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The Y. M. C. A. at the Front
BY FRANCIS B. SAYRE
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY JOHN R. MOTT
General Secretary of the National War Work Council of the Y. M. C. A. N the trenches which reach from Flanders United States is an active participant in the to the Swiss border, and back of these vast tragic drama, many hundreds of Assotrenches in the reserve and base camps, ciation leaders have gone overseas to carry
in the training stations, in the villages on this ministry for American soldiers and and towns where the Allied troops are bil- sailors. On January 1, 1918, about eight leted, in the posts of debarkation and at hundred such workers had reached France, innaval bases, a multitude of men wearing the cluding more than one hundred and fifty Red Triangle of the Young Men's Christian women who serve in the canteens and so keep Association are serving the Allied fighting before our fighting forces a reminder of forces in multifarious ways. The effective- American ideals of womanhood.
Other ness and range of this service far exceed the American Red Triangle workers are making achievements of the Association workers in possible a great increase in the number of earlier wars and have won the fullest approval similar centers for French troops and for and heartiest admiration of the officers, en those of Italy, for in both these armies the listed men, and government leaders of the commanders-in-chief have asked for a maxivarious nations concerned. Great Britain, mum of co-operation from the American including her self-governing dominions and Y. M. C. A. The expense of all phases of colonies has more than five hundred Associa this work in France and Italy as carried on tion centers among the troops in France who by American workers will soon amount to fight under the Union Jack. In dugouts, about two million dollars a month. The cellars, stables, ruined houses, and, in re story of the Red Triangle achievements on gions less devastated by shellfire, in tents the Western front, only a part of the far and huts, these constructive activities that larger story of Association activities in this bring comfort, utilize leisure time, and con war, has nowhere been more finely or more serve health, character, and faith, are being dramatically told than in this article by Mr. conducted. During the earlier years of the Francis B. Sayre, who for months was an war, through ways of friendly co-operation, exceedingly effective member of the headAmerica aided in the maintenance of similar quarters. group of American Association centers for the French Army. Now that the workers in France. John R. Mott.
F it wasn't fer the the mind of one living three thousand
peared. It is with a sense almost of the
English Tommy in one to bring home to Americans a realization of the Y. M. C. A. huts “somewhere in of the magnitude of the need among the France”; he was voicing an apprecia- armies abroad and of the vastness of tion in his own genuine way of a work the work undertaken by the Y. M. C. A. the vastness and complexity of which, I to meet that need. fancy, can be but little understood or In a certain corner of France to-day, appreciated in America. Our imagina- behind one small section of the long tions can function only in the smaller battle-line, there are massed one million units or groups to which we are accus men. What that means no one can grasp tomed; so that the statement that over unless he has moved in and out among 37,000,000 men are to-day under arms the lines some evening when a push is does not profoundly move us. The hu on and watched the endless movement man mind is unable to grasp the appall- to and fro—has seen the mile after mile ing magnitude of the war-least of all of muddy camp-ground swarming with
soldiers preparing to go up into the or dwell in quarters under shell - fire trenches, or has ridden past the acres of in the shattered towns, or take their supplies, guns, ammunition, and horses. places on the firing - line. At each He must stand beside the road and
stage the problem requires a different watch the long line of traffic that goes solution. on all night without cessation-the Never in all history has there been ceaseless columns of soldiers in khaki such an assemblage of the manhood of with their steel helmets on their heads, the world as that met on the plains of their gas-masks and kits slung across France to-day. In one of the great their backs, and their rifles on their English base camps are gathered countshoulders, swinging by with grave, set less thousands of men in khaki from faces; the huge guns ponderously lum every county of England; hordes of bering over the roughly paved street;
dark-skinned East-Indians in pictuthe trains of clattering ammunition resque turbans and native uniforms of wagons; the great fleets of lorries loaded khaki; men with tanned faces from the with unending supplies; the soup wind-swept plains of far-away Australia; kitchens; the empty ambulances-a Scotch Highlanders in their khaki kilts great and endless stream of life surging and gray tam-o'-shanters; New-Zeaforward to meet ruin and agony and landers in their broad-brimmed felt hats; death; and on the other side of the road, Canadians; West-Indians; South-Afrimoving in the opposite direction, an cans—men from every corner of the other endless stream of the broken and far-flung British Empire; gallant Belcrushed, returning from the trenches— gians; Frenchmen in their blue uniforms; great trains of red-crossed motor-ambu- swarthy Arabs from northern Africa in lances, carrying hundreds and hundreds their red fezzes; Chinese coolies from the of limp forms, wrapped in dirty, blood- Far East; German prisoners in their soaked blankets; marching soldiers, faded gray-green-men from every reach dirty, disheveled, and dog-tired, return and
quarter of the world. There has been ing from the trenches; disabled guns; nothing like it since the days of the old empty lorries; broken wagons; and all Crusades; since the time of Peter the that is worth bringing back after the Hermit there has been never such an touch of war. Or he must stand just opportunity to minister to the congregaback of the line at night and see the sky tion of the world. In a vast tented city, alight with the flashes of the great guns, covering the French plain for miles, this not in one or two or three places, but motley throng dwells for two or three the whole horizon aflame with that weird weeks, receiving the last word of instruclight as far as eye can reach; and he tion in bombing, in the use of gas-masks, must feel the tremble of the
earth on where and how most effectively to as the great guns hurl their tons of
thrust the bayonet home. It is easy to •jectiles miles away into the enemy lines. imagine the thoughts of these men who It is vastness on a scale which the world
are, most of them, thousands of miles never imagined before—vastness such as from home in a strange land, and multiplies a hundredfold the difficulties stripped of all the comforts of life, and of any organization which undertakes to who are preparing themselves to enter play a real part in the lives of those end- the most horrible experiences that this less lines of soldiers, and to make its in world can offer. Little wonder that they fluence profoundly felt throughout that are thinking as they have never thought stupendous and gigantic array.
