The British Friends had established the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) medical transport and relief services during World War I and revived it during the second World War. However, when Nazi occupation of Europe made such operations there impossible for noncombatants, the FAU shifted their attention to China. By 1942, 16 Americans joined 71 British, two Canadian and eight Chinese Quakers serving in the Friends Ambulance Unit in China.
This 15-minute, black-and-white silent film shows some of the surroundings, people and activities going on in Shanghai. Aspects of their work included transport, construction, communications, and public health. The first vehicle that looks like an “ambulance” appears around 11 minutes into the footage.
With war also raging in the Pacific, AFSC had already been active in Shanghai, running a center for refugee services. The flood of European refugees into Shanghai became one of the areas of greatest need. Since China was the one place German Jews could go without the need for a special passport or permit, they were arriving at a rate of 700 per week. In the three years leading up to Pearl Harbor, 25,000 German refugees arrived and more than twice that number were expected still to come. Added to White Russians and even larger numbers of Chinese seeking sanctuary, estimates range from 3-5 million people fleeing to Shanghai during this time.