21 September 2011

Who was George WWB Hughes?

Geo. W.W.B. Hughes in an undated photo. Location unknown.
Now that we are almost 10 letters into this project, it seems like a good time to give some biographical information on the author: Geo. WWB Hughes, also known as George Wall Wall Bagot Hughes.

As an overview, I'll quote directly from Noel Hughes, who wrote this about his father:
"George W.W.B. Hughes was one of the outstanding leaders during the early 1900's in both New Zealand and Australia. He was a Christian Gentleman who believed there was good in everyone. He was close to his church but preferred to work through a lay organization for the common and individual good. He was a friend to everyone he met, never uttering a harsh word in criticism.

"He availed himself of every opportunity to reach and serve people, occupying church pulpits on Sunday when asked, leading community singing, serving on committees and with all groups concerned for the public welfare. ...

"He became known throughout the world as one of the leading men in the Young Men's Christian Association, the lay organization to which he had devoted his life."

In the early 1980s, when Noel put together his family history, he didn't have the advantage of the Internet for research. So, I've borrowed liberally from his research, and added some of my own.

The Early Years in Adelaide

1878 -- George is born in Adelaide, South Australia, to Mary Ellen Hextell and George Wall Wall Bagot.

1880 -- George's mother marries Samuel Christopher Hughes, and George starts using the surname Hughes.

1882 -- George has a little sister, Edith Eleanor Hughes.

Sturt Street School in Adelaide,
where George attended school
in the 1880s. (Courtesy of
About Time: South Australia's
History Festival via Flickr
)

George is educated at Sturt Street School, which was constructed in 1883 and is one of the oldest primary schools in South Australia still operating today.

He continues his education at Angas College, described as "an interdenominational missionary training school" in a Wikipedia article about Australian Lutheran College, which operates at the site today.


Angas College was the first Bible college in Australia and was established in Adelaide in the 1890s by Presbyterian minister, Rev W Lockhart Morton, according to the Ministry Blue and SA Memory websites.

George is a sportsman, participating in activities including swimming, cross-country running, football, lacrosse and tennis.

His first occupations are in the printing trade with the "Advertiser" office (presumably the newspaper The Advertiser in Adelaide) and publishers Vardon & Pritchard in Adelaide.

It may be at Vardon & Pritchard that George formed his connection with the Young Men's Christian Association, as Joseph Vardon also had a connection with the YMCA, serving as its president in Adelaide from 1904-08, according to his biography.

Settling into a Career and Family Life

1903-1906 -- Now 25 years old, George begins his career in the YMCA, working as the Assistant Secretary of Our Boys Institute, Adelaide. According to Wikipedia, it was a junior branch of the YMCA with programming for boys ages 13-18.

1904 -- George, at age 26, marries Harriet Adelaide May McLaughlin, referred to as "May", at the Flinders Street Presbyterian Church in Adelaide.

Throughout his life, Geo. W.W.B. Hughes lives in:
(A) Adelaide, South Australia, (B) Dunedin, New Zealand
(C) Wellington, New Zealand, and (D) Melbourne, Victoria
1905 -- George and May's first son, Keith, is born.

1907-08 -- George works as the Physical Director at the YMCA in Adelaide.

1907 -- George studies at the University of Adelaide. According to the University Calendar for that year (found online on Google Books) he is listed as a non-graduating student, which I'm guessing means that he wasn't in a degree program.

1907 -- George and May's first daughter, Ester, is born. She dies that same year.

The New Zealand Years -- the Family Grows

Clipping from the Evening Post (Wellington)
25 Oct. 1913 found via Papers Past.
1909 -- The family moves to Dunedin, New Zealand, living at 368 High Street, and later on Russel Street and then on York Place.

1909-17 -- George works as the General Secretary for the YMCA in Dunedin, New Zealand.

1909 -- George and May have another son, Noel.

1912 -- George and May have another daughter, Ruth.

1917 -- George and May have another daughter, Joyce.

The Great War

Geo. W.W.B. Hughes (front row, far right)
is pictured outside the Shakespeare Hut
in London c. 1918. The Shakespeare Hut,
15 Gower Street, was the headquarters of the
New Zealand YMCA
in London during World War I.
(See this old newspaper clipping.)
1917-19 -- George, at age 38, travels to London, England, and takes a position as Supervising Secretary for the New Zealand YMCA Army Work during World War I. During this time he travels British, Canadian, New Zealand and American war fronts, even coming under shell fire.

1918 -- George is awarded the honor "Member of the British Empire" by King George V of England for his service to the New Zealand troops in England and France.

Clipping from the Fielding Star
(Manawatu-Wanganui)
24 May 1919 found via Papers Past.
According to Wikipedia, the honor was created in 1917 because King George V "wished to honour the many thousands of people who had served in numerous non-combatant capacities during the First World War. Originally, the Order included only one division; however, in 1918, soon after its foundation, it was formally divided into Military and Civil Divisions."

In a Supplement to the London Gazette, 7 JUNE 1918, page 6730, found online here, George is listed under "To be Members of the said Most Excellent Order:"

Return to New Zealand -- the Family Grows More

1919 -- George returns to New Zealand following his work in Europe, and the family moves to Wellington, residing at Lyall Bay.

1919 -- George travels New Zealand, giving lectures and presentations about the YMCA's work in Europe to support the troops.

1919-24 -- George works as the National Secretary for the New Zealand YMCA, Wellington.

1920 -- George and May have another daughter, Edith May.

On to Melbourne
A clipping found online from
The Argus (Melbourne)
10 Nov 1924, page 7.

1924 -- George, now 46, and his family move to Melbourne, Australia, living temporarily at Toorak, and Burke Road, Camberwell, before finally taking up residence at 33 Currajong Road, Hawthorn.

1924-40 -- George works as General Secretary of the Melbourne YMCA.

1938 -- George is the first speaker to the youth of Australia on the first "Carols by Candlelight" broadcast on national radio. According to Wikipedia, "The first ever such event was held in Alexandra Gardens the following Christmas, 1938, and was attended by around 10,000 people." Carols by Candlelight remains a popular Christmas tradition today in Australia.

1940 -- George dies of a heart attack at age 62.

In the family history there is an undated obituary clipping from an unknown newspaper. Under the headline "His Work Endures", it attributes Mr. Leslie Jenner, president of the Melbourne YMCA, as saying about George:
"Mr Jenner says that he never knew him to say one unkind word. That is something worth living for, enhancing the value of all his wide influence on the lives of boys and youths among whom he worked in Melbourne. ...

"'There are 2000 members of the Y.M.C.A. who will sadly miss his friendship, but there are a great many more than that, who have come under his inspiring influence, and who will forever be grateful for his friendship. That is his finest memorial.'"

With the wealth of information available on the Internet, I know there is more out there to be found about George's life, especially with his work related to World War I. Expect future posts.

Geo. W.W.B. Hughes (back row, second from left) outside
the New Zealand headquarters in London, c 1918.