A memorial to Quaker service will be opened at the National Arboretum at Alrewas near Lichfield on 20 April. It commemorates the work of the Friends Ambulance Unit and Friends Relief Service during World War II.
The Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) was an independent body led by Quakers but open to all. During the Second World War over 1,300 men and women served in 25 countries, building a record of goodwill and positive service.
The FAU enabled conscientious objectors to serve in theatres of war through the provision of first aid and medical relief to civilian and military casualties, refugees and displaced persons of any nationality. Many FAU members served in military mobile units with the British and French armies. They followed the Free French Army as it advanced from the Middle East into Italy and across into France. Seventeen members of the FAU lost their lives during the Second World War.
The Friends Relief Service was an official arm of the Religious Society of Friends and was set up during the Second World War to relieve the civilian distress which initially resulted from bombing and evacuation in Britain.
Later, in the wake of military action, its 1200 volunteers, men and women in equal numbers, travelled across Europe and beyond. They were not all conscientious objectors, and the majority were not Quakers, but they were highly principled people who accepted that their positions would be unwaged and that they must be prepared to "Go anywhere, do anything".
The monument consists of four simple curves of Rutland limestone with benches resembling a Quaker meeting place. It stands in a quiet grove of trees on the fringe of the National Memorial Arboretum.
"This has led to a lot of discernment," said Anthony Wilson, clerk to the Quaker Service Memorial Trust. He uses the distinctive term for the way that Friends reach agreement, sifting pros, cons and reasons behind attitudes, always without voting. Some of the UK's 70 Quaker area meetings were initially doubtful when the idea was first proposed, asking "Wouldn't a bench or a tree do?" says Wilson.
"Then they saw just how many trees and benches the arboretum already has," he said. "There are thousands, and almost all are in memory of armed service. The trust wanted something distinctive but not showy and was encouraged in this by the arboretum, which is conscious that too many 'samey' memorials risk dulling both the landscape and visitors' feelings."