Ser­vices Club was a haven for armed forces

Gloucestershire Echo - - NEWS -

THERE is not a num­ber 17, Re­gent Street in Chel­tenham. Car­luc­cio’s Ital­ian restau­rant oc­cu­pies the spot that dur­ing the Sec­ond World War was an an­nexe to Chel­tenham Ser­vices Club.

The main part of this es­tab­lish­ment resided in a cav­ernous, nearby build­ing that opened as a rid­ing school called Smith’s Sta­bles in 1854 and later be­came Re­gent Street Motors, be­fore briefly be­ing an in­door mar­ket be­fore its de­mo­li­tion in 1982.

Chel­tenham Ser­vices Club was the brain­child of lo­cal bene­fac­tor Cyril Bird who lived in Lans­down Road.

His mis­sion was to pro­vide a venue that would con­trib­ute, as he wrote, “to the moral wel­fare of Chel­tenham, as well as to the plea­sure and well be­ing of the forces.”

To en­sure the club’s ac­tiv­i­ties were suit­ably deco­rous, a gov­ern­ing coun­cil was formed com­pris­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the forces, Chel­tenham cor­po­ra­tion, the church, Women’s Vol­un­tary Ser­vice and the YMCA.

De­spite emer­gency re­stric­tions on just about ev­ery­thing, the ma­te­ri­als and labour were found to trans­form the derelict rid­ing school into pala­tial premises.

Opened on Novem­ber 5, 1943 by Sir Archibald Sin­clair, Sec­re­tary of State for the Air, the club boasted a spa­cious main hall with its own stage, which was used by lo­cal am­a­teur dra­matic and ser­vices groups, plus bands.

At one of the first evening en­ter­tain­ments the Glouces­ter Na­tional Ser­vice Club’s orches­tra played a pro­gramme of light mu­sic, well enough for them to be in­vited back.

There were easy chairs and so­fas, ta­ble ten­nis, darts, cards, chess, draughts and dis­cus­sion groups on Wed­nes­days with speak­ers pro­vided by the Army Ed­u­ca­tion Of­fice.

For­mer loose boxes were turned into a wartime can­teen serv­ing light re­fresh­ments, home made buns, cakes and sand­wiches.

Mem­ber­ship was open to women and men serv­ing in the Bri­tish and Al­lied forces and cost one shilling (5p) per year.

Within three months of open­ing the club had 3,000 mem­bers - Brits, Poles, Lat­vians, Lithua­ni­ans, Nor­we­gians, New Zealan­ders, Aus­tralians and when Un­cle Sam turned Chel­tenham into a sup­ply cen­tre in prepa­ra­tion for D-day, GIS by the train, truck and Jeep load in­tro­duced jazz and razzmatazz to the Club’s usual fare of ta­ble ten­nis and iced buns.

In true wartime spirit, the club was run en­tirely by vol­un­teers.

To cheer the place up, large paint­ings of lo­cal sub­jects by Ger­ald Gar­diner, a teacher at Chel­tenham Art School, were hung in the main club room.

Tea dances were held, which cu­ri­ously enough be­came more suc­cess­ful when the ad­mis­sion charge was in­creased, as an ac­count of the club reveals.

“At first a charge of 6d was made and mem­bers were al­lowed to bring a guest, but the dances were poorly at­tended. The charge was raised, as a trial, to 2/6d. and the num­bers have since been sat­is­fac­tory and the dances a suc­cess”.

We learn from the same ac­count that the lack of a to­bacco li­cence proved a great bane.

“We are con­stantly asked for cig­a­rettes and to­bacco and when we have to say we have no li­cence to sell, mem­bers - men and girls - go over to the near­est pub­lic house for them, be­ing the only place open in the evenings, thus de­feat­ing one of the main ob­jects of the club” (ie. to keep ser­vice peo­ple out of the pubs).

The li­cence to sell to­bacco was even­tu­ally granted, but not un­til the town’s MP Mr Lip­son raised the ques­tion in Par­lia­ment.

When Chel­tenham Ser­vices Club closed with a fi­nal tea dance in 1946, an un­known vol­un­teer with a pas­sion for fig­ures tot­ted up a few sta­tis­tics.

These re­vealed that dur­ing the war, the club had 20,538 mem­bers, who had scoffed 876,800 bars of choco­late and been served 749,177 meals.

The last dance at the Chel­tenham Ser­vices Club

The bar at the Chel­tenham Ser­vices Club

Flags of the Al­lies in the lounge at the Chel­tenham Ser­vices Club

Meals at the club were made by vol­un­teers

Ser­vices Club founder Cyril Bird

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