before, and wondering, amid the tragedy Furthermore, the problem changes in and the ruin all around, what, after all, its aspects with every movement of the in life and death is worth while and soldiers. The methods of meeting the fundamental. Was there ever such an needs of troops in home training-camps opportunity for a creative, healing work will not suffice when the soldiers are in for the bodies and minds and souls of transport. Still other methods must be men? followed when the soldiers reach the Into such a field the Y. M. C. A. has great base camps in France, or as they been privileged to enter.
In the center move on “up the line” in railway transit, of each group of tents is erected a huge
wooden structure, known as a “hut," an evening goes by that does not see marked at each end with a bright-red these halls packed to the doors. I have triangle. The hut usually contains a seen them so crowded, on the occasion “canteen-room,” a large lecture-hall, of some stirring religious talk, that after and a number of smaller rooms for the benches were all
filled and the standclasses and group meetings. In this ing room taken, soldiers kept crowding building and on the athletic field close in through the windows to sit on the by centers the camp life of the troops. floor of the platform, and others reThe canteen-room, a large lounging- mained standing outside to listen to the place, fitted up with board benches and speaker through the windows. Surging tables, decorated with gay bunting or in and out of the thirty huts in one of bright pictures of home life, or possibly these base camps there pass daily actuwith wall-paintings done by some soldier ally sixty thousand men of every race decorator, is usually thronged with and creed; every night between ten and troops at every hour of the day when fifteen thousand men are listening to soldiers can be found off duty; for it is educational lectures and entertainments; generally the only place in camp where on two nights every week a like number soldiers can gather for recreational or are crowding in to hear religious talks. social purposes. At one end, by the That is why the Y. M. C. A. feels called canteen counter, lined up to get their upon to secure the best talent in the hot coffee, their buns, crackers, sweet country for this work, the most accomchocolate, sandwiches, or the like, are plished singers and musicians, the most crowds of soldiers; others are sitting at gifted lecturers, the ablest and most the tables, writing letters home on the winning religious leaders. The briefness stationery furnished them; still others of the soldiers' stay at the base camps are at the other end of the room, gath- necessitates peculiarly intensive proered around the piano or victrola, play- grams of educational and religious work; ing the tunes they used to play at home; besides the large meetings and lectures, many are reading the home newspapers small Bible study classes and informal and magazines which are given out at the discussion
groups are carried on. So counter, or selecting books from the effective has this work proved that litlibrary, or matching their wits in friend- erally hundreds of men have gone “up ly games of checkers. Outside on the the line" and faced death with smiles athletic field, during such afternoons as upon their faces, because, at last just they are not on duty, crowds of soldiers before the end they had found what are delighting in games of baseball, death
death cannot take away—they had handball, or volley ball, or watching a come to know Jesus Christ. lively boxing or wrestling match, or tak Closer to the firing-line all large ing part in intercompany field contests. buildings become impossible. Not only The silent psychological influence of the would they be seen by the enemy few Y. M. C. A. secretaries upon these aeroplanes and shelled to bits, but it masses of troops is a striking and inter would be unsafe, from a military viewesting phenomenon. Because of their point, to mass so many troops where presence, there seems to prevail all un they could be seen and shelled together. consciously, a finer spirit, an atmosphere The “huts” becoming impossible, and, of good-fellowship, of clean sportsman- large meetings being unsafe, the Y. M. ship, of manliness at its best, that is C. A. must devise smaller units, and, in no small factor in making up the tone company with the soldiers whom it seeks and morale of the camp. In another to serve, go underground. If the conpart of the hut is a large lecture-room ditions under which it must work in the with a stage at one end; here are given great base camps are unusual, they are in the evenings educational lectures, sol- infinitely more so in the desolated towns dier minstrel shows, musical entertain under enemy shellfire. ments, cinema shows, patriotic ad We are walking through the streets of dresses, and religious talks; and here, one of these ruined cities some two too, are generally held the Sunday re or three miles behind the front-line ligious services and meetings. Scarcely trenches. Only a short time ago it was
