PEOPLE of a certain generation will remember a grandfather or great uncle who fought in World War One between 1914 and 1918 and were lucky enough to come home.

Some were physically wounded while others were emotionally damaged by the horrific conflict.

More than seven million military personnel passed through the port of Southampton in those war years. Many travelled by train and were taken straight into the docks, sailing immediately for France. Many others camped on Southampton Common and were later marched to the docks.

War was declared on the August 4, 1914, and within days numerous British soldiers were in tents on the Common.

On the evening of August 8, 1914, three local women saw groups of men writing letters in the pouring rain using their comrades’ backs to support the paper.

Mrs Harrison, Mrs Rowland and Miss Lankester arranged for the Lecture Hall next to the Avenue Church to be opened for the men.

In the hall were tables, stationery, books, magazines and some welcoming volunteers who helped with letter writing.

Many regiments had marched long distances and it was not long before free tea and meals became available. This was followed by free tobacco as well as cigarettes and stamps for cards and letters home.

The hall was open all day, every day throughout the war.

At one time men slept in the Avenue Hall and the Small Hall next door while their camp was being prepared on the Upper Common.

An organising committee was formed and a great many volunteers came forward to help.

Many local businesses, schools and individuals made donations to fund the typical weekly consumption of 264 gallons of bread, eight hundredweight of cake, 156 pounds of butter, 55 gallons of milk, 23,350 cups of tea and coffee.

In 1915 it was calculated that about 2,000 men visited the Hall each evening.

With the arrival in Southampton of the Artillery, Signalling School men were billeted locally in the large houses and remained for three months.

The Hall became a home from home for them. When their families visited, assistance was given in finding suitable lodgings for them.

Some troops were marched from Hursley and Winchester to the docks and these men were given tea and cake as the moved through The Avenue. The crockery was collected nearer the town and then returned to the Hall by tram. Some Divisions were able to stop for a few minutes which often meant the horses could be watered as well.

Later in the war, American Soldiers, men from many parts of the Empire and those from our Allies, made use of the Hall.

Towards the end of the war, parties of wounded men from the many local hospitals located in large houses visited the hall.

It has been calculated that 355,744 letters were posted from the hall but the enormous number of men who used the hall can only be guessed. What is known is that the practical help and support given by the women volunteers of Southampton was not forgotten.

Supporting the wounded returning from the Front was also a priority and two women volunteers from the hall played a big part in this work.

Mary and Katherine - aka Rose - Tebbutt were the daughters of Sidney Tebbutt a wealthy businessman and councillor who lived in Northlands Road. Together the sisters supported the Red Cross in the Docks doing the practical things for the wounded the medics were usually too busy to do. They gave out cigarettes, wrote letters for those unable to write, posted letters, sent telegrams and gave out sweets.

All this was done with a smile and a few friendly words.

The Tebbutt sisters became unique when, in June 1918, they were each awarded the OBE in the King’s Birthday Honours for their work.

By Godfrey Collyer - tour guide with