Past Times

Raleigh was a welcome stop for WWI troop trains

As American troops headed off to war, Raleigh was a welcome stop for lunch and a shower bath. This photo shows troops at the Raleigh Canteen House and Service Station in 1918. The train station can be seen in the background.
As American troops headed off to war, Raleigh was a welcome stop for lunch and a shower bath. This photo shows troops at the Raleigh Canteen House and Service Station in 1918. The train station can be seen in the background. State Archives of North Carolina

Troops bound for service during World War I discovered North Carolina hospitality when their trains came through Raleigh in 1918.

Red Cross chapters and patriotic citizens in a number of towns within fifty miles of Raleigh are availing themselves of the opportunity to remember soldiers passing through this city, for points of embarkation.

Raleigh is one of the few towns at which trains stop to change engines, and at which there is time enough for soldiers to be given any attention or served with refreshments. In most of the towns the trains go through without stopping. Nearly all troop trains stop in Raleigh; and most of them for change of engines. These stops take place at the yards, adjacent to and often immediately in front of the new canteen house; and while the change is being made the soldiers are treated to lunches and to baths.

This morning a check for $120 was received from Miss Margaret E. Forrest, treasurer, for Orange county chapter of the Red Cross. This $120 was added to the $100 sent a day or two ago by Mr. W. A. Erwin, of Durham, and a carload of melons was purchased. Messrs. W. L. Brogden & Company took the matter up by phone and soon located a point in South Carolina on the Seaboard road, a carload of watermelons being loaded today, and purchased the same – 1,200 melons for $150. Messrs. Brogden & Company not only charged no commission, but induced the merchant who was loading the car to forego his profit. This carload of melons is expected to be delivered at the canteen house next Monday, at a total cost of about $225. The melons average 25 pounds in size, and each melon will give a lunch to four soldiers. …

Letters from Roxboro and Wake Forest indicate that contributions are being raised in both of those towns for a treat for soldiers. The Clayton chapter of the Red Cross has appointed a committee to go to Raleigh next week and inspect the service station, and the work of the Raleigh canteen with a view to serving melons for the Clayton chapter as soon as the melons become abundant.

Prominent citizens from Goldsboro and Smithfield were here yesterday, and said their towns would do more than their part. Troop trains pass through Smithfield daily, but do not stop. Very few troop trains are routed by Goldsboro, and those that do, don’t stop long enough to enable the people of Goldsboro to do anything more than wave to the soldiers as they pass.

Melons constitute the most acceptable treat that can be offered to soldiers during the hot weather, and from this time until the first of September they will be so abundant that they will probably be used very largely. The firm of Ashley Horne & Son was not willing to wait until the melons were ripe enough, and they have ordered two boxes of lemons to be sent to the Raleigh Red Cross.

Few people have any idea of the number of soldiers now passing through Raleigh. Very frequently ten train loads a day pass. The average number of soldiers to a train is 500. After having usually traveled from 24 to 48 hours when they reach Raleigh, and some have traveled as much as four days, they have 1 to 3 days more travel before leaving the trains. They are, of course, fatigued, hot and dusty. Raleigh is the one place on the line where they can get off, sit at tables, eat appetizing lunch, and have shower baths before renewing their journey. The soldiers are unanimous in saying there is nothing like it in the country.

The Raleigh Canteen House and Service Station is absolutely unique and distinctive in character. It will cause thousands of soldiers to look back as long as they live to their one hour’s stay in Raleigh as being altogether different than any other experience they had on the way from home to France and from France back home. The Raleigh Canteen and Service Station is like an oasis in the desert; or the shadow of a great rock in a weary journey. The N&O July 21, 1918

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