"God Bless, and Save America"

A Brief History of Springfield, Ohio's WW II Victory Canteen

By Scott D. Trostel

For additional information on the WW II canteens read the books listed at the bottom of the CANTEENS tab; THE COLUMBUS AVENUE MIRACLE: THE WEST STREET AMBASSADORS: LIMA'S OPERATION KINDNESS

Redirect me to the railroad canteen web site by clicking here

Springfield, Ohio was the site for Ohio's fifth WW II trackside canteen. It was influenced by Margaret Clingerman's canteen 33 miles north at Bellefontaine. The canteen was operated by the Big Four Route Veterans Association, Women’s Auxiliary Number 2, Mad River Chapter and the Railroad Women's Benefit Association Review 170. Both were affiliated with the New York Central Railroad.  The officers of Auxiliary No. 2 were Mrs. Pearl Clifford, Chairman; Mrs. Vergie Moyer, President; and Mrs. Ida Lloyd, Vice President. For The Women’s Benefit Association they included Mrs. Elizabeth Brothers, President; and Mrs. Thelma Capen, General Chairman.

The Canteen opened September 30, 1942, on the platform of the Big Four Route passenger station. For the first three months the ladies operated a temporary food prep area in the basement of the NYC freight house and division offices, which sat across Washington Street from the passenger station. By early January 1943, the familiar white canteen hut had been constructed on the station platform, which helped get the food closer to the trains and to protect the women from winter's chill.

Gathered on the steps of the Big Four Route freight house and division offices at Springfield, Ohio during WW II are the Springfield ladies of the Auxiliary No. 2 Big Four Veterans and ladies of the Bellefontaine Auxiliary No. 3 Big Four Veterans.  Both groups were running canteens in their respective communities.  They had met for an informal luncheon and to swap stories about their canteens.  The photo is circa 1944.

Refreshments included sandwiches, doughnuts, cookies, fruit, milk and coffee, all served from market baskets. Their efforts were supported entirely by donations of food from hundreds of residents and monetary contributions from individuals and businesses in the Springfield area.

By early November it was realized that much community support would be needed to make the canteen a success.  The Springfield Fire Department stepped forward to host an auction of donated goods.  They realized over $250.  The Springfield Trades and Labor Assembly made a donation of $75 and hundreds of resident brought food to the canteen for the soldiers.

From a newspaper photo, several of the canteen workers are gathered on the station platform with drink pitcher and baskets of sandwiches and fruit.  Left to right: Mrs. Bess Dye, Mrs. Catherine Stabner, Mrs. Glenna Short, Mrs. Thelma Capen, Mrs. Celia Evans, Mrs. Mary Markley, Mrs. Loretta Sheering, Mrs. Mollie Arnold and Mrs. Pearl Clifford.

The following story, found in the December 20, 1942, issue of The Springfield News-Sun, is typical of stories of servicemen's appreciation for the generous service at many canteens. "Hungry, with just exactly one cent in his purse, a soldier boy, who was making a long trip from the far west to spend a furlough with loved ones in a north Ohio town, gratefully grasped the hand of a canteen worker at the New York Central station. 'Madame,' he said, 'thanks again and again for the sandwiches, the coffee and all the rest of it. I was desperately hungry when I reached here, for I had spent all of my money for the round-trip ticket. Thanks again.' And with that he hopped on board the train with his other 'buddies', who were on furlough, passing through Springfield."

This view was taken just after the canteen closed.  It shows the Big Four Route Passenger station.    The station was demolished in the late 1960s to make room for the Spring  Street bridge and a parking area for Clark State Community College. -- Eldon M. Neff Photo

Another young soldier, it was realized, was traveling from a base in Texas to his home in Cleveland but had little money with which to purchase food.  After purchasing his train ticket, he only had enough money left to spend 30 cents a day on food.  The Springfield stop was quite welcome.  A meal in a railroad dining car cost $1.00 to $1.50, and many soldiers felt so strong about making one more journey home that they would go without food in order to see family and friends just one more time.  It was this discovery alone that justified the investment of time and the expense to meet and feed those strangers at track side.

As these stories were brought to the public's attention, they rallied behind the women.

This view shows the elegant Big Four Route Passenger station.  Trackside walkways in front of the station is the site from  where volunteers served over 400,000 troops in WW II.  The station was demolished in the late 1960s to make room for the Spring Street bridge. -- Courtesy of Karen Purke

Between the hours of 10:45 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. daily, 15 scheduled passenger trains called at the platform.  The ladies had originally intended to meet nine trains daily, and to only feed those troops on regularly scheduled passenger trains.  They were not intending to feed troop trains or hospital trains. That all changed by early 1943, with all trains being fed. With the array of Troops Trains, and Hospital Trains, that added another four to six trains daily, and over 12,000 troops per month receiving refreshment at the station platform.  The ladies dutifully met them all with baskets of eats and pitchers of hot and cold drinks.  The busiest time for the ladies was between 2:15 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. daily when three trains called at the station.  They struggled through some horrible winter weather in December 1943, and December 1944, confronted with near zero temperatures, heavy snow, ice and considerable wind.  They did not complain, but endured to welcome many troops.

The Clark County U.S.O. opened a servicemen's lounge just a few doors from the canteen on October 9, 1942, thus giving those soldiers, who had to await connecting trains, a place to relax away from the railroad station.  It was in the former Montgomery Wards & Co., building at 18 and 20 S. Limestone Street.  The two groups appear to have worked together to see to the comfort of the soldiers.

The ladies of Auxiliary No. 2 were friends with the ladies of Auxiliary No. 3 at Bellefontaine, who were running that canteen. Every few months they traveled to the other's town for a pot luck supper and an exchange of ideas. When the Springfield canteen closed, the residue supplies and funds were given to Bellefontaine for their use in feeding the troops.

Springfield's Victory Canteen operated until November 17, 1945, having served approximately 400,000 troops in just over 37 months.  Based on Public Timetables, the dedicated volunteers met an estimated 22,000 trains. 

Identified volunteers: Mrs. Bess Dye, Mrs. Catherine Stabner, Mrs. Glenna Short, Mrs. Thelma Capen, Mrs. Celia Evans, Mrs. Mary Markley, Mrs. Loretta Sheering, Mrs. Mollie Arnold,  Mrs. Pearl Clifford, Mrs. Carl Snow, Mrs. Carl Frazier, Mrs. Ohmer Thompson, Mrs. Betty Thompson, Mrs. Edward (Ellen) Hudson, Mrs. Charles (Opal) Phleger, Mrs. Elizabeth Brothers, Mrs. Ida Lloyd, Mrs. Louise Moore, Mrs. Paul Norman, Mrs. Gustov (Helen) Burgstaller, Mrs. Viola Rude. It appears there were 40 to 50 volunteers at the start.

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ANGELS AT THE STATION

Scott D. Trostel

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One of the most compelling books of humanitarianism ever!

Stories of many of the canteens and the

volunteers struggles to meet every soldier.

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