31 August 2011

No. 7 -- 24 June 1931

Mr. Noel A. Hughes, (of Melbourne, Australia)
C/o Central Y.M.C.A.,
2200 Prospect Ave.,

My dear Noel,

Well, here you are completing another stage in the big adventure. I hope the Conference at Toronto was of great value to you and that you made the most of every opportunity to hear the best of the discussions and to make contacts with the leaders.

Newspaper clippings from
the Melbourne Sun (22 June 1931),
the Melbourne Argus (22 June 1931),
 Melbourne YMCA's Manhood (June 1931).

In Cleveland, I would strongly advise you to endeavour to visit most of the branches of the Cleveland Y, look over the educational work in particular and do not forget to go to the Westside Boys' Building to meet Mr. M. D. Crackel. You will find Crackel a splendid man of long experience in our work. Mr. Knebel, the General Secretary at Cleveland, has not been there for very long, but he is regarded as one of the best men in the North American work.

I had a friend on the staff by the name of Merriam. I do not know whether he is still there. You might enquire and if so, remind him of the meeting I had with him in 1917 when I was going to England and France.

The great Conference at Cleveland should set new standards in the work of the Association. The discussions centering around "Youth's search for God" should be very helpful to you in your own life, as well as in your work in the future.

I hope by this time you have been successful in securing an opening in an Association which will fill up the hiatus between now and your entry to the Chicago Y College. Perhaps Clive Glover has been able to find something for you. I know he would do his best to help you.

I am specially anxious that you should write to us immediately you hear anything regarding work, so that we may be able to write to you direct. Always give, if possible, the dates covering your movements and a specific address, so that mail matter may go direct to you.

If you are not successful in securing a job, I would suggest that you make contact with Mr. Ralph W. Cooke, the Assistant Secretary of the Chicago Y.M.  He would have a good deal to do iwth the placing of men in the Chicago branches. He may be able to find a job for you at that time. He will probably be at the World's Conference. You might make enquiries among the delegates and, if possible, locate him.

Another man I would like you to meet is Mr. HarryW. White, who is on the Foreign Department staff, located at Chicago. He is sure to be at Cleveland. I would not be surprised if John W. Cook wrote to you suggesting that you should spend some time with him at Baily Island, Maine.

If you should go to New York, do not fail to look up Eric Nicoll, Personnel Manager, Metropolitan Division, Western Union Telegraph Company, 395 Broadway, New York. Eric, you remember, was Boys' Work Secretary at the Dunedin Y during the time I was away in England and France.

I must close now. All of us are anxious to hear the news regarding your journeyings and are hopeful that you will have a wonderfully happy time. It is a great chance you have, and there  is no doubt it should be of the greatest possible benefit to you as an introduction to your College work. I know you will work hard. I believe you will face all the opportunities with a determination to make them count in your own life and in your future work. You will have many temptations to take the easy road. No success in life comes to the man who does that. There is only one royal road to success, and that is a long uphill climb in which at times you will be almost constrained to give up. That is the time to hang on. It is said that the darkest hour is just before the dawn. You  will find it so in your work.

Our love is yours,

See related post: The YMCA conferences in Toronto and Cleveland

Crossing into the United States

Noel's approximate route from (A) Toronto to (C) Cleveland,
with a crossing at (B) Niagara Falls.
I don't know many details about Noel's journey from Toronto to Cleveland, other than that he crossed at Niagara Falls on 2 Aug 1931.

Noel's passport showing his U.S. Visa, his entry into Canada
and his entry into the United States.
I have to jump pretty far ahead in the letters to find anything relevant. George writes on 29 Sept 1931, "I was interested in your account of the journey from Toronto to Cleveland. People would find it difficult to imagine that you could make the trip on such a small expenditure. I am glad you were impressed with Niagara Falls. They certainly cause one to feel surprised at their extent and magnificence."

As I'm writing this, I'm staring to remember visiting Niagara Falls with my family. I had to pull out my photo album to figure this out, but it was 1982 and I was in middle school.

I vaguely remember the border crossing from Canada to New York. On previous crossings, the border patrol would ask, "Are you U.S. citizens?" and when we all replied yes, we would be waved through. But this time, border patrol asked us, "Where were you born?" When my grandfather replied, "New Zealand", it caused a few extra questions. But even that was simple and we were waved right through. Maybe grandpa had to show his drivers license.

Unfortunately, I didn't realize at the time the personal significance that revisiting that crossing would have had for my grandfather. If I did, that part of the memory is forgotten. But it would explain why my father laughed so hard at the extra questioning and thought it was significant.

