In the First World War, millions of servicemen passed through Preston station, often on long journeys. Some "influential" local women realised that these men had had no refreshments for many hours and so set about doing something to help.
It's one of those interesting little stories that has been hidden away for years and thanks to the centenary of the First World War is now being celebrated.
Sat in Preston Station waiting room a few years ago I noticed a plaque on the wall that I assumed most people would have missed. On a recent return to the station I was pleased to see that there is now a proper memorial to this story (photos below) in the waiting room itself. And the story is being told in greater detail at local museums.
It was August 1915 that the buffet began, headed by Mayoress Anna Cartmell, a team of 400 female workers worked voluntarily around the clock to bring a little comfort to the troops. On the first day they served 386 men, but during 1917 the average was 3250 men.
The women worked 12 hour shifts and the buffet didn't close until in June 1919 when it reduced its hours to 14 hours a day. It closed in November of that year. In total some 3.5 million sailors and soldiers and been served.
Food and drink were prepared and served in what is now the waiting room on the main platform (see photo TOP RIGHT). They also took refreshments to men on trains passing through who were not stopping long enough to visit the buffet itself. This small act of kindness went a long way for a soldier far from home with no means of refreshing himself.
The story of the volunteers is told in greater detail in an exhibition that can currently be seen in the Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston. Artefacts are on display and stories of some of the women are told. There are currently other exhibits in the Harris telling the story of women in the First World War, especially those involved in War Work.
The free Preston buffet infuenced other towns to do something similar as word spread and it re-activated the role in WW2
According to the Harris exhibition:
During the Second World War, over 12 million cups of tea were poured out for troops passing through the station.
Ada, May and Floria Whiteside collected unwanted walking sticks for injured soldiers. While working at the free buffet they noticed there was a shortage of walking sticks for the troops they saw returning from the First World War and decided to do something about it - collecting and handing out over a thousand.
The above information on this story is taken from the display at the Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston and from the free pamphlet "Preston Station Free Buffet 1915 to 1919" published as part of the Preston Remembers
For further information & photos follow these links.
ABOVE: The Waiting Room on the Main Platform at Preston Station today.
Inside, one of two brass plaques (LEFT) which commemorate the great service these volunteers offered during WW1.
BELOW: Recently the waiting room has had a WW1 - themed makeover.
Above Left: Thousands of men walking down to Preston Station to sign up for the forces soon after war was announced in 1914.
Above Right: WVS workers during the Second World War continuing the tradition of a free buffet for the troops passing through Preston Station.