Former YMCA building

Former YMCA building

The YMCA played an important role in supporting those involved in the war. As a base for young men, many noted it as their enlistment address.

New central Auckland building

Purpose-built for the YMCA on the corner of Kitchener Street and Wellesley Street East, the building was originally five storeys and included a gymnasium and accommodation with 88 beds. Notable Edwardian Auckland architect Alexander Wiseman designed the building – he also designed the Auckland Ferry building in the same period. The Governor of New Zealand officially opened the building on 30 April 1913. Its grand scale and design reflects the importance of the YMCA in that period.

During the First World War, the YMCA was active at home and abroad. Its services were funded by the New Zealand Government and fundraising efforts at home. Funds were administered by the New Zealand National Council of YMCAs through a special war fund.

Central to young mens' lives

Some men who enlisted noted their enlistment address as YMCA, Auckland, New Zealand.

From 1915, every NZ Expeditionary Force travelling overseas included a YMCA field secretary. They organised entertainment and recreation programmes, operated canteens, provided stationery, reading materials and athletic equipment, and assisted the wounded. The YMCA Hut served as the focal point for camp activities and a place for religious services. Soldiers wrote home about the valuable work done by the YMCA, such as this note from Private H Andrew in September 1917:

"It is a good institution, and the boys appreciate what they do very much. At one place we went to, near the firing line was a Y.M.C.A. in a small dugout in the side of a hill. Here they supplied, free of charge, to all passing troops a cup of hot tea or coffee and a cake or packet of biscuits. We happened to be on fatigue one night, and when we returned at about 2.30 a.m. the place was open, and we were able to get a hot drink. My word, it went well."

At home the YMCA provided makeshift dormitories, chapels and recreation centres, and often provided accommodation for returning servicemen. They also organised various fundraising events to support the war effort, including billiards tournaments.

After the war

In mid-March 1919, the YMCA's secretary was welcomed home. George Hughes sailed into Auckland aboard the Niagara. He had been supervising war work in England and France for the previous two years. On his return he thanked businesses who contributed supplies, and acknowledged the work being done by a group of New Zealand women in London, led by Auckland woman Mrs McHugh, known as the Women's International Street Patrol.

After the war, the YMCA helped to rehabilitate soldiers. The YMCA moved to a new building on Vincent Street in the early 1950s.

Images

Photo credits, text sources

Cover image

New Zealand soldiers enjoying mugs of tea at a roadside YMCA canteen near the front line at Gommecourt in France, 1918. The makeshift canteen is below ground level in a support line. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, Ref: 1/2-013531-G. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/22337824

Thumbnail image

Crowds gathered for the opening of the Y.M.C.A. building in Wellesley Street, Auckland, 1913. Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19130508-14-7.

Sources

Auckland Star newspaper

Colin Taylor, Body, mind, and spirit: YMCA Auckland: celebrating 150 years, 1855-2005 (Auckland: 2005).

Location

Khartoum Place, Auckland CBD