Thursday, 21 April 2016

A Y.M.C.A. Hut at the Front

From the Halifax Courier, 8th April 1916.


Dear Sir,—It is not unknown to Halifax friends that my son, Rev. A. C. Lawson; M.A., is in charge of a Y.M.C.A. hut "somewhere in France."  He has the distinction of being located "the nearest to the Germans" of any of the huts along our front.  Through the kindness of a returned fellow-worker, I know he is "in the thick of it."  His hut is as near to our artillery as the Halifax Town Hall is to the Technical School, and as near to the trenches as the Town Hall is to the West End Park.  In consequence, when men are released from their "shifts" they rush to his hut where, with his three orderlies, he supplies their first longings to write home in comfort, or to lean on a counter and demand attention.  You can guess the extent to which they crowd the place (it is a barn) when I mention that he takes on the average 700 francs a day in small sums.  One day, running short of small change, he lit a taper, and under the counter found five francs' worth of small coin, dropped by hands fumbling from cold.  He gets his share of enemy shells, escaping in hotter moments to an underground part.  He is in the midst of Halifax men, and gets their free speech, which he likes, being a Halifax man himself.  If he can't serve a clamatory customer just at the moment, the next demand may reach him thus: "Come on, Halifax."  Some good man of your town, unknown to me, has supplied him with a brazier, which is of great service.

He has written me several times expressing a wish for a gramophone and some mouth organs.  Will your readers reflect what a gramophone and records might mean to their sons and brothers out there?  I have not seen a way to supply him until this morning when, at the end of four refreshing days in Halifax, a good lady of your town urged me to appeal, through you, to your marvellous "Fund for Soldiers' Comforts."  If you could kindly insert this in your Fund column, and let it go forth as an appeal for Halifax lads at the front, with the hope that some reader would communicate with you and say: "Here's the gramophone, and here are the records," and if you would kindly insert their dispatch to him in your excellent operations, he would say again, as of the giver of the brazier:  "There are, I find, plenty of good Halifax people besides those we know."  I must not quote at length, however tempting, his many references to those he meets and serves.  But there is one sentence: "The boys are a treat to work for, and I could not wish to meet better fellows.  The two-and-ninepennies will have to be a good lot to beat them."

My long connection with Ovenden Congregational Church, and my son's close connection with your brave lads, is my ground of appeal to your Fund and the well-proved loyalty of Halifax.—I am, yours sincerely,
Boston Spa. April 6.
[Offers should only be addressed please to the. Fund Manager, Courier Office].

[I have no idea what the "two-and-ninepennies". were.  Any ideas?]  


  1. I wonder if that might be a reference to other military units, such as "Triple Nickel" referred to a unit designated 555th something or other.

    1. Could be. In another context, it would refer to the price of seats in the cinema, but that would be later - two and ninepence sounds far too expensive for 1916, and it doesn't make sense anyway. Here, it sounds as though it might be referring to the Germans, but it's obviously not one of the usual nicknames. Presumably, it was intended to be understood by the Halifax Courier readers, so wouldn't be just Army slang.