Dressed up for our Cave of the Winds tour at Niagara Falls in 1982.
Pictured are my father, Alan, (left); my grandmother Marion; my grandfather Noel;
my mother, Sherrie; and my sister, Heather.

See related post: No. 7 -- 24 June 1931

29 August 2011

No. 6 -- 23 June 1931

Mr. Noel A. Hughes, (of Melbourne, Australia)
C/o Mr. Fred. J. Smith,
Executive Secretary,
College Street,

My dear Noel,

Well, I suppose you have had a remarkably interesting journey so far. I know the run through the Canadian Rockies will remain a vivid memories for years to come.

Then your contacts with the beauties of Lake Louise and Banff will also please you.

I hope it was possible for you to meet Mr. Archie Kirkpatrick at Winnipeg. He is a New Zealander who did particularly well at Chicago Y College. He would be delighted to talk over Australian conditions with you.

Fred. Smith, the Executive Secretary oat Toronto Central is one of my old friends of the war days. Fred. and I were very intimate in London. He was heading up the Canadian Y.M.C.A. and I the New Zealand, and we frequently met each other on the business of the Association and in a personal way. I am sure you will find him a warm friend and that he will do all he possibly can to be of assistance to you while you are in his centre.

Another good friend of mine is Mr. Ernie Best; you might ask Fred. Smith where he is and perhaps the opportunity may come for you to meet him also.

If you get the opportunity I would suggest that you visit Toronto University and look over Hart House which was the centre where A. J. Edmonds was Physical Director. This might serve as an introduction for you to get permission to go through  the buildings.

I suppose you will have met the boys from Springfield and also Ern. Saunders. Please convey to them all my warmest regards.

Noel's certificate that he is a delegate to
the 1931 World's Conferences of YMCAs.
(click photo to enlarge or view on Flickr)
Now, I hope you will enter into the Conference with the desire to get out of it the absolute limit in the way of help and inspiration. It will be a wonderful chance to meet many of the great leaders of our Movement from practically all countries of the World. You will be glad to make these contacts as they may mean a great deal to you in the future and I would suggest that you cultivate every opportunity in that direction.

Some of the fellows will be attending the Boys' Work Conference, but I suggest that in view of your desire to take up Secretarial work, that the Younger Men's  problems would probably be of more help to you than the Boys' Conference discussions.

Letter from F.D. Trainor of the
National Committee of YMCAs of Australia
certifying Noel is an official delegate.
(click photo to enlarge or view on Flickr)
Seek out the men who were on the New York Headquarters staff, such men as Arthur N. Cotton, Abel Gregg and C.C. Robinson. Don't forget our old friend, E.M. Robinson, who visited Australia in 1925. He is now on the professorial staff of the Springfield College. It is possible that Professor Hartley Cross (an Australian) also on the Faculty at Springfield, will be present.

When you visit Buffalo, look up A.H. Witford, 45 West Mohawk St., who has retired from association service, but is still regarded as one of the great leaders in our Movement.

Ask Mr. Spaeth of Buffalo Y to make the contact for you. Don't forget to pay your registration fee of 15 dollars promptly on arrival.

By this time you may have received one or two suggestions regarding work in between Cleveland and Chicago. Consult Alec. Moodie and Fred. Smith on any offers you may receive. I have written Fred. Smith asking him to see if anything can be done for you. His advice will be sound.

When you go through to Cleveland, don't forget to make contact with Clarence Deeter, Apartment Secretary of the Central Y building. Give him my greetings. Please do not think that I am full of instructions in my letters, I simply desire to remind you of certain things so that you may benefit by your contacts with men of note in our work. It is so easy, in the rush of a Conference with scores of group meetings in progress, to lose one of the big by-products of the Conference which is found in the fellowship with men who are leaders in our work.

This letter goes with you on the "Niagara" and should be awaiting your arrival at Toronto. Capitalise every opportunity.

With our united love,


See related post: The YMCA conferences in Toronto and Cleveland

The YMCA conferences in Toronto and Cleveland

The next two letters, which were addressed to Noel in Toronto and Cleveland, finally move on to the business of the YMCA conferences to which Noel was traveling.

Newspaper clippings from
the Melbourne Herald (20 June 1931),
The Melbourne Age (22 June 1931).
and the Melbourne Herald (abt. 16 July 1931).
(click to enlarge or view on Flickr)
"Now, I hope you will enter into the Conference with the desire to get out of it the absolute limit in the way of help and inspiration," George wrote in the Toronto letter. "It will be a wonderful chance to meet many of the great leaders of our Movement from practically all countries of the World. You will be glad to make these contacts as they may mean a great deal to you in the future and I would suggest that you cultivate every opportunity in that direction."

