Hal Simpson and the Friends Ambulance Unit in World War 1
Alfred Henry Simpson known to all as Hal was born on the 14th June 1890, the son of Henry Simpson who was partner in the Horsehay Company Ltd. Like the Darbys, the Simpson family were members of the Society of Friends and, in late 1914 they faced a dilemma which divided the Society and initiated deep discussions and spiritual questioning. Many members chose to become active on the Home Front, providing shelter for refugees and supporting the Friends War Victims Relief Committee (FWVRC).
It became evident early in the war that there was also a need for help on the battlefields and so a group of young men formed what later became the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU). In September 1914 a training camp was organised at the Jordans Meeting House, Buckinghamshire where instruction was received in first aid, stretcher drill and field cookery. On the 31st October 1914 43 members of the FAU, including 3 doctors left for Dunkirk along with 8 ambulances, amongst the volunteers was Hal Simpson .
“Adventure met us at the very gateway of beginning,” wrote Geoffrey Winthrop Young, another volunteer as not long after setting sail they came upon the stricken cruiser “Hermes”. She had been used to ferry aircraft to France and the previous day had delivered a cargo of seaplanes, unfortunately on her return she was torpedoed by U-Boat 27. The Friends immediately began to organise a rescue; they worked “for some hours” searching for survivors and hauling the exhausted men aboard.
Their vessel returned to England with the rescued sailors and they finally reached Dunkirk themselves very late that same evening. On landing they found work at once amongst the wounded soldiers laying in the Dunkirk Railway Sheds awaiting embarkation on hospital ships to “Blighty” .The FAU, worked independently of the Society of Friends becoming allied to the Red Cross and expanded to include both a Foreign and Home Service.
Hal Simpson served the entire war with the FAU mainly in France finally “demobbed” on the 3rd March 1919. He returned to Horsehay and eventually became Managing director of the Horsehay Company; Hal died in 1978.
Volunteer Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, Library and Archives.
This was first published in IQ the magazine of The Friends of the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust.