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The Sydney YMCA and World War I



The story goes that an English lad, brought up on the land on his father’s farm, was sent to town with a load of hay. This young horse and cart driver wasn’t looking where he was going and so he managed to tip the load into a ditch. His father said “George is no farmer and to the city he shall go”. So young George was sent to London and became a draper. The lad was George Williams who, with eleven of his fellow drapers, began an association in London on June 6, 1844. The association was the Young Men’s Christian Association – the YMCA. [1]

Over 70 years later, with the outbreak of WWI, this organisation would become an integral part of the war effort through sustaining the morale of young men who faced the greatest challenge of their lives, lives which in many, many cases were tragically cut short. Like the war itself, the story of the YMCA stretched over many continents and many countries where the war was fought and from where young men came. This paper, however, will focus on impact of the YMCA and its WWI effort in one sending area of Australia, the state of NSW.

The Founding of the Sydney YMCA

The YMCA had an uncertain start in the colony of NSW when in June 1853, a letter appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) encouraging the formation of a YMCA along the lines of that which existed in Great Britain and in Melbourne.[2] In September 1853, the YMCA prospectus was published on the front page of the Sydney newspapers.  It advised that the YMCA was to be under the Presidency of John Fairfax and with no less than 18 clerical vice presidents. Their presence was designed to indicate the support of the protestant Christian churches (there were no Catholic priests listed) and to show that the new organisation would be no threat to them. The motivation for forming the organisation was: (more…)

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