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Preston Station – Free Buffet 1915 to 1919

Preston Station Free Buffet – 1915 to 1919

It may be just like any other busy city train station today – but behind the hustle and the bustle of Preston railway station lies an illustrious, hidden world war past. For believe it or not, Preston railway station played a major role in helping soldiers travelling to and from the front in the First World War.


Millions of servicemen passed through Preston station, some wounded and returning to Britain, some travelling to Europe to fight in the war and 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 was August 1915 that the buffet began, headed by Mayoress Anna Cartmell, a team of 400 female workers voluntarily worked 12-hour shifts around the clock to bring a little comfort to the troops.

This meant that the buffet in effect stayed open for 24 hours throughout most of the war, serving no less than 386 on its opening day. It helped servicemen who were stranded at night without shelter or food, or who were making long journeys.

The total amount of men served within a day was averaging 3250 by January 1917. It’s believed that during the week before Christmas in 1916, almost 12,500 soldiers were served in 36 hours.


Hungry and tired military personnel, ranging from soldiers to sailors, passed through the doors of Preston Station, at all hours, seven days a week. Located in a room on the principal platform – now the waiting room on platforms 3 & 4 – the buffet was staffed entirely by female volunteers from Preston, preparing food and drink.

Shattered and hungry soldiers and sailors arriving at the station would be greeted with the kind-hearted women, bearing copious baskets of food and hot drinks.

But the home comforts didn’t stop there – because inside the buffet room itself, military personnel got the chance to relax and rest, perhaps perusing the newspaper, writing letters or taking a nap on the wooden benches.

Word soon spread up and down the country of the first-class effort provided by the women of Preston at the buffet, thanks to the grateful millions of service men passing through its doors. Soon, donations flooded in from all over the country.

One tired soldier wrote: “Will you permit a soldier to thank the ladies who carried tea and things along the scotch train on its arrival at Preston in the early hours of this morning?”

Meanwhile, another summarised, “You have no idea what a treat it was, and how comfortable it made us for the rest of the journey.”

And another commented: “Allow me to thank you for your overflowing generosity to the boys, of whom I was one, in the hurried raid on your stores.”

Peter Kelly, Cabinet Member for Culture & Leisure with Preston City Council said: “The Preston free buffet during the First World War is something Preston is extremely proud of.

“The imagery currently in the waiting room at the railway station is a wonderful display put together by Harris staff and the Preston Remembers project team to commemorate the Centenary, back in 2014.

“In total, the ladies who volunteered at the buffet catered to more than 3 million soldiers during those 4 years, working day and night so no-one was forgotten. We know from items in the Harris collection that the men were extremely grateful for the care and compassion received by these dedicated women.”

Community Rail Lancashire is indebted to the following sources for articles and photographs used on this page:

Lancashire At War

The Harris Museum

Blog Preston

Lancs Live

Simon Clarke