I haven't found much about the conferences in my quick online search, but I did find an article from TIME Magazine titled Religion: Y.M.C.A. at Cleveland dated 17 Aug 1931.

The Toronto conference was a warm up for the Cleveland conference. They were the Twentieth World's Conference of the YMCA, which was a big international affair, and the 43rd International Convention of North American YMCAs.

"The great Conference at Cleveland should set new standards in the work of the Association," was George's prediction in his letter to Cleveland.

According to the TIME article, topics discussed were very timely for the 1930s, including:
  • resolutions calling for revision of the Versailles Treaty and abolition of national armaments
  • the German delegation proposing absolving Germany of sole guilt in World War I
  • social problems related to unemployment
  • urging huge governmental public works programs
  • extending membership to women
  • and offering sex education to boys and their parents.
That last bullet point, about sex education, I found really interesting, in that it seems counter to what a religious-affiliated organization might suggest today. "Professor Clyde A. Miller, Chairman of a subcommittee, addressed the conference on sex education, suggested that 'parents should give children sex education early in life. In view of the incapability of many parents . . . Y. M. C. A. directors and secretaries should pass on sex education to boys and their parents.'"

See related posts: No. 6 -- 23 June 1931  and No. 7 -- 24 June 1931

27 August 2011

No. 5 -- 18 June 1931

Mr. N. A. Hughes,
Passenger, R.M.S. "Niagara",
C/o Young Men's Christian Association,
Cambie Street,

My dear Noel,

Here is another letter sent ahead of you , so that it might be awaiting you on arrival.

I need hardly say how anxious I am that you should watch your expenditures, especially when you take the train journey across Canada. My experience in my two crossings, indicates that you will be badgered by attendants on the train, to buy  postcards, books, fruit, spectacles and all kinds of things which they have for sale. Be adamant in your refusal of the things which you do not want and make it unmistakably clear that you do not want them, or you will have the life worried out of you.

The Banff train station as Noel might have seen it
on his journey through Canada
on the Canadian Pacific Rail in 1931.
Courtesy of Lictio via Flickr
The Pullman attendants are generally decent enough fellows, but naturally they live on the tips which they receive from tourists. Keep your tipping within reason. This will also apply to the hotels you stop at at Lake Louise and Banff. Most of these hotel employees are students from the Universities and Colleges who are earning money over their College Vacation and they naturally expect some degree of help for attention they give, but in many cases very little attention is expected and given and consequently you must be very wise and judicious in what is done by you in the tipping line.

Always ask the price of the room at the hotel before you engage it. Tell them flatly that you want a cheap room. Then remember that you may find in most of the hotels a considerable section of people who live on the tourists. All kinds of confidence tricks are worked. You will discover how may friends there are who want to make your acquaintance because they imagine if you are travelling you have money to burn.

Watch the pretty girl who drops her handbag, or her handkerchief, or otherwise attracts your attention. There are scores of them who are doing the rounds at the tourists resorts, who are of no class. They are generally attractively dressed and have any amount of self possession and poise. They are looking for "suckers", especially the chaps who come from Australia with plenty of money!

I hope you will have a thoroughly happy time as you cross the Great Continent. Don't forget to look up Archie Kirkpatrick at the Winnipeg Y. He is a New Zealander who was at Chicago Y College, and you will find him full of information concerning college life. You should be able to gather a great deal of helpful advice from him when you make contact with him. I have written him telling him of your coming.

Well, Cheerio! Keep a stiff upper lip; face the future with optimism and trust.

What I said in my earlier letters I repeat -- the effectiveness of your future work will be largely dependent upon the sense of comradeship you cultivate with Christ. I know of no other incentive to successful service that is not based upon devotion to Him and His cause.

Again, our hearts follow you on your journeyings.

With love from us all,


See related posts: Crossing Canada on the CPR

Crossing Canada on the CPR

Approximation of the route Noel took across Canada: (A) Victoria, British Columbia;
(B) Vancouver (C) Banff, Alberta (D) Winnipeg, Manitoba (E) Toronto
The next letter was addressed to Noel in Vancouver. He would have received it right before starting his train journey on the Canadian Pacific Rail across Canada on his way to Toronto.

