Thursday, 29 December 2016

A Day at the YMCA

YMCA Hut at Houghton Regis, 1917 [Z1130/63/26]

Friday 29th December 1916: An interesting letter has been received in Leighton Buzzard from a man well known in the town in which he describes his daily routing working for the Y.M.C.A. behind the firing line:

“First of all, I must tell you I am extremely fortunate in having a good billet; in other words, a bedroom containing a small, but comfortable bed and little else! This is situated some four minutes walk from the “hut”. There I rouse from my slumbers prompt at 8 a.m.; breakfast at 8.30 sharp. The meal is not an elaborate one – five days out of the seven just a savoury omelette (well cooked), a cup of excellent coffee and a roll; the latter made out of the semi white-brown flour a-la-regulation. Twice a week my good landlady digs up “poisson frais” usually a herring or a mackerel. Nine o’clock sees me on the way to work. Arrived on the scene of my labours the first job is to dust and sweep out the billiard room and reading room – two decent sized apartments some 22 feet square each. This takes a good hour, and, on the stroke of ten, we open for business. The billiard room is going all day without a solitary break, at the fixed price of 4d for each half hour.

I sally forth – up town – to purchase the rations necessary for the day. Ten forty-five sees me on the return journey with a savoy or cauliflower under one arm, a bag of potatoes under the other, the head of a fowl or some pork chops hanging out of one pocket, and a selection of groceries or other small sundries bulging the other pocket. I take my place at the canteen counter in lieu of the “chef”. Cups of tea, buttered rolls and buns, dolly cakes, tobacco, cigarettes, shaving and toilet soaps, bachelor’s buttons, chocolates, boot blacking, cough lozenges and sundry other things, too numerous to mention, are the staple articles we deal in; business is ever busy and the takings at the end of the day represent a good round sum.

At 1 p.m. the counter is closed for two hours. This allows us to take our mid-day meal in comparative peace, also to “wash up” and take a short stroll if the weather is favourable. Three o’clock sees us on duty again, with a steady run to closing time (8 p.m.). Tea is on the table at 4.30, and we generally entertain one or more visitors. At 5.40 one of us marches to the ticket office of a most excellent cinema, open each evening from 6 to 7.30 p.m. Here is generally a big rush, especially on Mondays and Thursdays, when fresh pictures are on the screen. On the close of the pictures there is the final big rush on the canteen, and the money rolls in, thick and fast, as bullets from a machine gun. At 8 p.m. prompt we call “Time”. I take myself to the billiard room, give the table a good brush down, cover up, dowse the lights, don my great coat and make tracks for the place I now call home. By 9 p.m. I am between sheets, a wee bit tired, but always merry and bright and ready for “tomorrow”. Such then is the daily routine of a Y.M.C.A. worker. Plenty of work; plain grub – and not too much of that – an easy conscience, no luxuries, mighty few comforts, plenty of gun-fire in the near distance, with an occasional aeroplane fight overhead for surplus excitement, and always in hopes, either of receiving a letter from “Blighty” or meeting some old time pal.”

Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer, 29th December 1916

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