The First World War was the starting point for new forms of Quaker relief. Immediately following the
outbreak of hostilities the Friends War Victims Relief Committee was re-established, and as early as autumn
1914 started its relief work in the war zones of France. In addition the committee provided material and
moral support to Germans who had been interned in England at the beginning of the war, an activity which
in the climate of nationalistic war hysteria was far from popular.
In April 1917 American Quakers founded an organization which took the name American Friends Service
Committee (AFSC). It offered Quakers as well as non-Quakers an alternative to military service. In the
summer of 1917 the first AFSC workers went to France to help in the repair of war damage. Ultimately
several thousand Americans took part in the 'Civilian Service' in France, among them 600 Quakers. Six
American Quaker women went to Russia in the summer of 1917 to take up work there. The end of the war
did not mean an end of this work. It continued, mainly in France, Poland, Serbia and Russia immediately
following the armistice. Defeated Germany was at first excluded, not at the wishes of the British and
American Friends, but at the insistence of the Allied governments. At the beginning of 1919, when British
Friends received permission to send milk powder and infant clothing for delivery clinics and children's
hospitals of the former enemy, they came up against domestic resistance at home, including 'bureaucratic
difficulties'. At first they were forced to keep their work secret. They were forbidden to make public appeals
or to publish accounts in the papers. When they finally did publish circulars, they were dubbed ‘Hun lovers'
The blockade imposed on Germany until the signing of the Versailles peace treaty and maintained by the
victorious powers until June 1919, together with other factors, brought about alarming conditions which
demanded relief for humanitarian as well as political reasons. In the days immediately following the treaty
signing, British and American Friends arrived in Berlin to inform themselves about conditions and to make
preparations for relief work. Herbert Hoover, who later became US president, was a Quaker and was
appointed Secretary General of the American relief program in Europe. In November, 1919, he asked the
American Friends Service Committee to take on the organization of relief work in Germany. This involved
primarily the feeding of children, 3,000,000 of whom were already being fed in other European countries.
February 26th, 1920, marked the beginning of the first Quakerspeisung, the child-feeding program which
became legendary in Germany and which is still remembered today. It was a masterful organizational
achievement, made possible by a small team of British and American Friends working together with some
40,000 German helpers. The principal recipients were under-weight and under- nourished children aged six
to fourteen. Subsequently two- to six- year-olds as well as pregnant and nursing mothers were included.
The additional hot meals they received consisted of either half or three quarters of a litre of cocoa, rice with
milk, and soup of peas or beans with a piece of white bread or biscuit.
From Quiet Helpers, Quaker Service in Postwar Germany Published jointly by Quaker Home Service and
American Friends Service Committee January 2000