YMCA & Red Cross Service in WW1

YMCA at work

YMCA Workers entertaining the troops,  

Photo Courtesy of Indiana War Memorial Archives


Grace Leigh Scott, YMCA, Floyd County, Indiana

A graduate of DePauw University, a concert singer who made her debut as a soprano in Chicago:

“The year spent in France was filled with unforgettable experiences. Impressions were made which grew into convictions that ultimately took me out of the concert field and into the less familiar paths of ethical training and character education. War, close up, is a fearsome thing…. I sang in many hospitals, sometimes in amputation wards were every patient had lost an arm or leg, or both. No song in my heart - yet a poor maimed chap say ‘I guess it was worth it, if it puts an end to war.’

To see the agony of bodies swollen with mustard gas and finally see men and shipped back home mental and physical wrecks, was to realize the cruelty and barbaric methods of modern warfare. Who could ever forget Armistice Day in Paris, when the maimed were hauled through the streets on pieces of old artillery, waving flags of victory to the cheering multitudes? Victory? At what a price! A price that can never be paid. To ruthlessly destroy the finest and fittest stock of nations is a sin against posterity.

After a long tour of Army camps where we delighted in many in formal programs singing with and for the men, all their favorites, my voice became tired, and I returned to Paris to rest it. Here I was invited to do some social work that brought me face-to-face with war problems of another sort, social evils which results to continue long after the war has become history. A soldier said, ‘We were better prepared to fight battles in the trenches then these battles behind the lines.’

My war diary contains many warnings from those who recognize a widespread moral slump. In facing death, and dangers worse than death, men awakened to the need of building a stronger morale in our nation. It was at their suggestion, that I came back to put aside music and get a message from them, one born of the seriousness of war: ‘Save America by building into its youth the finest ideals of character and good citizenship. Teach by precept and example the fine art of living.’”

Mildred Dilling, Marion, Grant County, Indiana

".....Prominent American harpist... A skilled performer..... Enthusiastic collector of old and interesting harps, the oldest in her collection, made long before harps were big enough to stand up alone, dates back to the 16th century. One of the most unusual ones belong to Evangeline Booth...... only teacher of Harpo Marx.


Halcy Stehman, Nurse, Hamilton County, Indiana

"It was a time of excitement, activity and usefulness in many ways....It was interesting to see the part the Red Cross played at camp, and to watch different organizations on the parade ground."


Mary Sample, YMCA, Hancock County, Indiana

“Can a hundred conflicting feelings be compressed into a single line? Can the elation of THEN be reconciled to the disillusionment of AFTER and the half-satisfied, half-cynical acceptance of NOW? It was a tremendous experience! I had not tried anything very big before. For the first time in my life, I bumped against something entirely too big for me to lick. In my efforts to make at least a scratch on the surface, I often found myself doing more than I had ever thought possible, physically, and my Celtic capacity for enthusiasm and idealism knew no bounds. That it was always getting ‘nipped’ by carping criticism, cases of buck-passing, wire-pulling, little straws which prepared me for acceptance of the fact that this war had not ended war. But there was a gain: we had meant to end it; we had tried our utmost, according to the light we then saw.”

“Irene Castle was a passenger on our ship (September, 1918), great was the excitement among the 3000 doughboys. We were nearing the submarine zone, and the lookouts were constantly watching the horizon. Imagine our amusement when we glanced up one day to see their binoculars converging on the shapely ankles of the Irene as she reclined on a deck chair below, as the irresistible apex of an isosceles triangle, and to hell with the submarines!

“Several Japanese diplomats were passengers on our transport. We women excited their curiosity: they couldn't understand why we were being taken over. After patient explanations as to our mission, one shook his head comprehendingly. ‘Ah, American geisha girls….’”

YMCA unloading boxes for the troops.

YMCA Secretaries unloading candles and tobacco for Regimental Warehouses supplying 3rd, 4th, 26th, 33rd, 79th, 88th and 91st Divisions, also 6th, 7th and 8th Hospital Units, 13th Engineers and several other units. Most of these men are gray haired and others could not pass the physical examination for military service, France.

