Leah Tapper Cadbury, relief and canteen worker.

Leah Cadbury, from her 1918 passport application

Born in Haverford, PA, in 1892, Leah Tapper Cadbury was the daughter of banker Richard Tapper Cadbury and his wife Helen, who were part of the US branch of a family famous in Britain for its chocolate. A cousin was Henry J. Cadbury, a Haverford College professor who cofounded the American Friends Service Committee and caused a stir when he wrote an antiwar letter to the editor. Leah Cadbury graduated from Bryn Mawr College in 1914 and served for three months in 1916 as a nurse at American Red Cross Hospital No. 1 in Neuilly, France. She then worked in Uffculme Hospital in Birmingham, England. The Red Cross sent her to the canteen serving French servicemen in Bar-le-Duc, France, and she provided this description of its August 1917 operations in the November 1917 Bryn Mawr Alumnae Quarterly:

A very good canteen is running at Bar-le-Duc, and I worked for a week there in order to learn the details of the system…

Bar-le-Duc is a junction for troops passing to and fro, there are barracks in the neighborhood (within 15 to 20 miles) and one of the main military high roads passed through the town, so there is a steady stream of soldiers of all nations.

The canteen is always open except for one short hour in the morning, 5–6, when the “platon,” as we call the man of all work, hoses the whole place and cleans out the rubbish. The canteen undertakes to give the soldiers hot and cold food at any time….We sold at cost price, coffee (hot and cold and au lait), tea (the same), chocolate, boullion, syrups, limonadeno wines of any sort—bread in all sizes of chunks, “tartines” [toast], ragout, steak, rosbif, potatoes, salad, eggs (fresh cooked or hardboiled), ham and eggs, confitures, miscellanies such as stamps, paper, petits gateaux, tobacco, smoked meats, and chocolates.

We worked under very primitive conditions, and there were many faults in our methods, but we fed the men and cheered them a bit before they passed on. ….

Of course we often made mistakes in order of serving and some poor fellow would remonstrate. But the poilus [French soldiers] were always nice, even the drunk ones who carried off the coffee jug one night!

At rush hours we generally had three workers, one at the caisse [checkout], one at the jugs, and one at the kitchen end of the counter! As the entrance to the officers’ room was also at this end, the third worker had to look after them too! We had one woman to cook and another to wash, but frequently we had to do a bit of both ourselves. To do all the cooking, we had one feeble stove and six gas burners, two of which were always in use for coffee and chocolate. Nevertheless we fed innumerable men. ….

The night shift from ten to five was the most interesting. Only two of us worked then, with two servants. About four or five rushes of men kept us busy, you may be sure, and they were always shivering with cold. Unfortunately we had no decent dortoirs [dormitories] for them, but soon some old hospital sheds will be fitted up with brancards [stretchers] and a douche so the men can sleep and have a bath.

The day is divided into different shifts but as we were very shorthanded we had to work overtime. …. We wore large overall aprons with sleeves, dark brown preferably, to hide the dirt (!), and caps of any style, to keep our hair clean. The air is always blue with smoke. Strong, comfortable shoes are most important as one is always standing or running (never walking) about. ….

The work is hard and your hands are very soon in a pretty mess, and it’s very easy to scrap with the other workers. …. [T]he work is wonderfully interesting. You should see a man’s face light up when he hears you are American, or see the relief with which he pockets his precious sous when you ask only “2 sous” for a piece of bread instead of 10. . . . You are asked to do many queer things, bind up a dog’s foot, or a boy’s finger, or “spik Inglish, avec.” Every night gives you a variety of experiences, so that you hurry to take your turn and are slow to leave. (113–15)

This diagram of the Bar-le-Duc canteen with Cadbury’s account shows a separate entrance for officers.

From December 1917 to March 1918, Cadbury was in Naples assisting the Red Cross with refugees. After the war, she was executive secretary for the Women’s Educational and Industrial Union in Boston and served as a field representative for the Birth Control League. As Christopher Isherwood’s diaries make clear, she also was a volunteer English as a second language teacher at a Quaker refugee hostel in Haverford, and one of her students was Vienna-born psychologist Carl Furtmueller. Cadbury married Furtmueller in June 1942; he died in 1951. She passed away in 1990.

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