For more about Noel's crossing of Canada, see
this post from 26 January 2013:
The post contains an audio file from 1982 of Noel
recounting his trip across Canada.

Also, for more about the Canada crossing, click
the tag Canada, which will bring up posts about the
It's a trip that George writes about in his letters with fond memories and a certain amount of wistfulness, although that doesn't come through that well in the Vancouver letter.

While he does end with the wish that Noel has a "thoroughly happy time as you cross the Great Continent," most of the letter is full of advice on how to save money and avoid being swindled. The advice makes me wonder what first-hand knowledge George had of the experience.

It is in the other letters that his fondness for the journey comes out.

A travel poster of the correct-looking
vintage found through AllPosters.com
"Well, I suppose you have had a remarkably interesting journey so far. I know the run through the Canadian Rockies will remain a vivid memories for years to come," he said in an upcoming letter addressed to Noel in Toronto."Then your contacts with the beauties of Lake Louise and Banff will also please you."

And in his Hawaii letter: "You will have a wonderful time going through the Rockies, and I envy you the trip as it is one of the most remarkable railway journeys to be had anywhere in the World."

That sentiment that it is a great train journey holds true today, as the trip is consistently listed in the travel literature as one of the best in the world.

The above video is for the Mountaineer, which is a train that makes the trip across the Canadian Rockies today. Much of the route, especially around Banff and Lake Louise, is in a national park, and I can only guess that it is very similar looking to what Noel saw in 1931 and George saw in 1917 and 1919.

A travel poster of the correct-looking
vintage found through AllPosters.com
On a personal note, my family did  the car trip across the Canadian Rockies twice, both in 1977 and 1979, when I was 8 then 10 years old. I remember it vividly, and I also fell in love with Banff and Lake Louise.

I remember seeing the rail lines carved into and through the mountains, and my parents telling me what an incredible engineering feat it was.

Someday, when my son is older, maybe we'll get back there. Maybe we'll even get to take the train.

24 August 2011

No. 4 -- 18 June 1931

Mr. N. A. Hughes,
Passenger, R.M.S. "Niagara"
HONOLULU. Hawaiian Islands.

My dear Noel,

Only another week and you will be setting your foot on Canadian soil. I hope you had a thoroughly good time at Honolulu. My two visits to Honolulu were full of interest. No doubt you met the Association men, and I hope they were able to extend some courtesies to you.

Honolulu is a beautiful place, and I know you will feel as I did -- that you wish the boat would give you another few days, so that you might have longer time to enjoy its beauties.

I suppose you went to the Pali and also to the Waikiki Beach, the Japanese Gardens, the Aquarium and other points of interest. It is a great place to visit.

You will have shaken down to the routine of shipboard life. Usually at Honolulu, quite a number of Americans join the ship and you have a new set of passengers to become acquainted with. I am hoping that some of the Association fellows will be travelling on the ship to the Conference, although they may travel in another class. You may be able to establish some degree of contact with them. It would be fine to try and arrange an occasional group meeting, so that you may chew over with the Americans, any of the matters you have discussed together in preparation for the Conferences.

I found on my trips abroad, that it was a wonderful help to have regular group meeting to discuss mutual problems.

I suppose you have had a good programme of sports, entertainments, etc. On some of the ships very elaborate programs are arranged, and the interest culminates in the last week or so, just prior to arrival at the port of destination.

George's letter of introduction for Noel.
(click to enlarge or view on Flickr)
If the ship calls at Victoria, I would suggest, if you have time, that you visit the Association building and meet Mr. Wilson, the Secretary. I think he is still General Secretary at that centre. It is probable that at Victoria, the Agent of the C.P.R. may arrive on the ship. Establish contact with him as quickly as possible, so that all the details in connection with landing arrangements are attended to.

Mr. Stanley Brent, the Secretary at Vancouver Y, is a man I know personally, and I am sure he will be helpful in every way open to him. You might consult him with regard to where you should stay overnight. The little hotel that I stayed at was called the Dusnmuir, where the rates were very reasonable, and it was fairly close to the Y building.

You will, of course, do your utmost to conserve the little cash you have. Watch the multitude of small expenses. They soon run away with a lot of money in the end.

I mention these things simply because I am anxious that you should arrive at Chicago College with as much cash as you possibly can. You know how important it is, and I will trust your judgment to the right thing in this connection.

As all of these letters have been sent on ahead of you, naturally I have not been able to give you any home news, and you will not be able to receive any until you have arrived at Toronto or Cleveland. I may even be later than that before a mail can make contact with  you. I would suggest that you leave your address for forwarding mail at the Toronto Central Y.M.C.A., also at the Cleveland Central Y.M.C.A.

