Braving the Blitz to help the homeless

Derek James pays tribute to the role played by the YMCA in the war effort.

They were angels of mercy when the city was on its knees and fighting for its life...the men and women of the YMCA.

During the Norwich Blitz, this month in 1942, volunteers were working in relays from six vans, reporting for duty while the bombs were still dropping... with little thought for their own safety.

The courageous help given to the injured and homeless by the volunteers as the city burned must never be forgotten.

Out in the countryside, they were vital links with the outside world.

It is seventy years since the YMCA played such a crucial role in the war effort across Norwich and Norfolk, helping locals and troops with its iconic tea cars.

Now an exhibition looking at those days is being held in the restaurant at the YMCA's restaurant at 48 St Giles Street, Norwich, next week.

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And an appeal has been put out for anyone with pictures, memorabilia or stories of the YMCA in and around the Second World War to help provide material or stories for the exhibition.

While it already has plenty of material for the exhibition, the YMCA would love people to open their own private collections and share them with rest of us. Back in 1940 the Evening News was reporting how mobile canteens from the Norwich YMCA would head for isolated troops in the Norfolk countryside.

Two large vans, village stores on wheels, visited the larger units and took them piping hot tea, cakes, cigarettes, milks, stamps, soap etc. Watches were taken to be repaired, socks darned and letters posted.

A smaller tea car visited all the most inaccessible units, hidden away in hidden corners – preparing to face the enemy.

The free exhibition will be held over three days, from Tuesday April 12 to Thursday April 14, and will be open, along with the restaurant, between 10am until 1.30pm. All are welcome to pop in for a cup of tea, a cake and to share some memories. But if you have anything which can be used in the exhibition, or ideas for suitable menu items, please get in touch with Susie Knights on 01603 630049, extension 127, or 07967 741103 or email