The photograph above shows an electric mobile canteen and it appeared in the Electrical Association for Women (EAW) publication, Handbook on the Organisation of Mobile Welfare Canteens, compiled by Mrs William Paterson, and published in June 1940. Mrs Paterson was the Honorary Organiser of the EAW Mobile Welfare Canteen Service.
The purpose of the booklet was to provide the principles for organising and operating these mobile canteens, and the proceeds of the booklet, priced at 1 shilling, were to be applied to the Mobile Welfare Canteen Maintenance Fund (War Service).
After the outbreak of WWII the EAW devoted its attentions to voluntary national service of various kinds and in 1940 it was decided that the whole Association should organise a Mobile Welfare Canteen Service among anti-aircraft units in Great Britain. By mid-1940 the service had already been extended to other members of HM Forces. The first EAW canteen was designed by Mrs Paterson, and after a number of the canteens were presented to the Association, it established a specific department at the EAW headquarters under her direction.
Aims and Objects of the Mobile Canteen!
The handbook sets out the aims and objectives of the canteens in an introduction and extracts from the introductory paragraphs are replicated below.
“The Electrical Association for Women, in affiliation with the YMCA, has undertaken this important war work for the troops on isolated searchlight and anti-aircraft gun posts and has organised its scheme on original lines, which have proved highly successful in practice. According to the area and circumstances in which each canteen is placed, the service will vary. A feature of the EAW Welfare Canteen is that it can offer service to small or large numbers of troops, and every effort should be made so to stock the canteen that any emergency situation could be met, such as stopping to feed tired troops on the march or to fulfil any unexpected requests from Military Authorities.”
“The EAW Headquarters Organisation has planned a Cigarette Fund for their work, which has enabled them to offer each man a cigarette at every visit, and they have arranged, in conjunction with the Women’s Institutes and other bodies, to knit and supply socks, collect books, games, pencils and notepaper etc.”
Description of the Canteen
The canteens were equipped to appear as attractive modern kitchens with 3-4 people working alongside each other. The canteens also included a travelling library, accommodated in portable folding bookcases, that was placed at the end of the canteen to, ‘enable the men to make their choice at their leisure’. The description in the handbook goes on to say;
“A great variety of articles which the men might need are carried, such as cleaning materials, buttons, mending equipment, toothbrushes, razor blades, soap, chocolates, cigarettes, all kinds of tinned goods, honey, jam, etc. Letters are posted for the men and stamps carried for their convenience. The visits of the canteens and their cheery personnel are considered by them to be a very bright spot in the week, and are eagerly watched for.”
The EAW also developed a uniform to be used in the canteen which is illustrated below.
The handbook describes the uniform in the following manner.
“It is desirable that some uniform garment be worn by the personnel. The EAW have evolved a practical overall in their colours, a very attractive blue with silver-grey bindings and buttons. It has a wide wrap-over skirt, allowing sufficient room for a coat and a skirt to be worn underneath. Also, for hot days, when comfort asks that sleeves may be rolled to the elbow, the EAW has designed dainty elbow cuffs in grey organdie.”
What Happened to the Canteens?
The EAW archives contain little about the fate of the canteens and indeed the canteens are covered more extensively in the personal papers of Caroline Haslett, Director of the EAW. We know from the Haslett papers that there were at least 13 EAW canteens, as each canteen had its own set of accounts, and accounts for ‘No.12 Harpenden’ and ‘No.13 Enfield Chase’ are present in the Haslett papers.
The Haslett papers also tell us about the fate that befell one other canteen, one that the EAW presented to Mrs Gregory, Mayor of West Ham and former EAW Chairman, in May 1942. The canteen was loaned to West Ham to commemorate Mrs Gregory’s year in office. The electric canteen had already been operating in West Ham, taking refreshments to demolition workers and feeding the dockers prior to its formal presentation to the Borough of West Ham for the duration of the war. A letter from the Borough of West Ham to the EAW, sent in December 1945, and shown below, says that the mobile electric canteen, registration number GGP 653, was badly damaged in a Fly Bomb incident on 2 July 1944. West Ham had just submitted a claim to the War Damage Commission in December 1945 and was notifying the EAW to tell them about this and to say that the remains of the vehicle were to be found in the Borough’s Arthur Street Depot, Silvertown, E16.
The Caroline Haslett papers, in particular her folder of papers relating to the activities of the EAW in WWII, can be consulted at the IET Archives by appointment.