You will have a wonderful time going through the Rockies, and I envy you the trip as it is one of the most remarkable railway journeys to be had anywhere in the World.

Make all the contacts you can with delegates travelling to the Conference. You will find it well worth your while to keep a record of the names and addresses of people you meet in this way, because later on you will want to write to them.

I must close now. You know that all of us are thinking of you, and we pray God's richest blessing upon you in your journeyings.

With warm love,

See related post: Building Contacts and Religion

Building Contacts and Religion

Networking is obviously not a new concept. George certainly know how to do it. The further I get into his letters, the more apparent it becomes.

I suppose it is partly because, with his YMCA work in Europe during World War I, George got to personally know leaders and future leaders of the movement from all around the world. He was also a voracious reader of YMCA literature and paid attention to who was in positions of power.

In the Hawaii letter, George advised Noel to "Make all the contacts you can with delegates travelling to the Conference."

There was no shortage of delegates on the RMS Niagara.

A page of the ship's manifest for third class passengers
on the ship traveling through to Canada.
Note the large number of YMCA representatives.
(Click to enlarge.)
Through Ancestry.com I was able to get a copy of the ship's manifest, and while Noel and Alec Moodie seem to be the only YMCA professionals in third class for much of the voyage, most everyone who boards in Hawaii is headed to the conferences.

Before moving on to the letter itself, I also had some thoughts about the role of religion in George's letters. At this point in time the "Christian" part of the Young Men's Christian Association is still very strong. But for a man who has made a career of service in a Christian agency, the religious rhetoric in George's writing seems very minimal to me. In the later letters there is even less.

It's not that George wasn't religious. It's obvious in the letters that he was. Also, later on he becomes an elder of his church and is very proud of his election to that position.

To me his letters read like someone who is confident in his faith and doesn't feel the need to evangelize, especially to his son who has chosen a similar career path.

I did a quick Google search about the YMCA's religious history and found this interesting comment in an article titled History of YMCA Religious Work: "Although the early Y's mission was unabashedly religious in nature, the organization focused on method rather than doctrine or philosophy. Dominated by business men rather than professional religious leaders, the movement tended to emphasize facilities, expansion, practical usefulness, and specific influence."

The article went on to say: "In 1866, the New York association expanded its statement of purpose to include the word 'physical,' thus defining the fourfold purpose of the YMCA: 'The improvement of the spiritual, mental, social, and physical condition of young men.' This concept was formally endorsed by the Y movement as a whole at the Baltimore Convention in 1879."

See related post: No. 4 -- 18 June 1931

22 August 2011

No. 3 -- 18 June 1931

Mr. N. A. Hughes
Passenger, R.M.S. "Niagara",
C/o Union Steamship Company
S U V A.

My dear Noel,

Well you have been to Suva. I hope your impressions of the Island are as vivid as mine were on my first visit, as you make the acquaintance of Mr. Barker.

We are naturally anxious for you to let us know just exactly what occurred and hope you will not fail to write regularly, so that we can be kept advised of each stage of your journey.

Remember that apart from your mother and myself, the two little ones at home will be full of eager interest to know how you are faring.

R.M.S. Niagara (source: Wikipedia)
I want you to be specially careful that you maintain the high standard of personal conduct with the folk you are mixing with. The tendency is, on holiday "to let down the bars" a little, and "when in Rome do as Rome does". I know shipboard life well enough to know how easy it is to "slip" on some of the seemingly small things in personal conduct. Don't forget you have two standards to maintain. First, that of a Christian man and secondly, that of an Association Officer. Throw yourself heart and soul into the life of the ship as far as you are able, but do not compromise your position in either of the relationships I have referred to.

Don't forget also that you should put in at least two to four hours a day in definite preparation for Conference and for your future work at the College. You will be expected by the Faculty to pass certain examinations, so that you may get your entrance status fixed early in your College life. Prepare for that work on the basis set out in the College catalogue. Make each day count in preparation for that period and don't fritter away all the hours of the day and night on the unimportant things generally associated with shipboard life.

R.M.S. Niagara (source: Ancestry.com)
I hope both Alec. and yourself will feel that you have a fine opportunity to think through some of the problems associated with the Conferences, so that you may be able to make your own contributions to the discussions.

Also, I would suggest that you get Alec.'s help in preparing a few short talks on Australia and on the Australian Y.M.C.As, so that you may be in a position to speak when called upon at some of the gatherings you attend.

