Almost 100 years ago, injured and war-weary servicemen took solace in a humble buffet cart when they arrived at Preston station throughout the day and night.
Now, with the help of actors, Preston’s Sailors and Soldiers Free Buffet has been brought back to serve tea and coffee once more.
As part of the Preston Remembers project the free buffet, which was set up by a committee of influential Preston women to help provide refreshment and support to the tired and hungry 24 hours a day, came back to the waiting room at the city’s train station to remind the public of the captivating story.
Emma Heslewood, curator at Preston’s Harris Museum said: “Over 400 Preston and Lancashire women helped to run this service, working 12 hour shifts from August, 1915 until November 11, 1919.
“Ambulance and troop trains could get held up at Preston stations at any time - if the train stopped at 2am, the men would need refreshment and the ladies of the buffet cart where there with buns, biscuits, tea and coffee for them, as well as selling them sandwiches, newspapers and cigarettes at cost price.”
Over 3.25 million servicemen were catered for by the volunteers.
By 1917 the average amount of men served in a 24 hour period was 3,250 - an incredible feat for a service entirely funded by donations.
As well as they buffet cart event, which saw actors from Preston’s Wooden Spoons Theatre Company tell stories and read letters from grateful men and their families, a number of vinyl artwork is being displayed on the waiting room walls with quotes and facts about the buffet.
Emma said: “We have had some excellent feedback on the vinyls.
“People have been sat reading them and have been really moved by what they have read.
“They have also drawn people’s attention to the original brass plaques that were put up to commemorate the buffet cart after the War.”
Mrs Anna Cartmel, wife of the Mayor of Preston in 1916, Harry Cartmel, was the buffet president and just one of the incredible women to set up the service.
Emma said: “It was lovely to have the current Mayor of Preston down to see us as it was reminiscent of the time when Mrs Cartmel would have been here.
“We’re looking at developing more events at the station for the Preston Remembers project and hopefully we’ll have a big event in August to mark the 100 anniversary of the buffet cart.”