Monday, 31 March 2014

First World War - Y.M.C.A.

It was originally published in ‘The War Budget’, dated February 10th, 1916. It describes in ‘lovely and free-flowing’ language the wonderful work of the Y.M.C.A.

"Our Warrior’s Camp Comforts in the Role of the Good Samaritan

In the classic story a certain man on the Jerusalem-Jericho road, as our war writers would phrase it, fell among thieves. This may not be literally true of the road from city office to country camp; but the incident is not without its parallel in the moral and physical trials that lie ambushed among the camping grounds of our growing Army.

Laying aside any claim he may have to fellowship with priest and Levite, the Y.M.C.A. worker makes it his business to travel Tommy's way and see that misfortune gets little chance to trip him up.

"Whatever should we do without the Y.M." is a phrase that has been uttered by thousands of soldiers at home and abroad. The war has provided golden opportunities which the Association has made use of in remarkable fashion, and even its most severe, critics of bygone days now acknowledge with wholehearted enthusiasm the splendid work that is being done.

At the end of a hard day's work the open door of a Y.M.C.A. hut draws as if by magnetic power, and for many a man the building stands as a temporary home. Here he can obtain appetising refreshments at the lowest possible price; chocolates, cigarettes, soap, candles, polishes, button-sticks, and camp requisites galore. Writing-paper, envelopes, pen, ink and blotting-paper arc all provided free, and no less than 12 million pieces of stationery are thus given away every month.

Though the camp may be far from a town, Tommy still has his Free Library, for books are lent out and newspapers and magazines are at hand. In addition all kinds of games are provided, such as draughts, dominoes, quoits, chess, and, of course, billiards. A billiard "final" is fought out in deadly earnest, and the fortunate prize- winners retire with beaming faces.

Another evening it is, perhaps, a concert that draws an enthusiastic audience. Sometimes the men themselves provide the programme, and a wide-awake camp leader soon discovers the stars, whether pianist, elocutionist, clog-dancer, or ventriloquist, or local talent may rise to the occasion, and "The Follies" or "The Bonbons" appear in appropriate costumes.

In some of the larger and more important camps concerts are frequent and quite up to professional standard, and the theatrical profession has responded generously to calls on its time. Concert or no concert, a Y.M.C.A. piano is given little rest, and any budding Paderewski can give his comrades a great deal of pleasure.

Occasionally a travel lecture fills the evening hour; or the draught players arrange a tournament. In some camps this, pastime has been revived to a remarkable extent, some of the men playing a very brainy game.

In the village camps the great moment of the evening is that when the cry of "Post" goes up. A great rush and much shouting heralds the arrival of letters. The men crowd round eagerly, and eventually retire pleased or disappointed according to their luck.

From the early morning hour when the Hut floor is swept down, till late at night when the money accounts are balanced up, it is to the Leader an almost unceasing round of duties. Whatever may have been the occupation of the Leader in days gone by, here he has to turn his hand to everything, and for the time being he is Jack of all trades, from scullery maid to parson, errand boy to banker, bar assistant to general manager. Stores have to be ordered, concerts arranged for, the billiard table overhauled, or the pressing need of the moment may be the necessity for washing- up. No one could complain of lack of variety, but neither, can any Y.M.C.A. worker be accused of having a soft job, for the hours of sleep are his only rest hours.

The "Huts" themselves comprise all manner of buildings adapted for the purpose, and in this way a hotel or an old barn, a garage, or a Church Hall or Chapel Schoolroom may be turned to account. But the typical Y.M.C.A. Hut of modern erection is admirably planned for the purpose in view. Lighted by electricity, with staff rooms and kitchen complete, with post-office, bar-counter, stage, piano, and billiard tables, nothing is lacking which would prevent it ministering to Tommy's needs.

As a frankly religious organisation the Y.M.C.A. boldly assumes that man's three- sided nature is not to be sealed in water-tight compartments. . Religion is not thrust down the men's throats, but an endeavour is made to create an atmosphere favourable to the best type of manliness. "Lantern" services are held in many camps on Sunday evenings. The soldiers attend in large numbers and heartily join in well- known hymns.

The average Tommy has a good standard of conduct, and well deserves the efforts made to make his soldier life a little, more bearable. Quick of repartee, cheerful in spirit, and with a genuine appreciation of services rendered, the soldier in training to- day is a man worthy of the remarkable efforts being made on his behalf. When the war comes to an end the Y.M.C.A. will be able to claim that during the long dreary months of training and warfare they helped to keep the men fit and well and happy. No wonder the soldiers say, "Whatever should we do without the Y.M.?"

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