The time spent on shipboard will give you a splendid chance to prepare material which you will afterwards use at the Conference or at College.

I think you should set out to uphold the standards attained by other Australian students in America. This cannot be done without concentration of purpose and hard work. You would be wise to cultivate the Habit of study, and even if the attractive sides of life on shipboard are very appealing, I hope you will maintain a daily habit of study in preparation for the future.

I want you also to take a daily study in the text material you have on "The Life of Christ", so that you will be able to follow in something like consecutive order the great events in His life. Such a study will help you to understand the great ideals of the Kingdom of God, and will fit you to more effectively serve your fellows because you can appreciate the scheme God has for their lives.

We will be anxiously awaiting news from you. You will, of course, write from every port of call. I found it a very great help to write a short portion of my letter every day, while the events were fresh in my mind, and in this way I was able to advise your mother and my friends just what was happening of interest each day. You might perhaps find it wise to adopt a similar method.

All of use unite in affectionate regards,

See related post: The RMS Niagara

The RMS Niagara

The ship Noel was departing on, the RMS Niagara, was an ocean liner that while being built bore the nickname the "Titanic of the Pacific". It launched a few months after the Titanic sank in 1912 with the new nickname the "Queen of the Pacific".

With Noel and the family being strapped for cash due to the depression, Noel was traveling third class. (Think Leonardo DiCaprio's character in the movie TITANIC, not Kate Winslet's character.)

Noel's route to North America
on the RMS Niagara
(click to enlarge):
(A) Sydney, Australia
(B) Auckland, New Zealand (C) Suva, Fiji
(D) Honolulu, Hawaii (E) Victoria, Canada
Wikipedia says the RMS Niagara could hold almost 700 first-, second- and third-class passengers, but a comment in an upcoming letter indicates it sailed with only a fraction of that -- 26 in the third class sailing out of Auckland, New Zealand. A copy of the ship's manifest found through Ancestry.com indicates only 18 in third class out of Auckland through to Canada.

The ship departed Sydney on 25 June, with stops in Auckland, departing 30 June; Suva, Figi Islands, departing 3 July; Honolulu, Hawaiian Islands, departing 10 July; and Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, arriving 16 July, and Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, arriving 17 July.

In the letters, George is full of very detailed advice about shipboard life. He would know. He crossed the Pacific twice and the Atlantic twice on his way to and from Europe during World War I. At least one of those Pacific crossings was on the RMS Niagara.

Jumping ahead in time, the RMS Niagara did come to a dramatic end in 1940 when it struck a German mine outside New Zealand and sank. The ship was carrying gold bars intended to pay British debt to the U.S. government in relation to World War II, so an effort was launched to salvage the gold with most of it being recovered.

See related post: No. 3 -- 18 June 1931

20 August 2011

No. 2 -- 23 June 1931

Mr. N. A. Hughes,
C/o Y.M.C.A,
325 Pitt Street,

My dear Noel,

I am enclosing a card of introduction to Mr. Gordon Virgo, son of Mr. J. J. Virgo. You will notice from the address that Gordon is the Superintendent of the Palama Settlement near Honolulu. I would suggest that you ring him on the phone and, if possible, make an arrangement to see him if only for a minute or two. He will be glad to welcome you I know, especially for his father's sake. I have known Gordon Virgo for many years and of course had contact with him in London during the war. He was then an officer of the Canadian Y.M.C.A.
The original letter on YMCA letterhead.

Miss Yates gave you the list of introductions which should prove of use to you for rapid reading, especially when you are at the Conference. You will hear of many of these men and I would suggest that you endeavour to make contact with most of them when you have the opportunity.

I had a letter from Alec. Moodie this morning and I would suggest that early on the voyage, you propose to Alec. that you should meet daily to consider the outlines prepared by the World's Committee on the Conference subjects. This will be a useful thing for you to do, and Moodie's long experience in Association world should help to clarify many of the problems dealt with in the outlines.

Letter from Chas. F. Grosby of the
Melbourne YMCA accepting
Noel's resignation as he leaves for
the United States.
(click to enlarge or view on Flickr)
I am specially anxious that you should let me know what your address will be immediately you conclude the Cleveland Conference. If you get any jobs offered to you, please write immediately do that we may be able to send to you direct during the period between the close of the Conference and the Commencement at the College.

I had a ring from Mr. Boyer of the C.P.R. this morning to say that the insurance of your baggage requires a further payment of 5/2d. They forget to charge you the difference in the exchange rate on the premium. This I am paying, so you need not worry about it.

