During her two week student placement at IWM North in July 2018, Bria Cotton was tasked with researching stories that linked to August 1918. From medics to conscientous objectors, and servicemen to victims of the influenza pandemic, she has brought together a Community of fascinating stories. In this guest blog post, Bria shares a story that she found especially interesting – James Stanley Carr who, like Bria, studied at the University of Manchester.
- Before the War
James Stanley Carr was born on 12 January 1893 to a Quaker family in Settle, North Yorkshire. A year after broke out, Carr was 22 and a student at Victoria University of Manchester (also known then as Owens College). When the First World War broke out he registered himself a known conscientious objector due to his faith.
- Friends’ Ambulance Unit
Even though Carr as a conscientious objector and was thus not obligated to go to the front, he joined the Friends’ Ambulance Unit (FAU) and left England for Dunkirk, France on 23 April 1915. The Friends’ Ambulance Unit was a civilian volunteer medical service that was developed by a group of Quakers within the British Religious Society of Friends in 1914. Under the umbrella of the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, the FAU provided medical aid to wounded soldiers on the Western Front, and were based in London and Dunkirk.
- A plea for normalcy
In the chaos of working in war hospitals, Carr found the time to pen a letter his former lecturer in medieval history, Professor Thomas Frederick Tout, on 23 August 1918. In this letter, Carr provides details of his struggle to get leave and go back to Owens College, Manchester in order to obtain his “War Degree”. Carr states that because he is a member of the FAU, he does not qualify for to obtain the standard British Forces “war degree”, as he is a civilian volunteer. It is further described that Carr would only be able to become eligible for a degree if he resigned from the FAU and appeared in front of a military tribunal. However, Carr is hesitant to resign from the FAU, because
even could I return to Owens and the War were to continue, I should want to come back again to France.
Carr’s reluctance to resign from the FAU shows a strong sense of national duty and responsibility, a trait that is made all the more admirable due to his service being entirely voluntary.
I do not know whether or not Carr was successful in his journey to obtain his “war degree”, but it is clear that Carr was determined to use any means necessary to ensure that his plight was recognised. He notes that the officials in the FAU were “very sympathetic” to his issue, and he enlisted the aid of Captain Tatham, his Commanding Officer, in order to write a separate letter to Professor Tout. Furthermore, Carr also writes at the bottom of Captain Tatham’s letter, his uncle is Sir Henry Alexander Miers, who at the time was Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University of Manchester. This certainly shows the lengths Carr was willing to reach towards in order to be exempt for the rulings against overseas civilian volunteers.
I am a student pursuing a degree in Politics and Modern History at the University of Manchester, and researching the lives of those who served, died, and were former students has led me to reflect on my experience as a student during peacetime in the 21st century. James S Carr went to the front as part of the Friends’ Ambulance Unit when he was only 22 years old and still pursuing his degree. He, and like thousands of other students, went to the frontlines because they believed it was their national duty. Although we are not living in a time of war, I believe that students across the nation are redefining what it means to act in the name of national duty. From protests to petition, the students of today are continually striving towards a better future.
Generations of school children have grown up with the shadow of remembrance for the First World War and Second World War. We have continually expressed sentiments of sacrifice, loss, and horror at the destruction caused by war. We are taking the lessons learned from the events of the World Wars and turning them into a driving force to push for peaceful resolutions to domestic and international tensions.