We are excited to share this guest post from Cathy Miles Grant about her father, Frank Miles. An American citizen at the time he served with the Friends Ambulance Unit in China, Frank Miles was naturalized Canadian after he and his wife Pat Miles moved to Canada in 1974. He served as General Secretary for Canadian Yearly Meeting from 1983 to 1989.

Service, Spiritual Gifts, and the 1993 Sunderland P. Gardner Lecture: Tapping reflections from a former volunteer with the Friends Ambulance Unit in China
By Cathy Grant Miles

I recently came upon a full audio recording[1] of the 1993 Sunderland P. Gardner Lecture, which featured a panel, four Canadians who volunteered with the Friends Ambulance Unit in China during the 1940s, reflecting on what their experiences had meant for them. “They spoke of the clearness of their discernment to take on this service, the life-long influence of this experience and of its effects on their spiritual life,” reported Elaine Bishop, Clerk of Canadian Yearly Meeting 1993.

1946 December – Frank Miles w. FAU Truck #23 Changte, now Anyang – Photo by Mark Shaw.

Three of the panelists, Gordon Keith, Ed Abbott, and Francis Starr, had served in China during World War II, the time of China’s “War of Resistance” against Japan. Chinese and Western Unit members teamed up to offer mobile medical aid and to transport, over rough mountain roads, some 80–90% of medical supplies entering Free China. This was “probably one of the most valuable single contributions of the Unit.”[2] Gordon Keith spoke of the significance of sharing and working and living together with the Chinese, solving problems together, “the feeling of understanding that sweeps through both people.”[3]

The last panelist, Frank Miles, chuckled that he was “the late arrival…the junior, the kid of this outfit” who’d only arrived in China in 1946.[4] He had begun his World War II years training to do relief and reconstruction work with German war refugees, until the US Congress withdrew authorization for conscientious objectors to go overseas. He was then assigned to Civilian Public Service camps,[5] where he performed work as a medical guinea pig, a psychiatric hospital aide, and a labourer in a national park, all of which seemed “very ordinary, undramatic, in a world that was full of destruction and great need.”[6] By the time the young medical mechanic landed in Shanghai in September 1946, he was chomping at the bit to do his part for lasting peace. Instead, he walked into a rising civil war.

1947 July – MT-19 & Li Jinpei and Li Chia Ke J’ai, interpreters – Photo by Douglas Clifford.

The Unit made every effort to offer its medical and rehabilitation services to people on both sides of the political conflict, through the work of its small teams of Chinese and Western associates. They persevered despite acute limitations in supplies and personnel, long periods of isolation and, at times, threats to their own life and limb. They were ever conscious that they could only meet a fraction of the need.

1947 July – Frank Miles fitting wooden leg to Nationalist boy soldier Li Jia Geichai – Photo by Douglas Clifford.

But the searing divides of the Civil War, itself embedded in and inflamed by world conflict, imprinted itself heavily on the work of the Unit. Frank was serving as Unit Chair, based in Shanghai, when Mao’s Communists claimed victory. With Washington refusing to recognize the new communist regime, the Unit’s attempts at neutrality were increasingly interpreted as indifference or, worse, passive resistance. At the time he left China, in April 1950, he scrawled out a note: “The past four months have been just about as difficult as any I’ve passed through and I do need some time to get transitioned around.”[7] The Unit closed its doors in China, the Korean War broke out, and for nearly three decades Cold War hostilities prevented contact across the Bamboo Curtain.

At the 1993 lecture for Canadian Friends, Frank Miles told his audience that, for him, the Unit’s work had ended “with a distinct sense of failure and disappointment.” But he had also come away humbled by the Chinese people with their long history and their rich heritage, their courage and perseverance in facing extremely difficult circumstances, the ways they responded to a simple and direct message and took destiny in their hands. “God’s purpose is made known in many ways outside the Christian tradition of which we are part,” he reflected.

Frank Miles’s time in China was not the heroic service he had pictured when he entered the Unit. Still, he said, “I learned a lesson in patience, to wait for the Way to open, and to feel the bonds of common experience with those around me who were also blocked from proceeding as expected.”

1978 – Reunion Dr. Doug Clifford, Li Bing (Vice-Director, Cancer Institute and Hospital, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing), Frank Miles – Photo by Frank Miles.

Way did open, over time. In 1978 the Chinese Ministry of Health invited Frank and the other members of the Unit’s Medical Team 19 to visit China and to reestablish contact with the Chinese personnel from the First International Peace Hospital with whom they had formed a mobile medical unit that moved through the “Liberated Areas” of Shaanxi and Shanxi after they evacuated from Mao’s base in Yan’an in March 1947.

The renewal of friendships and contacts allowed Frank and Pat Miles and a small group of other Canadians to facilitate education in Canada for three young adult offspring of Chinese colleagues who had lost six years of training to the Cultural Revolution. This paved the way for Frank and Pat to teach English conversation in Zhengzhou, in Henan Province where Frank had begun his work in China, for three months in 1992. That reciprocity continues to this day as I and other Chinese and Western sons and daughters of former Unit members collaborate to piece together and share this story.

8. 1978 – MT-19 reunion in China 1978. Panel from exhibit at Xi’an’s Eighth Route Army Museum.

“God’s final purpose is not carried out in one or many lifetimes,” Frank told his audience at the 1993 Sunderland P. Gardner lecture. “One’s life is very small, but we each play a vital role in being part of that purpose, as we stay in tune, by searching in a spirit of worship day by day, we do what is demanded of us and we are led to a sense of fulfillment in our lives.”[8]

Catherine Miles Grant is writing a book, Leap of Faith: A Pacifist in China During the Years of Revolution — 1946-1950, based on her father Frank Miles’ experiences with the Friends Ambulance/Service Unit in China. In 2016 the Canadian Quaker History Journal published Grant’s “To Build Up a Record of Good Will,” based on early stages of her research for this book. If any readers would like to contact Cathy to discuss her post or her research, she can be reached at [email protected]

[1] The video recording previously in the Canadian Friends Service Committee’s collection only includes the first half of the panelists’ presentations.

[2] Summary Report of the F.S.U. (China), 15 September 1950.

[3] Gordon Keith, Sunderland P. Gardner lecture, 1993.

[4] Frank Miles, Sunderland P. Gardner lecture, 1993.

[5] According to General Hershey, “The conscientious objector… is best handled if no one hears of him.” General Hershey’s testimony to Congress’ Committee on Military Affairs. Conscientious Objectors’ Benefits: Hearings before a Subcommittee on military Affairs on s. 2708, 77th Cong, 2nd sess., August 19, 1942, 14.

[6] Frank Miles, Sunderland P. Gardner lecture, 1993.

[7] Frank Miles to Ross and Laura Miles, 17 April 1950.

[8] Frank Miles, Sunderland P. Gardner lecture, 1993.

2016 March – Audience response to presentation about the Friends Ambulance Unit to the Zhengzhou Salon – Photo by Cathy Miles Grant.

Links to Sunderland P. Gardner 1993 lecture
Here’s Part 1, Frank Miles’ introduction and Part 1 on the panel.
And here’s Part 2. Frank Miles’ panel presentation comes at the end.
And here, finally, are Frank’s reflections (separated out from the rest of the panel).



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