The Friends’ Relief Service and Displaced People after the Second World War<image src="http://historydivision.weblog.glam.ac.uk/assets/2010/10/8/Quakers.JPG" height="550px" width="720px" /> Image: Members of FRS 124 leaving Tilbury for Ostend in July 1945, from the Friends’ Library, London. Used with permission of the Religious Society of Friends in Great Britain
Dr Fiona Reid considers past perspectives on relief work
After the Second World War there were about 10 million displaced people (DPs) in Europe alone. The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration was responsible for most of them, yet voluntary societies, such as the Friends Relief Service (FRS) played a huge role too.
The FRS was organised by the Quakers, although not all of its members were Quakers. Team members were largely motivated by the belief that humanitarian work was an expression of Christian commitment and they defined themselves against the highly professionalised model of relief work being pioneered by UNRRA. FRS teams often presented an image of themselves as simply good-hearted amateurs doing their best, yet the Quaker training and selection process was rigorous. Unlike UNRRA, FRS teams were proficient in local languages and only 1 in 10 applicants to the FRS was accepted. The Quakers clearly and deliberately understated their own training. But why? Possibly from a sense of modesty, possibly from a sense of moral superiority, or possibly because they simply felt inadequate when faced with the realities of life in a DP camp. Yet this strong world view – erroneous in itself – may well have maintained morale and protected FRS teams from some of the psychological trauma of relief work.
Fiona Reid is head of Glamorgan's History Division. Her research and teaching specialisms include the social impact of World War II and the history of refugees. This entry summarises the conclusions of her research presentation to the history division's War, Violence and Society seminar series, ‘Our Work Is a Mission’: The Friends’ Relief Service and Displaced People after the Second World War.