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Looking Back: Meeting A Need

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Looking Back

In April 1940 the magazine carried a short piece about the work of the Church's Huts and Canteens in a time of war.

Meeting A Need

An Impression of the Church’s Huts

Many of the men of the Forces are strangers in the part of the country in which they are stationed, but they quickly make ties for themselves by attending a Hut or Canteen regularly. Their appreciation of what they find there is great, and often each maintains that his favourite canteen is the best. So keen is their loyalty that recently when a batch of men was transferred to a post some miles away, they continued to come to the canteen, and to the lantern services on Sundays. One of those who came had not been to church for ten years previously.

The men talk freely of their homes and even at times, bring their domestic problems for solution. Though it seems hardly credible in these days of education one totally illiterate soldier had to be helped with all his correspondence. Advice was so often asked about the making of wills that at one centre, arrangements were made for legal help for the men… One soldier with a small boy wanted to find a home for his motherless child – not an institution, but somewhere where he would be mothered. Eventually he himself was successful, but had he failed the canteen workers were ready and willing to solve that problem too. The confidence felt in the interest taken in their welfare was shown when there was a disaster to a trawler whose crew had attended one canteen. The first thought of the survivors was to send a message to the canteen staff.

One day a soldier appeared in the doorway of one of the canteens with his wife and little girl and a baby in the pram. He knew no other place to take them; and though that particular canteen did not cater for families they were not turned away. The baby slept, the little girl trotted about helping to carry plates, and the parents talked quietly over their tea. But perhaps the most domestic scene was in another canteen, where, after a soldier had had his baby christened in the neighbouring church, the christening party, wife, sister, and baby in long clothes adjourned for tea in the canteen.

Saturday night entertainments, Sunday dinners, and concerts have proved a great boon to men off duty, while some canteens allow the men to bring their wives, mothers or girlfriends with them – a great benefit when their limited spending money does not allow the expense of a restaurant. Pianos and gramophones provide entertainment; table tennis, darts, and other games are available, and dances are arranged.  One mother was delighted to learn that the dance partners came from the local G.A. and promptly insisted on paying in advance for a good meal for her son for the next Thursday night (the night before pay day).

A surprising amount of food – especially sausages – is consumed at the canteens. Housewives will sympathise with the predicament of a canteen over a holiday weekend when apparently ample supplies had been ordered. By Sunday night it was found that there were no pies, no sausages, and only two dozen eggs. A kindly butcher was dragged from his bed on the holiday Monday to make sausages from whatever his shop might contain. Boys Brigade officers scoured the town for pies and the dairies for eggs and in the end everyone had enough to eat.

The Sunday night services at the huts and Canteens are well attended, as also are the short family prayers in the evenings. One of the new huts reported that the first night there were two men at prayers, the second seventeen and now an average of about fifty each night.


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