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Barrowby Memorial Hall

While many towns and villages erected money for a cross or sculpture to commemorate those who died fighting in the First World War there were people who thought that such money could be better spent.

Ivor Perry, when researching the history of the Memorial Hall in Wymeswold, Leicestershire, discovered that letters to the vicar from the YMCA had survived.

    '... the vicar received a letter written on 22nd March 1919 by the County Secretary of the Young Men's Christian Association, P. Escott-North. The YMCA had been started in 1844 by young male shop workers who met for Bible readings and prayer. In the mid-1800s it had grown rapidly to become an international organisation. During the war, it had been very active in providing rest and recreation facilities for the troops behind the lines. The YMCA was quick to respond to the welfare needs of the troops, and the first centre was opened in June 1915. The same month saw the opening of a hostel in France for the relatives of wounded soldiers.

    'The YMCA centres – sometimes just a makeshift shelter within the range of enemy guns – were all staffed by volunteers. Most of the staff were women, but there were also a number of men who were either too old or physically unfit for active service. At any one time, there were as many as 1,500 volunteers on the Western Front. The YMCA logo – the 'Red Triangle' – was distinctive, trusted and held in great affection by the men. In particular, the YMCA had acquired great experience in providing 'YMCA huts' – or 'Institutions' as the YMCA called them – that the soldiers relied on for tea and sandwiches, and conversation. They were islands of rest in a sea of destruction and confusion.[...]'

    'Escott-North's letter of 22nd March seems to have been unsolicited – we might even call it 'junk mail' today. There is no suggestion that he knew Rev Edmunds. He opens by explaining that the 'enclosed literature'... shows how the YMCA is taking 'immediate steps to meet the expressed needs of the smaller communities'. Wymeswold itself had not expressed any needs to the YMCA, because he goes on to say:

      '"I do not know if any steps have as yet been taken in Wymeswold to mark the appreciation of its inhabitants of the self-sacrifice of those of its sons who have fallen in the terrible strife of the last few years, but the probability is that if you are not already considering a War Memorial, you soon will be, and I beg therefore to draw your attention to the enclosed particulars of our Scheme which will acquaint you with it in broad outline."

    'The YMCA was certainly in tune with the mood of the country. At least, with the mood of the civilian population. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that many ex-servicemen were less enthusiastic for monuments and memorials. For four years, millions of young men had been trained to kill. Their lives had been dominated by anger, fear, and the indescribable sights and sounds of violent and bloody death. There are many accounts of former soldiers who would remember their comrades over a pint with other veterans, but who saw little point in the vast public outpouring of grief. Nevertheless, the move towards remembrance was powerful and unstoppable. The Cenotaph was unveiled in London in 1920 – the same year that the Unknown Warrior was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey.

(Perry 2014 p189–90)

Perry continues to describe how the vicar supported the YMCA's approach and, in due course, Wymeswold's Memorial Hall was built and opened in 1920. Presumably Barrowby Memorial Hall and Great Gonerby Memorial Hall had a similar genesis. Whether Excott-North's responsibilities extended into Lincolnshire is a moot point. If not there would have been a counterpart responsible for Lincolnshire.

I am not aware of anyone else who has written in detail about how Memorial Halls were 'promoted' by the YMCA so I have made the relevant chapter of Perry's book available as a PDF.

If anyone reading this can provide dates and other information about the improvements to Barrowby Memorial Hall then please email me:– bobtrubs@indigogroup.co.uk.

Barrowby Parish Council has a brief web page about Barrowby Memorial Hall.

If you think I've got something wrong – or can add additional information or photographs – then please email me:– bobtrubs@indigogroup.co.uk.

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