June 6, D-Day, has a good cause to be remembered by people all over the world, especially in the Britain, France, Germany and America. It was the dramatic turning point leading to the end of Second World War in 1944, as a million soldiers, sailors and airmen risked their lives to invade the occupied Normandy beaches, forcing German troops to retreat.
June is also a historic day for the YMCA. On June 6, 1844, George Williams and a small group of men formed YMCA in a small room above a shop in St Paul's churchyard in the heart of London. In 1944, the YMCA celebrated its 100th Anniversary on Sunday June 4th at St Paul’s Cathedral, in the heart of war-torn London.
Today in 2004, it is 60 years on from the D-Day and 160 years of the YMCA movement.
Kenneth D Ling MBE, who has been running with the YMCA ministry for 64 years, shares his times with the YMCA during the wars. Now he is the YMCA Regional President of Yorkshire and North East Lincolnshire YMCA.
Ling describes the war-torn London during the Second World War. On that year, he was invited to attend the centenary service at St Paul’s. “My first trip on the underground was an eye opener! The station platforms were crowded with people -not commuters- but families camped out night after night, hoping to stay safe from the air raids,” he said.
On that “dry and rather cool” Sunday, the service was unforgettable for him. Due to the war, there were sadly only a small number of delegates from YMCAs across the world. The attendants included the King and Queen as well as a large number of military personnel.
He was fortunate to be seated in a prime position near the center of the great dome - directly opposite the pulpit and received the address from the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple.
“Dr Temple painted a dramatic picture of how the YMCA was born just beyond the steps of St Paul's, when YMCA founder, George Williams, inspired a dozen or so young drapers' assistants to establish the Movement.”
“He told the story of how - from such humble beginnings - the YMCA grew into a worldwide Movement, with the red triangle a recognized symbol of hope across the globe, and a haven of comfort to war-battered soldiers,” Ling recalls the graceful speech.
Just on the next day of the centenary service, a big announcement was made: D-Day had begun and the war in Europe was soon to be over. Ling said he would never forget that weekend.
The YMCA has a long-standing contribution of providing welfare and relief to people caught up in conflicts, as well as to soldiers and prisoners of war.
During the American Civil war the Movement pioneered work supporting young men facing the horrors of battle. This work continued when the First World War broke out. The YMCA provided huts for British troops wherever they were based, offering free food and drink, and vital supplies such as writing materials.
During the Second World War, the YMCA in England again offered support for soldiers, including free refreshments through its innovative mobile canteen service. These vehicles were also used to rescue workers and bombing raid victims.
A window in Westminster Abbey was erected in 1921 to record the vital role of the YMCA’s war work. Now, it is still working hard to help young people grow in Mind, Body and Spirit. In areas of conflict, YMCAs around the world are still meeting the needs of the victims.
Y Care International, the international development agency of the YMCA Movement in the UK and Ireland, works in thirty countries, including war zones in Africa and the Middle East.
Y Care, working with Monrovia YMCA, provides emergency food, shelter, medicine, and counseling for traumatized people in Liberia, West Africa, where the on-off civil war left an estimated one million people homeless.
East Jerusalem YMCA is located in one of the most dangerous places on the planet, the West Bank, the center of the Arab-Israeli conflict zone. It operates a variety of programs to respond to the needs of the troubled Palestinian people, including providing vocational training, sports and recreational facilities, and rehabilitation support.
The world-changing events of D-Day celebrated its 60th Anniversary, which means the YMCA has reached its 160th year of ministry. Lings concludes that the YMCA has changed, developed and become transformed with the passing of time.
“Yet some things have not changed, the YMCA is still a magnificent organization performing incredible life changing work across the world,” he testified.