The running of servicemen’s canteens is often associated with the NAAFI, however as civilians there were difficulties in allowing their personnel too close to the front line. Troops near the battle still needed to have access to canteens and recreational facilities so many NAAFI personnel were given Territorial Army status and nominally enrolled in the Royal Army Service Corps to run ‘Expeditionary Forces Institutes’. As members of the RASC they now received the protected status afforded to uniformed soldiers of a nation and could be deployed close to the front line.
The Royal Army Service Corps ran many soldiers’ canteens, with both ex-NAAFI personnel and more conventional soldiers operating them for the benefit of troops. Tonight we have a group shot from the personnel running one of these canteens:This RASC Canteen was attached to the 4th Division, as indicated by the painted board at the rear:The personnel in this photograph are nearly all wearing open necked battledress with shirts and ties:This and the number of medal ribbons suggests the photograph was taken at the very end of World War Two. In 1945 the 4th infantry Division was stationed in Greece to provide assistance in the wake of the Greek Civil War and this seems a likely location for the photograph- the building behind them looks rather Mediterranean!
Whilst most of the men in the photograph are smartly dressed, a couple appear in shirt sleeves and one is wearing his battledress undone:Whilst the army tried to keep civilian canteens away from the fighting, accidents could happen, as in this story from Italy:
At Casino, Route six, the main road, aims in a straight line into town for about 1 and a half miles. No army vehicles came down the road to town, not even at night, they always went a detour further east and entered the town that way, because of the shelling. We called it the ‘Mad Mile’.
One night we heard a vehicle coming from that direction and somehow knew it was not a military one. It was a Salvation Army canteen van. He’d lost his way. When we stopped him, he was a bit confused, then said he’d come down that road, but wasn’t going to take the buns and tea back with him, so we got permission to leave the trenches in pairs for a bun and tea. And the Jerries were only yards away in places. What service, that’s why I always donate to and admire the ‘Sally bobs’ Never heard if he got back alright but I think he must have done so.