Free Buffet!

Memories of Preston Station during the War By Doris Shaw

We had to wear a uniform, mine consisted of an overall and scarf for my head, and we had to wear a badge. This badge was round, it was red, with Preston Free Buffet embroidered on it in gold thread. This badge attracted the servicemen and in particular the American servicemen, who wanted to start a collection of them, they even offered money to buy the badge. I do recall there was no shortage of Chewing Gum when the American servicemen were in the Buffet! I thought at the time that it was blackmail in the hope that one of the volunteers would give them a badge.

My duties involved making tea, sandwiches serving refreshments and even having to take refreshments to the train to hand to passengers through the windows. It was a little difficult sometimes because the Free Buffet was for the servicemen and women only and not the civilians who were also on the trains which passed through.

Quite often the servicemen stayed in the Buffet all evening, either waiting for a connecting train or for some reason had missed their train. It was at these times in the quieter part of the night they talked of where they were going and their families and if they would ever see them again. There were also the servicemen who would tell jokes to liven up the atmosphere.

I looked for something in my shopping bag and remembered the amount of food, which was consumed by the travellers, each week, and the quantities of sandwiches we had to make and leave for the following day for the daytime staff to distribute.

In one week the quantity of food consumed was enormous. A typical example being 1500 loaves of bread, with 4 cwts of margarine, over 1000 meat and potato pies, 116 dozen tea cakes and buns, 500 dozen sausage rolls, one cwt of coffee and 156 lbs. of tea, sweetened with 3 cwts of sugar, 230 gallons of milk, approximately 200 lbs. of jam, marmalade and syrup, 210 lbs. of cheese, along with 30 dozen lettuce, 30 dozen beetroot and 84 dozen tomatoes, when in season.

It was impossible to say how many people actually were given free food and drink; all of this was done by donations of food, money, and street collections. There was even a collecting box in the Buffet and many staff donated small amounts of money when they came to work.

Oh dear, I’m too busy reminiscing, my train has just approached the platform, I’ve finished my coffee and sandwich I had better pick up my shopping and make my way to the train. I had enjoyed sitting in the Buffet and thinking of the times spent helping there during the war years, some days it was enjoyable although busy and other days it was sad to hear the servicemen talking about their friends who would never return. I was glad I was just catching the train home.