The FRS was an official arm of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers),set up during the second world war to relieve civilian distress:first from bombing and evacuation in Britain and then in the wake of fighting in Europe and farther afield.
The work was practical, carried out in a spirit of peace at a time of war. Those serving were not necessarily conscientious objectors or Quakers.
In 1947 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) worldwide for its relief work during and after both world wars. It was accepted by two Quaker service organisations at the time, Friends Service Council and American Friends Service Committee.
Part of the citation reads:
“It is the silent help from the nameless to the nameless which is the Quakers’ contribution to the promotion of brotherhood among nations.”
The Friends War Victims Relief Committee (FWVRC) was re-formed in 1940 to coordinate Quaker responses to the aerial bombing of London, which had begun in September 1940. The Friends Relief Service (FRS) replaced the FWVRC in 1943, and conducted all the Society’s ‘official’ short-term work at home and abroad, handing over long-term responsibilities to the Friends Service
Council after it closed in May 1948. The FRS was one of many organisations to provide post-war relief to Europe; in the field it worked alongside other voluntary societies and the newly founded United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) – with which it sometimes had uneasy relations, because of UNRRA’s responsibility to governments rather than to the needs of those with whom it was working.
The 1200 people, men and women in equal numbers, who joined FRS teams came from a variety of backgrounds. Not all were conscientious objectors, and the majority were not Quakers. Like those in the FAU, members accepted that, aside from a small sum of pocket money, their positions would be unwaged.
FRS members attended training centres in England before undertaking relief postings; courses focused on role-play and the practical application of knowledge. Lectures provided by experienced relief workers instilled individuals with an appreciation that what looks “good on paper” might prove unfeasible in the harsh realities of post-war Europe.
The Quaker star on their grey uniforms served as a symbol of continuity with earlier service by Friends. Members could never cease to be aware that they were carrying out their pacifist service following military action by Allied forces.