YMCA Norfolk IT systems trainer Ann Symonds took part in Sunday’s Remembrance Day parade at the Cenotaph in central London to honour the remarkable contribution of the YMCA’s 38,000 YMCA courageous war-time volunteers.
Ann (pictured above) was selected as one of a group of 18 from the YMCA, invited by the Royal British Legion to take part. Her participation was particularly appropriate this year as YMCA Norfolk is marking 160 years of service, including during both world wars.
“No matter what I say about the day, what words I use to describe how I felt that morning, it will not do it justice,” said Ann. “It was a perfect cold clear morning as I walked over Waterloo Bridge on my way to Trafalgar Square to meet the rest of the party.
“I was immediately aware of the number of veteran soldiers coming together, of the camaraderie, of the vast number of shiny medals on display and the start of the feeling of being very small in this unusual arena.
“We took our place in row M at 9.05am and watched the ranks assemble around us, with great humour, goodwill and the feeling of inclusion from those around us.
“At 11am, a canon fired and Big Ben struck the first chime simultaneously. London fell silent. After two minutes the Last Post rang out around Whitehall and there wasn’t a dry eye to be seen.
“We moved off at around 12.30pm to lay our wreath. The atmosphere in the “Hollow Square” (the area, enclosed by soldiers, around the Cenotaph) was beyond intense. The military band playing, the crowd clapping, the sheer number of wreaths around the Cenotaph. It was overwhelming,” said Ann.
“We rounded the corner at the bottom of Whitehall and turned “eyes right” to the Prince of Wales taking the salute. And then it was over, a morning spent remembering is one that I will never forget.”
Key facts about YMCA during the First World War:
- YMCA was the largest provider of civilian support to troops during the First World War
- More than 38,000, mostly female, YMCA volunteers gave up their time, and in many cases risked their lives, to provide support to soldiers on the front line or on leave, as well as to munitions workers and families back home
- A total of 38 YMCA workers who were killed in action or died from illness or accident during active service were buried in official war graves recognised by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
- An American YMCA worker, Moina Michael, is credited with first coming up with the idea of wearing a poppy as an act of remembrance.