The YMCA in Fovant during the Great War
The aim of the Young Men’s Christian Association was to supply a place where young Christian men could gather together for Bible Study and prayer, and to provide what home comforts were possible for all. To this end there were ‘Quiet Tents or Huts’, huts for writing letters and reading, daily Bible Study and prayer groups, weekly meetings, occasional missions with outside Missioners, lectures and entertainment supplied both by the soldiers themselves and from visiting lecturers and concert parties. They sold essentials such as writing paper and envelopes, stamps, soft drinks and biscuits, Postal Orders, cigarettes, and many other services that might make the life of camp more bearable. There were letterboxes in each centre.
The YMCA insignia (the Red Triangle) still seen on the downs above Fovant was newly designed at the beginning of the war. The National Secretary of the YMCA, Arthur Yapp, pointed out that ‘we need something simple, distinctive, easily recognised and absolutely new.’
Eventually there were five YMCA huts at Fovant:
Central Hut (aka Camp 13, East Farm) leader – W.H. Foster (by 1921 James Edwards is leader according to T.S. Crawford in ‘Wiltshire and the Great War’)
Compton (No. 2 Hut) leader – Mr and Mrs A.K. Skinner. This hut was donated by Messrs Loder and Micoline. It was opened on April 28th 1916 by Mrs Frances Loder with a further cheque for £125 for extra accommodation and fittings.
Manor Farm (No 3 hut, Sutton Hut) leader – W.E. Short
West Farm Hut (No 4) leader – T. Short. These two huts were small at first but by 1917 had to be enlarged and the facilities extended.
Hurdcott (Camp 8) leader – T.E. Holland. This hut was first built for the British Regiments including London Rifle Brigade and Lancashire and Yorkshire Brigades. In August 1916 Hurdcott was taken over by the Australian Imperial Forces for the duration of the war. The Hut was quickly extended to accommodate the needs of the increased number of soldiers using it. In October 1917 the Special Committee of the YMCA, London received a letter from the Australian YMCA pointing out that they were paying 60% towards the cost of the Concert Parties on Salisbury Plain. After some careful discussion it was decided that the Australian YMCA should take charge of all their camps (including Hurdcott). Satisfactory arrangements were agreed. From them on the Australians organised their own concerts and entertainments. Hurdcott had their own touring troupe called the Kangaroos that were billed as ‘the Costume Comedy Concert Company’ and appeared at Salisbury New Theatre in May 1918.
In 1916 Guest Hut was erected near the Hospital so people visiting sick and wounded soldiers, who were patients, could have somewhere to stay. All the available accommodation in the village had long been taken by officers’ wives and other people loosely attached to the Army. It cost £400 and many letters of appreciation were received for its services.