In every English garrison town (a town where one or more regiments or batteries are stationed), and in very many of the garrison towns abroad, there is a Soldiers' Home. These homes, in almost every case, are worked by women, who voluntarily give their services and money for the benefit of "Thomas Atkins" out of barracks.
The soldier out of barracks, on leave, and on retirement, is a helpless and very often a homeless man, and he looks to the Soldiers' Home to provide him with food, sleeping accommodation, and recreation at a very small cost. When on the march to a fresh station or manoeuvres, he can always rely on finding home comforts at every garrison town through which he passes. If he is travelling privately, he knows where he can be sure of a good bed and food. The lady superintendent readily welcomes him, and if he has his wife and family with him, they can usually be accommodated also.
But the soldier is almost the only person who knows anything about these homes. No annual report is issued; the work is carried on so quietly, and their workers are so unostentatious, that many civilians barely know of their existence.
It was in 1863 that the first Soldiers' Home was built, eleven years before Miss Weston began her Sailors' Rests. A few years previously a lady, named Mrs. Papillon, had hired three rooms at Sandgate for the benefit of the soldiers stationed at Dover. But Mrs. Daniell started her work with a new
Soldiers' Home designed and built for the purpose.
A few years after Aldershot had been changed from a quiet village into a largely garrisoned town, it was suggested to her that she should start a mission there. She welcomed the suggestion, and it gradually grew into a desire to make a home for the soldiers when out of barracks. The officers in the camp heartily encouraged the scheme, for soldiers had then by no means an enviable reputation, and Aldershot was usually known as the "Devil's Stronghold." The number of troops stationed there after the Indian Mutiny was often as many as 24,000, for, as is usual after a war, a new system of training was being organised.
The land for the site was generously given, and Mrs. Daniell, partly through her village missions work, and partly through various periodicals, managed to obtain enough money to allow her to start building by February 11, 1863. The foundation stone was laid by the Earl of Shaftesbury, and on October 11 of the same year the first service was held in the hall.
The house was not very large, but stood detached on a hill quite near the Cavalry Barracks. It was built in the Elizabethan style, and contained a large hall, reading, smoking, and dining rooms, a smaller hall, a coffee bar, bath-rooms, and sleeping accommodation. At first, Mrs. Daniell did not live in the Home, and only paid periodical visits to it; but as time went on she found that she could only properly manage the increasing work by making it her home, and there she lived and worked until her death in 1871. Then her daughter, Miss Daniell, who had long assisted her, carried it on by herself.
In 1872 a small Home was opened at Weedon, but it only remained open till 1874, when the troops left for Ireland. A small Soldiers' Home had been carried on privately at Colchester for some little time, and in 1873 Miss Daniell was asked to take it over. She found she was able to do so, but decided to take a larger house, and in 1878 the Home was transferred to its present large and comfortable quarters in Queen Street.
At the request of some artillerymen leaving for Manchester, she started a small home there in 1873. This was given up in 1894, but in 1874 a similar one was founded at Plymouth. The next year Miss Daniell was able to carry out her long-wished-for plan to build a Home at Chatham in memory of her mother. London had not a Home till 1878, when a small one was started by a committee of officers of the Guards. Finding, however, the work was growing fast, in 1887 they asked Miss Daniell to amalgamate it with her other Homes. After some hesitation, she consented, but she recognised that a new Home must be built in order to shelter not only the men of the London garrison, but the many soldiers passing through the city. A sum of £4,000 which was subscribed enabled her to buy the site in Buckingham Gate, and in 1890 the building was completed. Though this was one of the last Homes to be built, it has increased in size more than any other.
At first, fifteen cubicles were considered quite sufficient sleeping accommodation, but in 1898 this number had been increased to thirty-five. In 1906 there were six times as many applicants for beds as there were beds, and it was found necessary to erect on the existing portion of the house two storeys entirely composed of cubicles and rooms. A debt of nearly £7,000 was incurred, but this was all paid off by the end of April, 1910.
The Windsor Home was founded in 1891, and that at Okehampton Camp only originated three years before Miss Daniell's death, in 1894. The seven existing Homes are all carried on in very much the same way, and all are supported by a common fund. Most of them have coffee-bars, and all but Windsor and Okehampton provide sleeping accommodation for men and their families, but the money obtained from these sources is not sufficient to support the Homes. The London Home could maintain itself, but some of the other Homes depend entirely on voluntary subscriptions. 4 large staff of servants has to be kept, but the lady superintendents and their helpers, who have all the care and responsibility of the homes, give their service, and often their incomes, willingly to the work.
The Homes are open at seven o'clock in the morning, and, except on Sunday, remain open till eleven o'clock at night. In many a religious meeting is held every evening, which the men have the option of attending. Lantern lectures, teas, and entertainments are given periodically, and billiards and other games are always at hand. Temperance work is carried on among the men and their families, a library is at their disposal, and savings banks are in the charge of the lady superintendent.
For the women, there are weekly mothers' meetings and working parties; for the children there is the Band of Hope. A night school helps those men studying for their first-class certificate-the final examination which every man has to pass before he can hope for a rank higher than sergeant-and gives the recruits straight from the depot a
The Soldiers' Home at Aldershot. which was one of the first of the establishments founded by the late Mrs. Daniell, and which has done much to blor cut Aldershot's previous unenviable reputation chance of picking up what they have lost since they left school.
The London Home stands within easy reach of Wellington Barracks, and not five minutes from Victoria Station. It is open all day, and civilians as well as soldiers may obtain meals, except on Sundays, when only soldiers are supplied. The coffee-bar and dining-room are on the ground floor, and at dinner-time there is often such a crowd of hungry men that many have to eat their dinners standing. On the other side of the building are the large hall, partitioned off with folding doors to make a small class-room, the men's reading-rooms, baths, and cloak-room. It is only during a very small part of the year that some of the rooms are not occupied with a good number of Service men. The kitchen and bakehouse are in the basement, for almost all the food consumed is made on the premises.
Upstairs are 100 rooms and cubicles (many of them endowed in memory of some soldier killed in action), and the married quarters. The rooms of the lady superintendent are on the first floor, for during every week in the year there is some lady ready to help or advise and take the evening meetings.
Food sold in the coffee-bar is of excellent quality, and very low in price. A large plate of meat is 6d., jam pudding (much in demand) is 1d., all kinds of buns and tarts are sold at id. each. Tea, coffee, cocoa, and all nonalcoholic drinks are sold at 1d. or 1 1/2d. a cup or glass. It is one of the rules of Miss Daniell's homes that no intoxicating drink shall be sold or brought into the house.