YMCA On the Front Line

With Remembrance Sunday only a few weeks away, we thought we would dedicate this weeks blog to the brave members of the YMCA who volunteered during WW1, and to those who lost their lives as a result.

Many of you may not know, but during WW1, YMCA members accompanied soldiers to the front line and worked alongside the Royal Army Medical Corps and Red Cross in hospitals, helping relatives to visit their sons. They worked closely with munition workers housed in camps around the country- many of whom were living in conditions 'barely distinguishable from those of the troops.' By 1917, the YMCA was responsible for 150 munition worker canteens which fed around 200,000 workers daily. There were also 10 hostels accommodating around 3,000 men.

The YMCA quickly became the biggest organisation involved in welfare work with troops and munitions workers and to meet this demand, they began to take on women as volunteers and workers- from this, the YMCA Women's Auxiliary was formed. By 1918, over 40,000 'ladies of the red triangle' as they came to be known had served in the Auxiliary. All their work was unpaid and even when working abroad they had to meet their own living expenses.

Social centres (known as 'huts') were built for the troops and these presented an escape from the difficulties of war. Some of the huts contained discrete rooms which the troops could use as a library, a place to eat a quiet meal or a room to play games. The YMCA had to get inventive with the materials used for the huts and closer to the front line, they were made of anything from the ruins of bombed buildings, to tents and even dug outs in the trenches.

The YMCA were recognised by The Right Hon. David Lloyd George, M.P.* as 'one of the largest providers of civilian support to soldiers, munitions workers and families during the First World War...few organisations have done so much in caring for the comfort and well-being of our soldiers as your associations.'

Following the end of WW1, the graves of YMCA workers who volunteered and lost their lives during the war were granted official recognition by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and many also received military and civilian honours.

*who was in office from 1890-1945, and also served as the Prime Minister from 1916-1922


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