The soldiers’ canteen – October 1915

Teresa Hulton (1890-1972)

By early October, Teresa had arranged to work at the soldiers’ canteen set up by Mrs Watkins in Cervignano, northern Italy and was eagerly preparing to travel there. She made final arrangements with Isabel Campbell, the friend who had invited her to join her at Cervignano. Isabel’s letters offer an interesting insight into details of the life that Teresa was to lead working at the station canteen.

Isabel informed her of the living costs which were between 35 and 40 lire. She wrote:

‘…at present we eat in the station restaurant, which is rather poisonous, but when the canteen is finished we hope to do a lot of our own cooking there, and that would make things no doubt cheaper.’

Teresa Hulton May 1915

Teresa Hulton, May 1915

The women working at the canteen were temporarily staying in rooms at a villa, which Isabel described to Teresa:

 ‘…it is not very comfortable but I don’t know whether you mind that, no luxuries of any sort, such as hot water, and other discomforts the nature of which you can guess. But on the whole we manage to enjoy ourselves very much indeed.

 We also have daily air raids, generally one for breakfast, and another for tea, and two bombs have been dropped not far from our little chalet. But I don’t suppose that worries you.

 As accommodation is very scarce you might also have to share a room with me for a bit until we settle down.

 Now after reading all these unpleasantnesses I will tell you the nice things. They are building us a quite charming chalet outside the station opposite the platform from which the wounded entrain.’

By mid October, Teresa had joined Isabel Campbell in the canteen work.  In total, there were six workers between the two canteens for the soldiers that Mrs Watkins had established. Most of the other women had come out from Britain to help and could speak little Italian, so Teresa’s knowledge of the language was useful in communicating with the Italian soldiers. To see British Pathé film footage of a wartime railway station canteen, please click here.

Italian flag in the Attingham collection

Italian flag in the Attingham collection.

In addition to working at the soldier’s canteen, Teresa continued with her nursing work in an Italian war hospital. Her experience dealing with supplies sent to the Belgian refugees in London put her in good stead as many of her friends sent her parcels of items containing sheets, pillowcases, food and clothing for the wounded soldiers. Knitted socks seemed especially popular to send and were doubtless much appreciated as autumn set in! Similar work was being done to supply British soldiers, as is seen in this IWM film of 1916.

Standard issue khaki wool socks from the First World War.

Standard issue khaki wool socks from the First World War. © IWM (UNI 12582)

In October, a growing number of casualties flooded into Italian war hospitals. The Serbian Army faced defeat and made a horrendous retreat through mud and snow across the mountains of Albania to reach Italy at Corfu. Fortunately, the help of a Mrs Mabel St Clair Stobart and her ambulance column saved many lives.

Another heroine of the Red Cross was Edith Louisa Cavell (1865-1915). She was the matron of a Belgian hospital who saved the lives of soldiers from both sides. However, when she helped wounded Allied soldiers escape to neutral territory, the Germans had her tried and executed by a firing squad in Brussels on the 12th of October 1915.

Recruitment poster with portrait of Edith Cavell.

Recruitment poster with portrait of Edith Cavell. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 12217)

By October 1915 war hospitals in France, where friends and relatives of the Hulton sisters were working, were crowded. Their friend, Lady Helen D’Abernon, who was nursing in a hospital in France, wrote how tired and ‘much older’ she felt. She was glad to return to visit her mother and arrange to begin a course in specialist anaesthetics nursing.

Lady Helen Vincent, Viscountess D'Abernon in her nurse uniform.

Lady Helen Vincent, Viscountess D’Abernon in her nurse uniform.

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