athrob with life and activity and pro- ings. A machine-gun emplacement comduction. Now it is silent and desolate, mands the square, and barbed-wire enand its streets, save for a few stray sol- tanglements are in evidence for use in diers, are empty; it is literally a city of case the Germans should attack. We the dead. Every few moments we hear walk past the cathedral; it is now a the whine of a German shell being hurled ruin with tremendous walls and naked into what is left of the shattered city, arches standing out stark against the followed by a loud explosion and the sky, what was once its nave now a huge sound of falling debris; and we know pile of fallen masonry. We pass on and that another house has gone. The turn a corner; on the wall of what was streets are lined with tattered walls and formerly a French home of the well-toshattered masonry; here a great corner do class we see painted a large red is torn out of a building, leaving the triangle. As we reach the door, sevroof hanging; there the whole side of a eral Y. M. C. A. secretaries welcome house is completely gone. As we pass, us and take us inside. Here they have we can see into the deserted rooms. lived through all the furious shelling of Some of them are mere masses of debris; the preceding months, serving hot coffee others remain just as they were left that and caring for the needs of thousands of wild night when the occupants Aled in soldiers; and, strangely enough, this their terror before the oncoming Huns. house, the ground floor rooms of which In some rooms we can see the pictures have been crowded with troops night still hanging on the walls, and books after night, is the only one in the vicinlying on the tables. In others, lace ity which has not been partially wrecked curtains are hanging by broken window- by German shells. frames, and bureau drawers are half- scarred with shrapnel and Aying shell drawn out as though to allow the hasty fragments, are not in use; the secretaries snatching of a few belongings; in one are sleeping underground in what was room is a little cradle with the coverlet once a wine-cellar, with the floor above still thrown across.
Tragedy every them sandbagged and bomb-proofed. where, and desolation.
They tell us, to our surprise, that the We walk down to the central square; seemingly deserted city is filled with gaunt ruins are all that is left of what
troops; we learn that under the city is were once magnificent old public build a vast network of labyrinthine cellars
Vou. CXXXVI.—No. 813.-46
and connecting passages, and in these certain famous ridge which we came to underground mazes, with the rats and one evening about sunset.
We were vermin, the soldiers are living. No won- crossing a battle-field but freshly taken der that that little friendly Y. M. C. A. from the enemy; it was like a nightmare building is thronged with troops night of desolation. The trees had been mostly after night. We hear that in some way, shot away; only a few dead trunks and I know not how, the secretaries managed twisted limbs remained. Picking our to secure last week 15,000 fresh eggs way past great shell craters, many of which they supplied to the troops going them twenty feet in diameter and twelve
feet deep, we came finally to what was left of the old English frontline trenches. There they still were, damaged and broken by shell - fire, but plainly visible, where poor human beings had lived for months. We start across into what was No Man's Land; there is not a yard of earth here that has not received a direct hit; the ground is as tossed and broken as the surface of a storm-beaten ocean. The stench of the dead is still in the air; the horror is indescribable. We pass the remains of
a body; a can of beef SPARRING ON A Y. M. C. A. FIELD IN FRANCE
and a clip of shells is still beside it. The
ground, plowed and up to the trenches; they are giving churned by titanic forces, is a terrible out ninety gallons of hot coffee every mass of twisted barbed-wire entanglenight. We ask what chance for rest ments, steel shell fragments, timbers and they have, and are told that a few days bits of concrete emplacements, pieces of before one of them spent his time un- clothing, shrapnel, broken rifles, unexloading boxes of supplies from five in ploded bombs, rifle-shells, human blood the afternoon until three the next morn and bones—all shattered and ghastly ing, and turned in at last, only to be and horrible. We are in front of the Engcalled out a few moments later by the lish batteries and can hear the English arrival of fresh troops, whom he spent projectiles go whining and hurtling over the rest of the morning serving. As our heads. The German shells come we watch them at their work we begin screaming back, seeking out the English to understand that a cup of hot coffee batteries, and throwing high into the air and a bit of cheery atmosphere may great columns of earth and smoke. Farsometimes preach the most eloquent of ther and farther we make our way up sermons.
toward the present front line; the atStill nearer the firing-line, often only mosphere grows so unhealthy with flying a few hundred yards back of the front- shrapnel and bursting shells that we are line trenches, are the little Y. M. C. A. not sorry to reach the little red-triangle dugouts for serving the troops as they sign beside the entrance to a dugout; enter and leave the trenches. I think we dive into the dugout, feeling our way of a typical dugout near the crest of a down the steep steps. At first we can