thus consistent with that of the BRCS, in its policy of refusing to employ men otherwise eligible for military service.
It conflicted, however, with the pacifist principles of many Quakers, who believed that not only engaging in conflict themselves, but also acting in ways that forced others to engage in conflict, was morally wrong. The result of this agreement between the officers of the FAU and the War Office was a formalization of the status of the unit as a legitimate and expected space for service for those with conscientious objections to combatant service.
Thus some would commit to service providing aid for suffering servicemen, some would contribute to war work as long as it did not involve actually taking up arms, and some, of whom are recorded, were so-called absolutists, who refused to undertake any form of war work that might assist the continuation of the conflict in any way. For them, objection to conscription entailed reing from the service of the FAU and resisting the call up to combatant service that followed. The reation of these men, including Corder Catchpool, one of the founder members and later Adjutant of the unit, stretched the actual connection with the Society of Friends even thinner.
It also opened up, once again, the question of the meaning of voluntary medical service as a philanthropic act in wartime.
Neutral caregivers or military support? the british red cross, the friends’ ambulance unit, and the problems of voluntary medical aid in wartime
Corder Catchpool is an interesting case study, because his path through the war most clearly exemplifies the complexities of the Quaker stance on service in wartime, and the problems that voluntary medical service in particular could pose.
For six months Catchpool worked tirelessly as part of the FAU, providing both military and, increasingly, as the RAMC became better organized and deployed more men, civilian relief in Belgium and Flanders. Often I have gone about my work all day with a pathetic longing to find someone to be kind to, gentle and loving with. In total war, those civilian and voluntary occupations, to which confirmed conscientious objectors might be ased by a military service tribunal, could be seen as aiding the war effort, either through the provision of materiel or through the freeing-up of the labour of men, who were then conscripted into the combatant forces.
Both of these facts were problematic for a of members of the FAU. Catchpool described the ideological challenges that conscription posed in a statement made before his second court martial:. Voluntary units were either dispensed with, or practically absorbed into the regular armies. The wounded no longer lacked help, and the R. Men displaced from the service taken over by the Unit … were often drafted into the firing line and complained bitterly that I and my comrades had sent them there.
Despite the reation of Catchpool and others, the link with the Society was maintained, once again through the concept of service. We decline to be divided. Bolton, a Non-Conformist who actively sought service with the FAU as an alternative to either military service or prison.
This was particularly monotonous, uncomfortable, and labour-intensive work, and Tatham and Miles noted in their official history that the Unit.
For any unenlisted Red Cross body, and especially perhaps the FAU, the situation was almost inevitable, but, though the official point of view was realised, there were many members who felt acutely the meagreness of their share of sacrifice. In the midst of the war, the service and sacrifice that medical voluntarism outside of the military effort offered could not compete with that of the enlisted serviceman, a figure increasingly associated with ideals of Christian sacrifice and suffering as the war continued.
As has been argued here, however, the ever-closer identification of voluntary medical care with the aims and priorities of the nation at war was not uncontested. For the members of the FAU, in particular, such contestation was to last throughout the war, leading to some members renouncing their positions in the unit to become absolutist conscientious objectors, while sections of the unit resisted the restrictions of supporting the British war effort by offering their services to other allied nations, including France and Italy.
Nonetheless, the Committee attempted Looking for a new military friend 34 retain a sense of its own identity, expressed through its comparison of the efficiency of its provision, of both personnel and materiel, with that of the AMS. The voluntarist ethos of medical care-giving could thus be valorized as a form of service, as much as that of the combat volunteer. The prioritization of ideals of service is even clearer in the case of the FAU, where such service could form a compromise between a desire for adventure and principles of conscience.
The introduction of conscription, however, created a complicating factor that placed a question mark over the meaning of medical voluntarism within a framework of military compulsion. In this context the willingness to serve in a strictly humanitarian capacity was no longer enough. Both the BRCS and the FAU were forced to compromise the definition of their roles as voluntary medical organizations separate from the work and aims of the military medical services. Yet the work of both the BRCS and the FAU also complicates any simple narrative of a move from independence to partnership with state welfare systems.
While they demonstrated the ability of voluntary groups to work with the state to achieve its ends, an understanding of the independence of medical care-giving as a purely humanitarian service, voiced through both institutional and individual contestation, remained. This desire for a dual definition of voluntary medical service in wartime continues to shape the contested understanding of non-governmental medical care providers in war zones to this day.
Her current research on masculinity and medical care during the First World War examines the roles and status of non-commissioned servicemen in the Royal Army Medical Corps. She has published extensively on the history of masculinity, war disability and popular fiction. A very early draft was presented at the Legacies of War seminar at the University of Leeds, where audience feedback gave much food for thought. Barker was a member of the Society of Friends, or Quakers, and a pacifist. Dudink, K. Hagemann, and J.