Picture Postcards from the Great War
1914-1918

YMCA Postcards from the First World War

Tony Allen


Introduction

ww1 YMCA logo

In a volume of the Official History of the Great War appears the following: "In the ruined houses, barns and cellars, and in the dug-outs in which the Y.M.C.A. worked near the front, tea, coffee, cocoa, bovril and oxo, with biscuits, cakes and cigarettes, were the principal articles provided, and notepaper and a few books and old newspapers were available."

The YMCA provided many other services during the war, which were designed to make the life of a serviceman a little easier - if only for a short time. The work and development of the YMCA during the conflict, was featured on contemporary picture postcards issued by the association and others. Examples of some of these cards are illustrated on this page.


Sir Arthur Yapp                             

Photo of Arthur Yapp

On Thursday morning 27th September 1917, Arthur Yapp appeared at Buckingham Palace to be honoured with the order of the British Empire. When he was presented, the King told him that he had "..seen our Y.M.C.A. huts all over the country and had visited our centres right up the line on the Western Front." The King added, "You have placed the whole Empire under a debt to you."

During the Great War, Sir Arthur was the National Secretary of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). Under his guidance, its image was changed from one of providing church services and hostels for the homeless, to that of morale-booster and provider of welfare services to the British Army.

 

The UK Over Night Hostels

During the conflict, tens of thousands of troops ended up in London.  Many were on leave from the Front and training camps in the UK, and they arrived at all hours of the day and night. Most simply passed through, but some were forced to stay in the capital overnight, often with nowhere to go "before the train some six to eight hours later conveyed them to their destinations in the North." The YMCA opened hostels for these men at Euston, Kings Cross, Victoria, Paddington and Waterloo stations.

ww1 postcard YMCA Waterloo Hut
The message on the back of this card reads, "You will see that we are near a YMCA hut, it is a great convenience." An annexe was erected near the Waterloo Hut for the use of those soldiers’ wives who travelled long distances to meet their husbands at the station, or witness their departure - often for the last time

A typical night in a Red Triangle railway hut was described in a volume by J. A. Hammerton, “Throngs of men would arrive...fresh from the front line in France with the mud of the trenches still on them, with steel helmets tied behind their backs and with rifles still in hand...they would flock to the huts while waiting for the trains...many a night could be seen crowds of men filling every seat, men in rough sheepskin coats and leather waistcoats with thick strong boots, heavy with the mud of Flanders...dozing, eating, sending telegrams, waiting for the morning trains. “

ww1 postcard
"Y.M.C.A. Work at Home.  Midnight Scene at a Great Railway Terminal in London." This was the Waterloo Hut. Although the card was not postally used there was a message on the back of it which said, "You will see that we are near a Y.M.C.A. hut, it is a great Convenience." In the picture of this printed-photogaphic card are soldiers and sailors of several nationalities with differing types of headgear, cap badges and uniforms. At the far end of the hut, there appears to be a number of bunks with men in them while others are fixing their beds on the floor. There are several civilians in the scene too - YMCA workers!
Most of the Association’s establishments were run by people with understanding and common-sense. They needed to be, as frequently soldiers who were the worse for drink were taken back to the railway huts by the police. The Times told its readers that these men were a danger to themselves and invited punishment, "but by tactful handling", said the paper, the YMCA secretary usually got them to bed, and "in the morning they were sober again and ashamed of the trouble they had occasioned. Such services explained in part the popularity of the Y.M.C.A. amongst the men."
ww1 postcard YMCA A letter from home


The overnight hut at Victoria Station was specifically created for NCO's and other ranks, but a short distance away, in Grosvenor Gardens, the YM erected a hostel for officers. It became a comfortable club where the guest could have bed and breakfast and buy a souvenir postcard of his visit to it. A specimen of the card is shown here on the left.

The Commercial Photographic Company of Guildford published several sepia coloured cards of the interior of the Grosvenor Gardens establishment.

Later, the Commercial Photographic Company published cards of another Red Triangle center in London. This was the Eagle Hut which was often visited by American soldiers, one of whom sent a card from there to Indian Head Street, South Hansen, Massachusetts, on 5th July 1918.  The sender simply wrote, "Will write soon". Another in the set from which it came, was captioned ‘Eagle Hut London’ and was sent to New York. On it there was no message. Another card featuring the Eagle came from the Ministry of Information. The coloured picture thereon was an attractive panoramic view of the large YMCA complex. Further printed details reveal that it was taken ‘From a drawing by Henry Rushburt’.

                                                                                                                                                        

                                                                                                                                                                                

ww1 card YMCA  The Eagle Hut
Soldiers from several Allied counties are seen relaxing here at the Eagle Hut complex. The eagle stood where Bush House now stands in the Aldwych. There is a stone plaque incorporated into the present building commemorating the fact that the Red Triangle has once been there. A card by the Commercial Photographic Company.


Publishers produced numerous YMCA cards that illustrated and advertised the invaluable work done by the organization, when it provided Huts and overnight hostels in army camps and towns and citys throughout the UK.

However,
p
roviding huts for accommodation and entertainment for soldiers and sailors, was just one of the many activities undertaken by the YMCA during the First World War. Picture postcards featuring the doings of the YM during 1914-1918 provide a splendid illustrated record of the organisations war-time work.



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