Today is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. One thing that US troops – like their British comrades – could be thankful for in the Great War was the Young Men’s Christian Association, the YMCA. The presence of American servicemen and their YMCA in London is marked by a plaque on Aldwych – the site of the ‘Eagle Hut’.
The YMCA supplied British servicemen away from home in the UK and overseas with a place to eat, drink, relax, and write letters home. As American troops arrived in large numbers, the organisation committed to supplying a home from home for them in England’s capital.
Operating from mid-August 1917, the YMCA’s Eagle Hut was officially opened on 3 September by US ambassador W.H. Page (as seen in this Pathe film).The Eagle Hut was established by four American businessmen based in London: E.C. Carter, Robert Grant, Grant Forbes and Francis E Powell. It stood at the point where the Indian High Commission and some of Bush House now stand, slightly west of the bottom of Kingsway on the north side of Aldwych.The hut served around two million meals in the two years it operated – from August 1917 to August 1919. It was said to serve 3,000 per day, 4-5,000 on busy days. American pancakes were the most popular items offered, with 1,000 sold every day, as well as 13-15,000 ice creams per week during the summer.
The hut was run by 800 of volunteers – most of them women – and included 410 beds for servicemen staying overnight. It also had a billiard room, and other games were played – including a Kaiser-bashing game:
That day, the King and Queen also paid a visit. 7,662 meals were sold – while the King tried out one of those American pancakes.
As well as sports, food, and accomodation, the Hut also provided information for the troops. The YMCA also organised theatre trips and sight-seeing trips for them, to places like Kew, Windsor, St Paul’s, the Tower of London and the Old Cheshire Cheese pub.In August 1919, the hut finally closed its doors. A dance was held to mark the occasion. A decade later, the then US amassador, A.B. Houghton, unveiled a plaque to be placed in the wall of the buildings on the site of the Eagle Hut, paid for by the ‘Eagle Hutters’, a group of American businessmen who had volunteered at the Hut during the war.
Links to information and pictures:
Times 26/8/1919 and 7/10/1927