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WW1 and the Y – national treasures discovered in archives

November 8, 2021 The Y in Australia

Remembrance Day is coming up this week, and we again remember all of the young people who served our country, to fight for our freedom.  Lest We Forget. We also remember the great work of the YMCA, and we’ve recently discovered some national treasures in the Y’s archives.

A YMCA signed flag that was flown in WW1, and an original manuscript written by YMCA Representatives during that period, explains the role of the YMCA and the conditions that they work under at the battlefield frontlines in Belgium and France in WW1. The YMCA flag, flown in WW1 was signed by the Brigadier, Officers and troops has now been framed and will take pride of place in our Essendon Fields National Office.

Thank you to Life Governor and volunteer war historian John Bindon, who has summarised the significance of the flag, and some of the manuscript highlights for us below:

The Story Behind the Flag

This flag was only discovered recently in our Y Australia national archives, when an old cardboard box was opened to discover the flag and original documentation notes, and reports of YMCA Representatives in the First World War. The flag was embroidered with a map of Australia on it, and therefore used representing Australia at the signing of the Armistice in Belgium. The flag during 1916, was the only large Australian Flag on the Somme at the period when Bapaume was taken. It was used, at General Birdwood’s inspection of the 4th Australian Division at Ribemonts & Vieux Belgium. It bears the signatures of Officers, including the Brigadier, and men of the Australian Forces. It flew over YMCA Centres after the Battle of Messines & remained with the Division until its demobilization after the Armistice in the Charleroi Area (Belgium), 1920.

Example of the work of the YMCA WW1

A YMCA Representative works as a Welfare/Recreation Officer with troops at Base Camps, forward areas and at the front line. During the First World War there were 394 Y Representatives. Three Representatives were killed and several wounded. During the Ypres fighting in 1917, the YMCA Representatives with the Divisions accompanied the troops well up into the firing zone, and during the days of the heaviest fighting distributed without any regards to their safety many thousand gallons of cocoa, and thousands of packets of cigarettes and biscuits.

Men proceeding to and from the line, walking wounded and stretcher cases, were served with hot refreshments under the most difficult circumstances, despite the limits of the accommodation available. The Australian YMCAs program of free distribution from its thirteen centres in France during the fighting, September 20 – November 15, 1917, was the biggest carried out.

Cocoa 18,200 gallons, sugar 1216 lbs., milk 6,360 tins, cigarettes 150,000 serves, biscuits 239,663 packets, cakes 256 dozen, syrup 284 tins, chocolate, matches 118 dozen, candles 12lbs. fruit 67 tins, tea & coffee 23,500 gallons equal to 376,000 cups.

(Summary by the Y’s Life Governor & Volunteer Historian, John Bindon)

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