A bright spot in a time of need

A Reading church received news about the YMCA hut they had supported for soldiers behind the lines.

The “Trinity” Hut

Owing to the departure of many of the Y.M.C.A. Secretaries from the war area, it has been very difficult to get any definite information about our second Hut in France. Until just lately we believed this was erected at St. Omer, but now find that to be incorrect, as the following prove:
2nd July, 1919.

My Dear Mr. Harrison,

I went up this week to see Mr. McCowen as he was coming back from Germany on his way to London, and immediately took up the question of the allocation of your Hut with him. He well remembers the situation and says that your Hut was not actually in the St. Omer area, but it was at St. Malo-les-Bains, near Dunkirk, which after all is not so far away from St. Omer. He says this is the second Reading Hut. I have asked Mr. Sitters to send me a report as to the work of this Hut during the last few months, and also to see that the board saying it is the Reading Hut is still up in it. This Hut has served, during the past few months, thousands of men, who have been using Dunkirk as a demobilisation centre. Further particulars will be coming through, which I will send along. There is a possibility that the Navy may move the Hut to the mole at Zeebrugge, as there is a great need for an extension of our work at that place, but I will see that you are advised if this is done.

I am enclosing herewith the official receipt for the fifteen pounds which you so kindly sent. It was used in the Hut for Christmas festivities.

Yours sincerely,
(Signed) H.N.HOLMES.
Chief Secretary for France.

The report referred to is as follows:-

“The Reading (Malo) Hut was first erected in the Ypres centres, where it provided rest and recreation for countless numbers of men going in and coming out of the trenches. In it provision was made for reading, writing and games. Concerts and lectures were given from time to time, and services were held on Sundays. A refreshment counter where tea, cocoa and coffee, biscuits, cigarettes, etc., could be obtained, was greatly appreciated by those frequenting the Hut.

Later on, owing to the movement of troops, the sector was occupied by Belgian troops, who made considerable use of the Hut. One feature of their occupation was the excellent concerts given by officers and men of the Belgian army. On account of the Germans shelling the place very heavily it was found necessary to move the Hut to a more sheltered spot. It was dismantled, moved south two miles, near to the famous St. Sixthe Convent, re-erected, re-painted, and re-opened within seven days.

On the signing of the armistice the Hut was moved to Dunkirk, where it has provided accommodation for various units, including re-mounts, men being demobilised, and men returning from leave and going to Egypt. On its removal to Dunkirk it was beautifully re-decorated and fitted with electric light, and may now be considered one of the most attractive huts in France.

The subscribers, through whose generosity it has been possible for the Y.M.C.A. to meet the needs of so many men, will be happy to know that the Hut has been a bright spot in a time of need to thousands of the brave men who have been defending our country.”

Trinity Congregational Magazine, August 1919 (D/EX1237/1/12 )

Spirits and beer to be heavily taxed

Florence Vansittart Neale enjoyed a visit from her daughter Elizabeth (Bubbles), nursing at Southampton. She also visited her elderly German-born friends at Stoney Ware.

30 April 1915
Bubs turned up. Miss Forrest brought her. Her brother they fear dead.

Went Stoney Ware by boat & back. Young Mr Taylor very upset.

Heard Germans fled bombarding Dunkirk – killed good many. Bubs said

36 Canadians came in last night.

Spirits, wine & beer to be heavily taxed.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)

80 bombs over Dunkirk

Florence Vansittart Neale took a keen interest in the wounded soldiers being nursed at Bisham Abbey.

Harding better – stay in bed 3 weeks. Mr S says Merriman came over. Dick brought cigarettes. Etienne Boileau out-patient for massage. Richardson back here again….

Air raid of Germans over Dunkirk – one brought down – dropped 80 bombs.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale, 23 January 1915 (D/EX73/3/17/8)

Left to clear the camp

Florence Vansittart Neale was involved in local attempts to deal with unemployment as a result of the war, while paying close attention to the war news. The Russian siege of Krakow, which is now in Poland but at the outset of the war was in the control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was to prove unsuccessful.

6 October 1914
I to meeting Maidenhead 6 o’clock. Women’s Unemployment Fund! Rather unclear.

Great victory of Russians – marching on Cracow [sic]. Naval Brigade gone to Dunkirk. Sep [a family friend] left to clear the camp!

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)