Of course you will ring up your relatives as soon as possible. My suggestion to you is to pay your visits not later than Wednesday night, so that you have Thursday morning free to attend to your own affairs. It would be a good plan to leave for the boat about 2 o'clock so that you can take everything direct to your cabin on arrival at the ship, and thus save all the mad rush at the end.

Noel's letter of introduction from
F.D. Trainor, the National General Secretary
of the Australian YMCA.
(click to enlarge or view on Flickr)
Little Edith came to me this morning and said that she was crying for you during the night. You can readily understand their feelings and our own just now. Mother has not said a great deal but I know quite well that she is feeling the parting very acutely. I can only suggest, old fellow, that you will drop her a line before you leave, so that she might hear from you at once.

Please remember me to all the folk in Sydney, and of course to Mr. Swainson and the members of the staff.

With warm love,


P.S.  This afternoon Keith brought in your wristlet watch. I think it would be a good plan for you to take this with you, so I have packed it separately and have addressed it to the boat. Please do not fail to make enquiry regarding it when you arrive on board. I thought it might miss you at the Y.M.C.A.

See related post: About the Sydney letters

About the Sydney letters

I'm feeling pretty clumsy in this project as I find my voice and figure out how I want to present the letters. It seems to me that some regular commentary and background will help put things in perspective.

I don't want to intrude on the letters themselves, so I'll keep the commentary in separate posts. I'll use the "labels" feature liberally so that subjects can be tracked. And I'll regularly update the page Who's Who as new recurring people are introduced (and I figure out who they are and what their relation is.) Let me know if you have any other ideas.

From Melbourne (A) to Sydney (B) overland
is almost 900 kilometers
The first two letters were addressed to Noel in Sydney. I'm not sure how he traveled from Melbourne to Sydney, probably by ship is my guess.*  He traveled to Sydney by rail.

George wrote several letters before Noel left and addressed them to the ship, to be delivered in different ports of call. These letters are dated 18 June and 19 June. The second letter that Noel received in Sydney was sent after Noel had departed Melbourne, dated 23 June, so it had a little family news. (I will be posting the letters in the order that Noel received them, which is how he ordered them when he bound them together in a book, and not by date.)

There is a comment made in the 23 June letter about ringing relatives in Sydney. Noel's great-uncle, Henry Willis, was a prominent Sydney-area resident, being a member of Australia's first three Parliaments. His home was a bonafide castle, named Innisfallen, which still stands today in a part of Sydney's Middle Harbour known as Castle Cove.

Innisfallen Castle from an old undated postcard
that my grandfather saved.
I had tea at the castle in 1980 on a trip to Australia. I was 11 years old. Two of my grandfather's cousins, Calliope and Urania, were still living in the main part of the castle, while their nephew lived in the tower section.  Originally the castle was on a huge estate of wooded land, out in the middle of nowhere. Most of the property was sold off over the years, though, to cover estate taxes.

When we visited in 1980, the road there was through a suburban neighborhood and onto a cul-de-sac.  I remember it as house, house, house, castle, house. Very memorable.

I don't think the castle is owned by the Willis family anymore. About 5 or 6 years ago I did a Google search for Innisfallen Castle and found a Sotheby's Real Estate listing for it.

See related posts: No. 1 -- 19 June 1931 and No. 2 -- 23 June 1931

*Addendum 28 Aug 2011: Through a contact on Flickr I was informed that, "About that time coastal shipping had ceased, so it was an overnight train journey from Melbourne to Sydney, with change of gauge at Albury, took about 16 hours by express train."

18 August 2011

No. 1 -- 19 June 1931

Mr. N. A. Hughes
Passenger, R.M.S. "Niagara",

My dear Noel,

You are now starting out on the great adventure. I know quite well the sense of adventure is likely to be uppermost in your mind just now. There are many new experiences awaiting you and I can understand the thrill you will feel as you face them.

Noel's passport photo
You know quite well that the folk at home are naturally anxious that you should "make good" in every sense of the word. You have your opportunity, and it will largely depend upon yourself just how far you will capitalise it and make it of real value in your life. All that we can do is to help provide that opportunity. The responsibility is now upon your own shoulders and you will have to measure up to the possibilities which lie ahead of you.

On shipboard there will be many new experiences, some of which may not be as pleasant as you would have them. You will be in the company of all kinds of folk and will need to be exceptionally careful in your choice of friendships. Scores of young fellows who have set out upon similar journeys have palled up with folk that they felt were companionable and safe, to find that they are simply looking for the opportunity to prey upon the confidence people repose in them. Every company of people has a section which lives by its wits. On shipboard you find that proportion greater than in normal life.

