The Harbour Canteen
The Harbour Canteen, which stood on the harbour during the First World War, served refreshments to the troops on their way out to France. For many of those about to board ship, the cafe would have offered a welcome final cuppa before the journey to foreign lands.
What makes the canteen so special from a historical perspective is that an estimated 42,000 of the soldiers who stopped at the canteen signed visitors’ books that were rediscovered a few years ago by local historian Charles Fair.
Step Short has scanned all eight of the books and transcribed every single entry, throwing up some fascinating material in the process. We published the books online in 2014, a fascinating and unique record of those times and an amazing source for historians and family researchers. Access to view the books is free, but there is a small charge to search by name, a feature that makes it easier for researchers to make the best use of such a superb resource.
Since the summer of 2015, we have also been able to revive the Harbour Canteen, or Mole Café, on the newly-restored Harbour Arm. Visitors can take a stroll along the old railway pier and enjoy a cup of tea and a big slice of cake, just like the men and women of the Great War.
An update from October 2013
The task of transcribing the visitors' books is nearly complete. With well over 40,000 names, all in different handwriting and often in pencil, along with our commitment to 'get it right', it has taken a lot of time provided by many volunteers, but we are confident that it will prove to be worth the wait.
There are 24 names on the above pages. Did you have any luck spotting any famous names, or even family members? We have prepared a summary of just six of the names, with information about them. Why not have a look at the results? There are a couple of surprises.
The next pages are from 1916. Again, click on the image to open the pages in a new window. We have chosen these pages because they are intriguing. Firstly, there are some Indian soldiers and then a list of names with a curious entry describing them as 'Scotland Yard Officers'. Can anyone shed any light on these entries?
Click here for an account of the discovery of the Visitors' Books.