YMCA Scotland Remembers

11 November 2016

“Give us something nippy, miss”

As the world remembers those who have died. YMCA Scotland also remembers those YMCA workers and volunteers who used their talents to comfort servicemen as they fought in the trenches and in times of death. Lena Ashwell was one of these determined and talented people.

She wrote “The YMCA realised in the early days of the war that the needs of our men would include not only food and shells, guns and hospital stores, but some of the amenities of civilisation-food for the mind and spirit as well as the body. It was when the war was six months old that the “concerts on the front “were started at the invitation of the Ladies Auxiliary Committee, whose Chairman is H.H princess Victoria of Schleswig-Holstein”

Lena Ashwell was determined to bring the very best of music and theatre to the troops through these concerts.

Lena Ashwell, OBE(28 September 187213 March 1957), British actress and actor-manager, known as the first to organize large-scale entertainment for troops at the front, which she did during World War I. She was also heavily involved in supporting the Three Arts Women's Employment Fund (also supported by Elizabeth Asquith) and helped to stage productions to raise funds. She is pictured here wearing an overall at the work rooms of the Fund surrounded by toys made by the workers. Date: 1915

Lena Ashwell, OBE(28 September 187213 March 1957), British actress and actor-manager, known as the first to organize large-scale entertainment for troops at the front, which she did during World War I. She was also heavily involved in supporting the Three Arts Women’s Employment Fund (also supported by Elizabeth Asquith) and helped to stage productions to raise funds. She is pictured here wearing an overall at the work rooms of the Fund surrounded by toys made by the workers. Date: 1915

“We have only sent out good music, good literature: we find that nothing else is wanted-we only offer the best. The men do not want what is ugly or base, and it is difficult to make people at home realise how much what is beautiful and joyous means to the men who have literally nothing but the bare necessities of life-and death.

“You don’t know what it means to us” is said over and over again by the men themselves, their officers and “padres”. But we do know what it means to them when we see men standing in long queues outside the huts in the sleet and rain for hours waiting to get into the concerts”

The concerts were put on in huts, warehouses, fields, barns and roadsides to name but a few and whenever possible music was brought to the beds of dying men.

Somewhere in France - a concert behind the lines. A concert troupe or divisional entertainment company often made up of a mix of professional and amateur actors, entertaining Allied troops on the Western Front. Here the entertainers are dressed convincingly in drag. There were a number of troupes including the Whizzbangs, the Verey Lights and The Duds. Date: 1915

Somewhere in France – a concert behind the lines. A concert troupe or divisional entertainment company often made up of a mix of professional and amateur actors, entertaining Allied troops on the Western Front. Here the entertainers are dressed convincingly in drag. There were a number of troupes including the Whizzbangs, the Verey Lights and The Duds. Date: 1915

The Army recognised the great military value of this work, and as the world remembers those that died, these YMCA stories give a clearer picture of how comfort was brought during these times.

“They are never too ill to enjoy beautiful music or even join in a favorite chorus song…. A dying man said to the violinist, ‘Give us something nippy, miss’ and passed away as she played a happy tune”

Information gathered as part of YMCA Scotland’s Sharing the Past to Shape the Future HFL funded young roots project

Source – Told In the Huts – A YMCA Gift Book

Further information about Lena Ashwell can be found in this blog

A group at Lena Ashwell's special matinee at the Lyric Theatre on 29 June 1917, in aid of the Concerts at the Front Fund. A number of society ladies took part and the scene depicted shows the Swinburne Ballet which was a special feature of the entertainment. In the centre is Lady Diana Manners, later Lady Duff Cooper. Numerous matinee performances such as this were organised and acted out by society ladies during the First World War. Date: 1917

A group at Lena Ashwell’s special matinee at the Lyric Theatre on 29 June 1917, in aid of the Concerts at the Front Fund. A number of society ladies took part and the scene depicted shows the Swinburne Ballet which was a special feature of the entertainment. In the centre is Lady Diana Manners, later Lady Duff Cooper. Numerous matinee performances such as this were organised and acted out by society ladies during the First World War. Date: 1917

 

Sharing the Past to Shape the Future is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.