We Shall Keep the Faith
who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet - to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.
cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valour led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.
the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honour of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.
Moina Michael, Nov 1918
war service during World War 1, the
Great War, is not so well documented. The first part of
this page (white) presents that information which we have
managed to obtain. The second part (grey) presents the
wider work of the YMCA internationally.
1914 - 1918
Robert Duncan, Aberdeen
YMCA General Secretary from 1912 - 1918, was a forward
thinking man who successfully led the YMCA throughout the
difficult years of World War 1. Mr Duncan was a forward
thinking visionary who, in 1914, with the outbreak of war led
the YMCA forward as it interrupted its usual programme to meet
the needs of the large number of Armed Service men stationed
in the city.
The YMCA institute and
halls, at 198 Union Street, opened daily to the armed
forces. Service to the soldiers included preparing in
excess of 700 meals daily, laundry, postal facilities, savings
bank (about £200 weekly), concerts and Christian services.
Ladies of the B.W.T.A. ran the canteen daily, under the
Convenership of Mrs George Murray, who received the hearty and
cordial acknowledgements of the citizens generally.
the Great War, members of the YMCA regularly prayed for the
50,000 Gordon Highlanders from the north-east who served in
the regular, territorial and service battalions. Approximately
27,000 were killed or wounded. All the fighting Gordons
saw action on the Somme.
So successful was Mr Duncan's leadership that by the end of
the Great War, Mr Duncan had already received an invite from YMCA Scotland
to become their Field Secretary which he took up in April
The war time programme was
continued for a considerable time after the declaration of
peace. During the period of demobilisation and the
visitation to the City of many men from overseas, the
adaptation of the programme became necessary to meet changing
needs. Hospitality was the chief problem and it soon
became obvious that Hostel accommodation had to be provided.
Right Hon Robert Munro KC,
opening the YMCA's Hostel at 4 Golden Square on 21 August 1918
commented that the war had revealed many precious things which
were formerly hidden from eyes. The fires of war had
burned up the dross and had left the pure gold, and one thing
it had revealed or strongly emphasised was the kindness and
humanity of our race. With the many and varied services
which rendered to the comfort and and cheer of our soldiers
there was no organisation which had been more closely
associated with the world conflict than the YMCA.
Mr Hughes, the Premier of
Australia, in the course of a short address, thanked the
citizens of Aberdeen for the kindness and consideration they
had shown to the Australian troops, treatment which, he
assured them, the soldiers greatly appreciated.
When the official story of the
war came to be written there were two symbols imperishably
associated with the great world conflict - the Red Triangle of
and the Red Cross. These two ministries had the world
for their parish and broken humanity for their congregation -
they had been, as it were, a golden thread running through a
world of weeping and suffering, and they had been a lamp which
would never be extinguished. The work of the YMCA was
the object of a wondering and admiring world.
WIDER WORK OF THE YMCA DURING WORLD WAR 1:
Did you know that the
Poppy originated as a YMCA idea?....
idea for the Memorial Poppy came to
Moina Michael whilst
working at the YMCA Overseas War Secretaries' headquarters
a Saturday morning in November 1918, two days before the
Armistice was declared at 11 o'clock on 11 November whilst the
25th Conference of the Overseas YMCA War Secretaries was in
magazine, she came across the poem
Canadian Lt Col John McCrae in 1915 at the second Battle of
which begins: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between
the crosses, row on row.” Immediately she made a
personal pledge to 'keep the faith' and vowed always to wear a
red poppy as a sign of rememberance. Compelled to make a
note of this pledge she hastily scribbled down her own
response We Shall Keep The Faith.
On the morning of
Saturday 9 November 1918 she received $10 from three men at
the 25th Conference in appreciation of her efforts in
brightening up the headquarters with flowers with which she
purchased 25 handmade poppies made by women from the
devastated areas of France. At the YMCA
Headquarters that evening, delegates from
the Conference crowded round her asking for poppies to wear.
Keeping one poppy for her coat collar she gave out the rest to
enthusiastic delegates. According to Moina, since this
was the first group-effort asking for poppies to wear in
memory of "all who died in Flanders Fields", and since this
group had given her the money with which to buy them, she
considered that she had consumated the first sale of Memorial
Poppies on 9 November 1918 at a conference of YMCA delegates.
Madame Guerin, of the French
could see something bigger in the concept and campaigned
vigorously to have the poppy accepted as the symbol of
In the aftermath of the Great War, discontent amongst veterans
led to the formation of a number of veterans organisations.
These merged in 1921 to form The British Legion. That year, the
first poppy day collection took place to raise funds to go
toward the charitable works of the Legion. By 2000, the
volunteers of The
Royal British Legion (as it became on its 50th
birthday in 1971) sold over
36 million poppies in the weeks before Remembrance Sunday
raising £20.1M for the Legion.
The poppy remains today a
symbol of bloody death, remembrance
and a defiant rebirth. The humble bloom has come to represent
both war and peace, hope and sacrifice. The humble bloom
possesses a universality, shared by few other such emblems.
It’s significance has its very origins in the work of the
Did you know that YMCAs
worldwide conducted a massive poster campaign to raise funds
to support the armed services in body, mind and spirit?....
With the money raised the
YMCA was able to launch a series of biblical tracts to
encourage armed forces and support them spiritually as well as
Huts were built across
northern Europe for providing armed forces with much needed
And stationary provided
for writing home to loved ones and relatives:
This photograph features
James Brechin of the 4th Gordon Highlanders holding a YMCA card
for the photograph.
(Thanks to John Brechin for permission to publish this
photograph of his grandfather):
|CLICK on any of the
documents below to read about our history in more detail:
A Guiding Light 1908-1958