Assisting civilian victims of WWI in Europe

By Neil Snarr - For The News Journal

The plaque at Wilmington College celebrating the lives of local Quaker men.

Courtesy photo

September 21 is celebrated throughout the world as the International Day of Peace or World Peace Day. That date was so designated by the United Nations General Assembly in 1982.

On the Wilmington College campus we celebrated the lives of 14 local Quaker men who volunteered in Europe during and after WWI. As the title of the recently dedicated plaque reads: “QUAKERS DURING WWI: CHOOSING TO RELIEVE THE SUFFERING OF WAR.” The plaque goes on to say, “During and after World War I (1914-1918), 14 local Quaker men volunteered to do medical, reconstruction and agricultural relief work, mostly in France. Twelve volunteered for service through the American Friends Service Committee, and two through the YMCA. Many returned to careers in education and ministry.”

Following this statement are the names of the 14 men, their birth and death dates and the graduation dates for the 12 who graduated from Wilmington College.

Five were members of the Wilmington Friends’ Church, four were members of Leesburg Friends’ Church and those remaining were from other area Friends’ Churches. Two of the volunteers had actually been in the military and after their release joined the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the others were conscientious objectors (they did alternative service). Those 12 who volunteered with the AFSC spent their time in France working with civilian victims of the war.

Of the two who volunteered with the YMCA, one, Thomas Kelly, worked in England. He found the work with this group to be unrelated to his understanding of ‘Christian’ service and moved to working with German prisoners of war. The other YMCA volunteer died of tuberculosis while serving there and is buried in France.

The local AFSC volunteers in France joined the British Friends (Quakers) and together they became known as the Anglo American Friends Mission. Both groups gained legitimacy by working under the Red Cross umbrella. On the left arm or their grey uniform was the American Red Cross symbol — ARC. On their other shoulder was the Quaker star with eight points.

Several of the AFSC volunteers did not arrive in France until the war came to an end in 1918 and some stayed into 1920 as the work with refugees continued for some time. Their time in France ranged from a few months to over one year, depending on the demand for their services.

At the conclusion of the work in France there were opportunities in other countries of Europe such as Russia and Serbia. Of the 600 Quaker volunteers (this included 50 women) many volunteered for these other fields of service. Only one of the Wilmington volunteers took advantage of this opportunity, spending many months working with Gypsies in Romania.

The relief work of the British and United States Quakers reemerged during World War II and in 1947 the two groups received the Nobel Peace Prize.

They constitute the only religious group to receive the peace prize.

Neil Snarr is a Professor Emeritus of Wilmington College.

The plaque at Wilmington College celebrating the lives of local Quaker men. plaque at Wilmington College celebrating the lives of local Quaker men. Courtesy photo

By Neil Snarr

For The News Journal