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THE CANADIAN CONTRIBUTION TO THE CHINA CONVOY By Thomas P. Socknat* In 1944 a Canadian contingent of two women and eighteen men travelled to China to join the Friends Ambulance Unit's China Convoy, which at that time was comprised of 73 British, 15 American and 16 Chinese volunteers.1 Since Canadians previously had engaged in humanitarian activities on an individual basis, usually as part of a British or American organization, the departure of this group marked one of the few instances of voluntary Canadian group action in international relief work, unofficially sanctioned by the Canadian government and financially assisted by Canadian relief organizations. This Canadian contingent, although organized in Toronto by the Canadian Friends Service Committee, was comprised of volunteers from almost every section of Canada and represented various religious denominations: six United Churchmen, five Anglicans, five Friends, one Presbyterian, one Disciple of Christ and two with no religious affiliations. Overall they were ordinary men and women, much the same as their fellow countrymen, except that they were committed pacifists at a time when the great majority of English-speaking Canadians were solidly behind the nation's war effort. Except for the women and two United Church ministers among them, the Canadian volunteers had all claimed exemptions as conscientious objectors from military service. Such pacifist dissent during wartime was not new in Canada. The pacifist beliefs of the Historic Peace Sects, such as the Society of Friends and Mennonites, were well-known and protected under Canadian law and custom. Their right of exemption from military service was exercised during the First World War. What was different between 1917 and the 1940's was the strengthened commitment of pacifists and the sizable number of conscientious objectors from the established churches. In effect, the pacifist base in Canada had been expanded to include not only the traditional *Department of History, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario. 1. China Convoy Personnel Disposition List, 1 July 1944, Kutsing file, CFSC Papers. Total personnel also included one Canadian doctor. 69 70QUAKER HISTORY religious witness to nonresistance but a growing social activism as well. The Canadian volunteers to China were representative of this concern for both nonviolence and social justice at home and abroad. The general idea of a Canadian role in the FAU had captured the imagination of several groups during the early days of the war and was directly finked to the search by Canadian pacifists for constructive alternative service for conscientious objectors. With strong encouragement from such pacifist groups in Canada as the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Society of Friends and the Conference of Historic Peace Churches, the Canadian government recognized the principle of alternative service for C.O.s and established approximately 26 Alternative Service Work Camps in Northern Ontario and in the West. The great majority of Canadian conscientious objectors, numbering over ten thousand, served gratefully in at least one of the camps. Nevertheless, there remained always the desire among many pacifists to perform a more worthwhile humanitarian service, perhaps in medical relief work similar to the FAU during the Great War. The original Friends Ambulance Unit had been formed during the First World War as the Anglo-Belgian Ambulance Unit by British Quakers and headed by Philip Baker, the son of Joseph Allen Baker, a former Canadian Quaker.2 By 1918 the name was changed officially to Friends Ambulance Unit and although it was disbanded in 1919, reunions of former members were held from time to time. It was at such a reunion in October 1938 that plans were formulated for a new FAU to meet the challenge of renewed world crises.3 Since the Second War was truly a global conflict, the new FAU required a much more complicated organization than the old unit. The humanitarian services of the FAU were needed not only in Europe but in the Mid-East, North Africa and the Far East as well. It was in the East, China in particular, where the FAU embarked on what became eventually its greatest single adventure and its most difficult task. Coming from Western backgrounds, it was not easy for unit members to accept poverty, squalor, disease and corruption as everyday occurrences. Tegla Davis, author of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1934-1504
Print ISSN
0033-5053
Pages
pp. 69-90
Launched on MUSE
2012-04-04
Open Access
No
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