Christmas stories from the archives: A Leeds port of call

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Where servicemen may eat and sleep

CHRISTMAS Eve is scarcely old enough for a determined advance on the chip front at the Y.M.C.A. station canteen Leeds to have begun (writes a woman reporter).

There might, indeed, be said to be a lull in the proceedings — or, at least, as near a lull as the place ever knows.

Behind the scenes, however, the deep fat pan is kept bubbling merrily; there’s always someone who wants chips with something.

The armchairs have their quota of sleepers. among them a Scotsman who is dosing away part of his 14 days’ leave. Round the tables moves a dog of friendly aspect but suspicious ancestry; the amount of chips he consumes is astonishing.

His concentration rapidly switches from chips to a chicken that is dangling from the knapsack of a man going home for Christmas. Their acquaintance, however, is not furthered.

Another Christmas leave man enters complete with a couple of rabbits and three bottles of beer. On the whole, however, the Army on leave is not obviously weighted down with parcels. A decorous brown paper package or two is tucked beneath the arm — no more.

All the 60 beds were occupied last night, said one of the helpers, and a quick look round the dormitories makes it clear that the St. John Ambulance people who see to the daily changing and making of beds have a job to tackle. A few of the men make their own beds; this, however, is unnecessary as clean sheets and pillow cases must be put on every day.

The store-room is well equipped for Christmas, and the flowers — pink chrysanthemums — have arrived in a box bearing the name of a Guernsey grower; it came from the Channel Islands in happier times.

Tomorrow, the Y.M.CA. City Boys’ Work Committee will be on duty: Tuesdays and Saturdays the British Women’s Temperance Association take their turn; Mondays and Fridays the W.V.S. are there. All work with a will, and by no means last on the list of workers are the charwomen, Mrs. Taylor and Mrs. Murphy.

“We both have boys in the Army,” said Mrs. Taylor, “so we’re glad to do whatever can.”

At Trinity Church Soldiers’ Rest Room, also open all night, there is a similar lull. Six Polish airmen have been in.

They have arrived in Leeds for Christmas. They speak no English, but a little French. Attempts will be made, they are told, to find them hospitality. but it will be a little while before matters can fixed up.

They promised to return in an hour, and set out to see Leeds. Business here has increased greatly. “We are taking three times as much as when started,” said a helper.

All this, of course, goes into the running expenses. A favourite dish is beans on toast 5d.

“Some of the men, however, have extraordinary tastes. The other day one of them asked for egg on toast with sausage, spaghetti and a few peas.”

Two Anzacs were in recently — one a sailor, the other a soldier. The soldier came from Wellington and the sailor had been on the ships that convoyed the Anzacs to Great Britain.

They struck up a friendship and had managed to get leave together.

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