Pauline Alden writes:
Mrs. Mary Florence Lindberg lost her husband at the beginning of the First World War. As well as working as a VAD nurse locally at Nunthorpe Hall Auxiliary Hospital, she also gave her time to helping at the Stranded Soldiers Club and the Station Rest Van.
York Stranded Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Dormitories put up stranded servicemen in the Assembly Rooms, Blake Street and in 1917 offered bed and breakfast to over 28,000 persons.
During the war hundreds of thousands of servicemen passed though York railway station, travelling to or from active service. They would have been hungry and tired and could have waited hours for connections. The station buffet closed at 5.30 pm and the service was poor. The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Canteen opened on 15 November 1915 on Number 3 Platform, York station (now platform 1). The North Eastern Railway Company provided two carriages placed at the buffer end of the platform. These supplied cut-price food and tea or coffee to any servicemen leaving or passing through the station.
The Yorkshire Evening Press of 16 November 1915 describes the formal opening of the canteen. Mrs. Morrell, the President of the Ladies Committee responsible for running the canteen spoke at the opening. It had been constructed out of two of the railway company’s saloons and the expense had been borne by the North Eastern Railway Company. It was divided into three sections: the kitchen, the canteen and a retiring room for lady helpers. The canteen was described as a model of neatness, exceptionally well fitted up by Mr. Pick and Mr. Endgard, who were responsible for the details of construction.
Major Watson (General Secretary of the NER) opened the canteen and hoped that it would serve many soldiers and sailors who journeyed through York. He also hoped that the railway staff would direct any member of HM Forces waiting for trains and in need of refreshment towards the canteen.
It was open twenty four hours a day, seven days a week until it closed on 23 May 1919. During this time it served refreshments to four and a half million soldiers and sailors – an average of 18,000 per week. In its first year of opening £7,630 was spent on tea, coffee and food (the equivalent of £330,000 today). In 1917 the average spent on mugs was £12 per week (about £596 today).
The volunteers at the canteen provided a friendly face and a kind remark. This would have meant a great deal for the men and boys who could have been away from home for a long time. In some cases ladies running the canteens are thought to have written to the families of servicemen they met, reassuring them of their safety. The volunteers worked tirelessly there for long hours, and a traveller commented on the busy aspect of York station in the small hours:
“Service men predominate and there are many civilian passengers. Arriving trains disgorge sleepy passengers and large quantities of parcels, newspapers and mail. What struck me was the unselfish service given by the ladies of the Soldier’s and Sailor’s Canteen where business was very brisk indeed.” (NER Magazine, Nov. 1918, Vol.8, No.95).
It would not have been easy for the volunteers to remain positive and welcoming, They would have seen terrible injuries, especially when the ambulance trains came in. When the canteen closed in May 1919, Mrs. Morrell, President of the Ladies Committee, remarked that all the volunteers needed a holiday!
Red Cross Archives (www.redcross.org/About-us/) Florence Lindberg
Photo: www.thecardindex.com (anon)
Photo: Soldiers and Sailors Buffet, NER Magazine 1915
York in the Great War 1914-1918 A.J.Peacock
Yorkshire Evening Press 16 November 1915
National Railway Museum Blog – Apr.10 2014 by Alexandra Baker http://blog.nrm.org.uk/how-4-%C2%BD-million-servicemen-drank-tea-at-york-station/?keywords=Canteen
Photos from Ambulance Train exhibition, York Railway Museum