The fact that you have Alec. Moodie with you should make it unnecessary for you to extend your friendships too widely. Be careful of the fellow who is short of money and who wants to borrow as he comes to the port, or, who at the port, discovers that he has only a few shillings and would like the loan of a pound or two, and will return it when you get back to the ship. There are plenty of that kind around, but they seldom pay up.

Be careful of your bags. Leave nothing lying around or it will disappear. Keep your bags locked and see that the first thing that you do is place your papers, wallet, etc. in the care of the Purser. Don't delay in doing this. There are some folk who clean up several cabins shortly after the boat starts. Be specially careful that your stuff is properly secured before you leave the ship at any of the ports of call. When you get to Suva, I expect Mr. A. Barker of the Methodist Mission may have some little courtesy to extend to you. If he should not put in an appearance at the ship, please look  him up, because you will find him a good friend. I have written him advising him of your arrival.

Old business cards from his Melbourne days
that my grandfather saved.
And now, my boy, I have just this word for you in closing. If your service in the Young Men's Christian Association is going to be anything in the future, it will be largely determined by the depth of your own religious experience and your determination to make it of large account in the service of others.

Life has two major aspects, one in relation to God and one in relation to one's fellows. You cannot expect your service to your fellows to be of the greatest value unless you cultivate a deep and abiding fellowship with the living Christ.

Our love is yours as you go,


See related post: About the Sydney letters

Preface by Noel A Hughes, January 1936

This is the original preface to the first volume of letters, covering June 1931 to December 1935.

In assembling these letters into a bound volume I have four objectives in mind.

To record, first, the words of advice to and concern for me shown by my father during my student days at George Williams College, Chicago, Illinois where I entered as a Freshman October 1931.

Second, the family history during the period of my student days when I was unable to participate in our home life back in Melbourne, Australia.

Third, the progress and development of the Melbourne Young Men's Christian Association during the period of great economic stress.

Fourth, to record indirectly, my experiences during my travels, college days, and early married life.

Unfortunately, this volume is not complete because many letters have been lost, but, this I feel, does not materially decrease the effectiveness of the record.

Owing to the uncertainty of my future movements and to the fact that my education has not yet been concluded, this volume does not cover the total period of my sojourn in the United States of America.

January 1936.

What good is a family heirloom tucked away in a box?

My mother once told me that I don't get to "own" any family heirlooms, I can just become their "guardian".

Recently, I became the guardian of 10 years worth of letters written by my great-grandfather in Australia to my grandfather, who journeyed to the United States in 1931. It's a one-way conversation, as my grandfather's letters back home do not still exist.

My great-grandfather, Geo. W. W. B. Hughes, was a prolific letter writer. He would dictate his letters to his secretary, who then typed them on YMCA letterhead, which makes them easy to read and decipher.

They are rich with YMCA history and family history, all against the backdrop of the Great Depression and the start of World War II.

I knew about these letters and had read excerpts from them many years ago. When my grandfather, Noel A. Hughes, put together a family history back in the 1980s, he pulled out the family news and distributed it with the family tree.

I was a teenager then and I always thought the excerpted family news was kind of dull to read. But recently, when I read the family news within the context of the original letters, with all the YMCA news and other tidbits, I found it fascinating.

It was a perspective I wasn't used to reading -- that of the family left behind and how deeply they missed their son and how desperately they wished for more news. The admonishment to write more frequent and detailed letters is a constant theme.

Through the letters, my great-grandfather transformed from a name on the family tree to a real person. He was full of advice about careers, life and travels. He was an optimistic person, always seeming to keep a positive spin on the news from home. He knew how to network and work his contacts. And he was immensely proud of his children, especially his son who chose to follow his career path in the YMCA.

It was also fun to see my grandfather as a young man, needing guidance and advice, off on a great adventure.

In publishing the letters in this blog, I see it as an opportunity for me to further get to know my family, to learn a little history, and to maybe learn some life lessons. It's a way to share these letters with my family in the U.S. and Australia, so that they might enjoy them also. And it's a way to share these letters with the world, because I believe there are readers out there who will be interested in their content.

I hope you choose to take this journey with me.

Please feel free to leave me comments. If someone you're interested in is mentioned in a letter, let me know. Or if you can fill in any of the historical backdrop of these letters, do so.

Haley Hughes