Photo courtesy of Indiana War Memorial archives


35,000 unpaid volunteers and 26,000 paid staff served in the YMCA during the First World War assisting the needs of the 4.8 million troops. They suffered 286 casualties and were awarded 319 citations and decorations including the French Legion d’Honneur, Order of the British Empire and the Distinguished Service Cross and Distinguished Service medal.

  1. They operated 26 R&R leave centers, 1,500 canteens and 4,000 “huts” serving 2 million American servicemen.
  2. The YMCA awarded 80,000 educational scholarships to veterans after the Great War, a forerunner of the GI Bill.
  3. They also provided humanitarian services to more than 5 million prisoners of war on both sides.
  4. From the time the US entered the war, until the Armistice was declared, thirty-three YMCA workers, twenty-nine men and four women gave their lives serving abroad..

YMCA assisting the troops in Europe

YMCA workers carrying supplies to the troops.

IWM photo

YWCA sleeve patch






YMCA Sleeve Patch

IWM Museum Collection

Harold Morton Kramer, United War Work Campaign, YMCA Secretary, Clinton County, Indiana

Served two months in the YMCA work at Camp Zachary Taylor, Louisville Kentucky, and then sailed for Bordeaux France, December 7, 1917 on the French liner Espagne. Arrived at Bordeaux , December 17, 1917. Preceded at once to Paris and served on duty there until January 2, 1918. Preceded to Colombey-les-Belles (Meurthe et Moselle), arriving January 4. Remain there until March 20 in charge and YMCA hut, frequently raided by German airmen. Transferred to Neufchateau hut work. In June, transferred to lecture department, and toured the fighting front in France and was sent to England and Scotland, where he served with the American sailors. Ordered home late in August, 1918, to serve in the United War Work campaign. Sailed from Liverpool, England, August 26, on American transport, Louisville. Arrived New York September 6, and shortly afterward took the platform for the United War Work campaign and served until the signing of the armistice. While serving along the fighting front was frequently under fire.

Adriana Louise Studebaker, American Red Cross, St. Joseph County, Indiana 

Served with Smith College Relief Unit and Canteen Service in France:

"An exciting, dramatic nightmare, a horrible waste of men and money. Mob insanity, built by propaganda... most of the girls 'upfront' in mud and cold lost their health."  Amusing:  "the inevitable proposals - and those who took them seriously, poor damsels!"


Arthur Forrest Curran, Sergeant Major, Grant County, Indiana

“After the armistice was signed, I began rehearsing a glee club in Langres, France, which was trained by Mr. W. P. McCormick and later known as McCormick's Seventeen Bunkies. Shortly after January 1, 1919, we started on a tour for the YMCA which took us all over France, from Brest to Nice. This small company returned as a unit as a Casual Co. and did entertainment work on the ship coming home."

YMCA uniform


YMCA Uniform

Indiana War Memorial Museum Collection








Hazel Hulva, YMCA, Ambulance Driver, Marion County, Indiana

Enlisted in 1916 with Ambulance Drivers, YMCA, NY City but cleared through Indianapolis & Chicago Committee, September, 1918. Served at Dijon & Is-sur-Tille, France. “Just one big impression of sacrifice and giving at that time.”

James Garfield Murray, YMCA, Marion County, Indiana

I was one of the 57 American YMCA men who had a narrow escape from the ship “Oronso” on the morning of April 28, one mile off the Irish Coast. The ship sank ten minutes after being torpedoed by German submarine.


Carina Eaglesfield, YMCA,  Marion County, Indiana

Served at Chaumont, Doulaincourt & Stenay, France and Luxembourg, Belgium. “Interesting, but war is futile and absolutely wasteful.”


Gertrude Upjohn, Army Nurse Corps, Jasper County, Indiana

"I appreciated the opportunity of service. I hugely enjoyed my service during the war. Red Cross did many things to make her stay in service a most pleasant one."

Isabel Graf, YMCA Secretary, Miami County, Indiana

“My service was combined Business-Canteen. I was in the office “Y” headquarters, Base Section 1, St. Nazaire, during the day, and helped at various camps in the section evenings, Sunday, etc. Of course, the chief problem after the Armistice was keeping the boys occupied while they were waiting in the camps to get home – that and helping them get home.

Indiana War Memorials