Rare First World War military passports and medals go on public display

The Friends Ambulance Unit exhibition 

Rare First World War military passports and medals will go on public display this month after being donated to the University of Birmingham’s Cadbury Research Library (CRL).   

Donated by the former Chancellor of the University, Sir Dominic Cadbury, the passports join a larger collection of First World War memorabilia at the University’s research library. The collection helps tell the fascinating story of Laurence Cadbury’s experience as a non-combatant and founding member of the Friends Ambulance Unit during the First World War.   

The Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) was an unarmed ambulance convoy staffed mostly by men of Quaker faith. It operated throughout the First World War and cared for over 277,000 sick and injured service men from the British and French forces. In addition to ambulance convoys, the FAU ran ambulance trains and hospital ships, and set up eight hospitals.

Laurence was a founding member who served in France until March 1919; the papers and memorabilia at the CRL chart his experience during his service with the FAU. His passports show stamps that allowed him to travel freely to and from the warzone and are a well preserved example of passports from the period showing his movements between France, Belgium and Britain.   

Sir Dominic Cadbury, Laurence’s son, said: “My family are delighted that the medals awarded to my father for his services during the First World War will now form a part of the Laurence Cadbury archive, together with his collection of letters written home during the years 1914–1919. Together they form a remarkable record of his experiences in Belgium and France during the Great War.”   

Laurence’s letters detail the work undertaken by the FAU on the frontline during battles. His division undertook relief work during the Battle of Ypres and treated over 3,000 wounded servicemen at Dunkirk railway station who had been evacuated from the front line and left without medical help.   

Laurence was decorated for his bravery by both France and Britain: he received both the Mons Star and the Military OBE. The Mons Star was awarded to men of the British Forces who served in France and Belgium between 5 August and 23 November 1914. The Military OBE was issued in recognition of non-combatant service for the war effort. The collection of medals joins the passports in the Laurence Cadbury Collection at the University of Birmingham’s CRL.   

The medals and passports will be on display at the CRL as part of an exhibition celebrating the role of the FAU in the First World War. The exhibition runs from 22 October 2014 until 30 January 2015.

  • exhibition website

 First World War medals donated by Sir Dominic Cadbury