YMCA remembers the Battle of the Somme


1916, France --- British machine gunners firing during the Battle of the Somme.  The battle was costly in terms of casualties, particularly for the British army; some 60,000 soldiers were lost in a single day of the July offensive.  The first Allied offensive of the Battle of the Somme failed to break through German lines and thereby break the gridlock of the gruelling and costly trench warfare of the First World War.  In September 1916 the British army used tanks for the first time on the Somme.  A last major German offensive was launched on the Somme in March 1918 but was halted.  By October the Battle of the Somme had ended: 650,000 Germans, 195,000 French and 420,000 British soldiers had been killed for an eight mile British advance over a period of four months --- Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS

The Battle of the Somme started on 1 July 1916 and resulted in the loss of more than 1.5 million men from both the Allies and Central Powers. People from across the UK will be commemorating this anniversary with a number of events over the same weekend this year, including a vigil at Westminster Abbey and a parade and special church service in Manchester.

We’re proud to say that YMCA will be represented at all of these events commemorating those who served in the forces during the war. In addition, in Heaton Park, in Manchester, a Memorial Pathway, called The Path of the Remembered, will see individuals and organisations put forward 5,000 designs for terracotta tiles with images of people, events and organisations that were involved in the Battle of the Somme will also be built.

Did you know?

  • YMCA operated 2,000 War Centres or ‘huts’ during World War One serving two million hot drinks weekly on the front line.
  • It was from our YMCA War Centres that YMCA volunteers delivered hot soup to the men in the trenches, including during the Battle of the Somme.
  • Perhaps the most famous of these War Centres was the ‘Shakespeare Hut’, actually based in Gower Street, in London. It ran from 1916 and was used as a place for entertainment but also for accommodation for soldiers and sailors who had nowhere to go in the capital. It was reported in The Times newspaper in 1918 that up to 2,000 men were sleeping in the hut every week. After the war, this Shakespeare Hut was used as student accommodation and eventually money raised from their rents went to form the New Shakespeare Company.

Story of our people

Albert Mason fought and was blinded in the Battle of the Somme. Albert was a resident of Central YMCA and, after the battle, was honoured alongside 300 other servicemen and 12 women for gallantry and good work in wartime. Led up to King George V, he was permitted a moment to talk to the monarch, an honour for someone of his standing.
Another lovely story comes from a mother of one soldier who wrote to YMCA to say:
‘I want to thank you for what your association has done for my boy. When the war broke out he went to the Crystal Palace for his training and found the YMCA there a boon. He was sent to Blandford to complete his training and YMCA was there. He was drafted to Gallipoli and to his amazement he found the YMCA on the peninsular. He was wounded and sent to Suez where once more the YMCA was a great help to him and yesterday I received a letter from him from Alexandria to say he was convalescing and spending the whole of his spare time in the YMCA building.’