News from the Front - 12th C.M.R. / Running a Y.M.C.A. Hut.
Red Deer News published Wednesday, May 31, 1916
Sunday, April 23, 1916
Transcribed by: M. I. Pirie
France, April 23, 1916
Dear Ones at Home,
Another week has rolled past so I decided I had better write you another line. In my last I told you I had started to work in a Y.M.C.A. hut, and expected to be running one for myself in a short time. Well, I'm sure running one by myelf now -- just moved up here today, and I am the only man on the job. Tomorrow, I will have someone with me.
I suppose you people wonder what we do in a "Y" here in France. Well I will try and give you some idea. In the hut I just left, which by the way, was quite a large one, about 125 feet long by 25 feet wide, frame, we ran a canteen, in which we sold canned fruits, in fact, all kinds of canned goods, tobacco, candles, matches, tea, cake, biscuits, etc., in other words anything we think the fellows will need. The hut was in a Rest Hut Camp where two battalions of men are quartered. These men, like me, get paid 15 francs, twice a month, or three dollars every two weeks. If the canteen were not there they would spend that money with the Belgian and French people, for eggs, chips, and other things at about twice what they are worth, or for French beer and wine. (Eggs, by the way, they soak us 5c apiece of 60c per dozen, for.) By having "Ys" in these camps, the men buy extras at the same price as in England.
Further, it furnishes a place where they can come and write letters, hear a good concert, on an afternoon or evening. Sundays, of course, there is church parade in the huts. Also we have moving pictures, in many of the rest camps where the men can take in a show. This is a funny war! A lot of people would say men did not come out here to go to shows and have a good time,-- we all know we didn't come for that! I think I said in one of my letters that this is a war of mental fatigue, while wars previous to this were wars of physical fatigue. Now the men at the head of things have come to realize that such is the case, and when men are back in rest billets, they do their best to make them forget what they have just come through. A fellow goes to a show, after a trip up the line, gets his mind on the show, off himself and surroundings, and that is rest to the mind, similar to a good night's sleep, after a hard day's work.
Within a certain distance of the firing line, the civilian population has cleared out but here there are battalion after battalion of men in reserve, dugouts, etc. These places can be hit by shell fire, but not by small field artillery. Further, these dugouts, etc., are built in sheltered and screened positions, i.e. along a hedge. Now, for Fritz to shell them he has to use heavy artillery, it would take a great many shots to find the right place and range, and as that is too expensive he leaves them alone.
Now men in these dugouts have no place where they can buy anything in the way of extras. The Y.M.C.A. steps in and puts in a canteen and reading room, and in one of these places I am writing this brief letter. Let me picture it to you. It is a brick building; in one end of it is an old bake oven, while in the other is a stable of some kind, all cleaned up. There is a good chimney in the place and I have a bright open fire burning in the front of the old bake oven, made of boxes. The smoke goes up the chimney, so it's jake. We brought up a load of stock today, and it is arranged on a shelf, and in boxes along one side of the room. There is a counter in front of this, on which by candle light, I am writing this. The other room we will fix it up with tables, for reading and writing. A Captain Herd came up with me today but went back. He and Captain Wallace are coming up tomorrow, and I will give them this to mail. I think I told you how busy we were at the other hut, but this will be as bad when we get going, so my letters may be a little brief in future. However, you people want to write often.