New Book on the FAU

Quaker Antony Barlow shares his new book which takes a personal look at the Friends Ambulance Unit, which treated wounded civilians and soldiers on both sides, during the Second World War:

An Exacting Mistress – The Friends Ambulance Unit in the Second World War.

The wartime correspondence of Ralph and Joan Barlow Edited by Antony Barlow.

As we reach the 80th anniversary of the year my father joined The Friends Ambulance Unit, it is perhaps an appropriate moment to take another look at this remarkable voluntary organization, comprised of people from many different backgrounds – Quaker of course, but also Methodist, Anglican and none – all of whom joined to make a difference.

This book attempts to tell the personal story of one of these, my father, not through a detailed day-to-day account of the Unit’s many life-saving acts both at home and abroad, but through the many letters my parents’ wrote to each other, while my father was serving abroad in the Middle East, East Africa, India and China, telling of their own struggles, either with depression, or separation or bringing up two children in war-torn Britain. In one of his letters he called the FAU ‘An Exacting Mistress’, which I have taken as a title.

Though, of course, it touches on the war, it specifically does not tell the story of the fighting that took place throughout the Second World War, not only in the UK, but worldwide. To most that is well known and well documented.

Instead this book tries to tell the story in between these spaces, where in the midst of battle, there are people trying their best to save the lives of the wounded, whether they be civilians caught in the crossfire of enemy bombing, or soldiers wounded in what Wilfred Owen calls the ‘cess of war’. This is the story of those who joined the Friends Ambulance Unit in 1939 and 1940, not to fight, but to bear witness to another way, standing against ‘the truth untold/The pity of war, the pity war distilled.’

My father started a memoir which he began in his usual understated way as follows: “In the course of the war, I was fortunate enough to travel rather widely and I have ventured to think that extracts from my letters to Joan might be of interest.” I have tried my best to complete his work as he envisaged it but in addition to add my mother’s replies in as well, forming a fuller picture of the way the war unfolded for one family.

‘An Exacting Mistress’ published by Quacks Books at the end March 2021 at £20. Available to Friends at £15.00 +p&p. Please contact Antony Barlow (