Friday 24 May 2019

The Month of May 1919 in the Sailors and Soldiers Rest

Crewe: Soldiers' Sailors' Rest, Nantwich Road (ref. c00801)

The signing of the Armistice in November 1918 ended the major part of the hostilities of the First World War. However, it took many more months to organise the return of the vast numbers of men scattered across the globe. 

One of our previous blog posts, “Crewe Station - the Heart of Britain’s Railways in World War I”, focuses on the Sailors and Soldiers Rest at Crewe Station and the two Rest visitors’ books held at Cheshire Archives.

These books give a fascinating glimpse into the experiences of the men that stayed at the Rest. Many called in at the Rest for a cup of tea, a meal, or a bed for the night, while others killed time between trains. 

Their comments often included grateful remarks about the hospitality, their relief at being demobilized, or regret at having more time to serve after a spell of leave.

A copy of a local news magazine published in March 1916 by Eardleys, the major printing company in Crewe, is pasted into one of the visitor books and states:

“The crude verses the men have written, the sometimes misapplied quotations, and the slang methods of expression, form an interesting study and throw a curious light upon the varied personality of the visitors.”

Battles were said to be fought over again, trench incidents recounted, and, according to Eardley, “…one has an excellent opportunity of studying the tranquil humanity which makes Tommy and Jack conspicuous among the fighting units of the world”.

In the month of May 1919 over 2,000 men passing through Crewe signed the book, well illustrating the world-wide nature of the Great War. Destinations included Cape Town, New York, Miami, Victoria BC, Adelaide, Nicaragua, Johannesburg, Moose Jaw Saskatchewan, and Arkinsaw, and of course many places in Britain including Chester. 

Journeys had started in Germany, Italy, Palestine, France, Bulgaria, Malta, naval bases from Scapa Flow to Plymouth, and  RAF airfields including Shotwick, (a few miles from Chester), and RAF Shawbury in Shropshire.  Many were travelling to and from Prees Heath, a massive army camp near Whitchurch.

A number of the troops, including many from the Royal Field Artillery, were heading for North Russia, via Crewe, as part of the Russian Relief Force. This was partly to keep the Bolsheviks back whilst the allies were evacuated and also for other plans that Winston Churchill was said to have devised.

Some other messages from the troops included:

“Fed up waiting at Crewe 5 ½ hours”

"Is the bacon still rationed? Once more unto the breach”

"Treated extremely well at Crewe”

“Always open when others are closed”

"Waiting for an airship”

“Cymry am byth”

“Tray Bon”

“Puggled to the wide” (said more than once!)

“I wish the pubs were open, I am dry”

“Here all night without a pint” (the Rest was established by the Church of England Mens Society in a Temperance Union mission room...)

And from a member of the Field Survey Battalion, Royal Engineers:

“If on earth there is some bliss, It is this – It is this – It is this!”

It is interesting to attempt to trace the details of some of the men who stayed at the Rest using online resources. For instance, Acting Lance Corporal Walter Shard, formerly a joiner of Towers Cottages, Poynton, joined up in September 1914. 

He was a hospital orderly in the Royal Army Medical Corps for 3 ½ years and in August 1918 he contracted Trench Fever, resulting in pains around his heart and shortness of breath.

He left the following heartfelt phrase in the Visitors' Book: 

“Happiest day of my life viz:- FINAL DEMOB”

This blog was written and researched by one of our volunteers, Susan Chambers. Susan will be blogging more about the Sailors and Soldiers Rest in the coming months - check back soon to hear more stories from Crewe!


  1. Further to my discussion with an archivist at Bollington last weekend, a similar series of Refreshment Room guest books at Peterborough have been digitised and can be seen at