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Food in WWI Trenches - Help Please

#1
One of my nippers is doing a project on life in the trenches for school and one of the tings they are looking into is what soldiers ate.

I asumed it would be tinned and dry with a bit of preserved (jams and pickles) stuff thrown in plus whatever could be sent from home but wondered about centralised cooking near the front lines, fresh rations availability etc

Can anyone point me to some internet resources to dig a bit further?

Thanks in advance
 
#4
Things he/she could take in, still on sale in Tesco's, would be canned mixed vegetables, corned beef, any bread less than 14 days old, plum jam ('When the 'ell is it going to be strawberry?"), cheap cheddar, margarine and tea. Biscuits would be more of a problem, but perhaps cheap pizza bases baked for 10 minutes or until they're hard but not burned would give a flavour.

From what I've read everyone in the trenches cooked for themselves, adding whatever they could buy or get from home to the basic list. On rest/reserve the company cooks would do better, although sometimes meat, vegetables and bacon could be cooked and then sent up to the line.

Haven't looked for on-line resources, but 'Tommy' by Richard Holmes covers it well enough to get started.
 
#5
The daily ration
1 3/4 pound of fresh or frozen meat, !lb of preerved meat( corned beef)

1 3/4 lb of bread, or 1lb of biscuit or in hot climate flour

8oz fress veg.or 2 oz dried

4oz bacon 3oz cheese

5/8 oz tea, 1/16 of a tin of condensed milk and 3oz sugar

the men also recieved a daily issue of rum

Each week men received

4oz of jam
1oz of pickles and small amounts of salt and pepper
oatmeal could be provided 3 times a week and butter was an extra untill 1917
In October the raion was reduced to 1lb of meat and 3/4lb preerved meat
jam was reduced to 3oz but con milk was increased to 1/12 to compensate

In 1917 the bread ration was cut to 1lb and cheese reduced to 2oz

support, and line of comunication troops had further cuts at vareying times

The British Army Handbook 1914-1918 page 248

hope that helps this is the regulation issue at times they got a lot less and in some fronts starvation was common
 
#6
Or he could add a bit of humour to his report...


Baldrick: Right, how about a nice meal, while you chew it over?

Blackadder: [suspicious] What's on the menu?

Baldrick: Rat. [shows him a big black rat] Saute or fricassee.

Blackadder: [peers at the rat] Oh, the agony of choice. Saute
involves...?

Baldrick: Well, you take the freshly shaved rat, and you marinade it
in a puddle for a while.

Blackadder: Hmm, for how long?

Baldrick: Until it's drowned. Then you stretch it out under a hot
light bulb, then you get within dashing distance of the
latrine, and then you scoff it right down.

Blackadder: So that's sauteing, and fricasseeing?

Baldrick: Exactly the same, just a slightly bigger rat.
 
#7
Forgotten Voices of the Great War has some sections on the food; bread was apparently available, however the lack of packaging meant it was not so clean when it arrived. Water was frequently contaminated with fuel, leading to chronic diarrhoea.

I believe John Keegan's history of the war says something about food on both sides as well. Remember the Germans ate significantly worse than the British troops, especially towards the end of the war.
 
#9
Happily I never experienced Sodexho (or whatever they are called), food was served by the proper steely eyed dealers of death otherwise known as the ACC

Anyway, thanks everyone, some great stuff there for her to go on
 
#10
Try the following link for some pictures of the packaging and food labels used in the trenches. Its a guy who makes stuff for Great War reenactors.

Tommy's Pack Fillers
 
F

fozzy

Guest
#11
meridian said:
Happily I never experienced Sodexho (or whatever they are called), food was served by the proper steely eyed dealers of death otherwise known as the ACC

Anyway, thanks everyone, some great stuff there for her to go on
As others have said - get hold of Holmes's "Tommy". IIRC tea was brought up to the troops in petrol tins, so had a certain "edge" to it!
 
#12
meridian said:
One of my nippers is doing a project on life in the trenches for school and one of the tings they are looking into is what soldiers ate.

I asumed it would be tinned and dry with a bit of preserved (jams and pickles) stuff thrown in plus whatever could be sent from home but wondered about centralised cooking near the front lines, fresh rations availability etc

Can anyone point me to some internet resources to dig a bit further?

Thanks in advance
This site may be of help

http://www.fidnet.com
 
#14
#15
Have a look at Chapter VII of "Over the Top" by Guy Empey (can be found for free on Project Gutenberg). He was a Yank who served in the British army while the US were still neutral (bit of a habit that... coming in late). He goes into detail about the rations at that time, as well as the problems distributing them. If you need a reader for the book, try yBook here, a very useful reader with the ability to load directly from Project Gutenburg.

Seems they issued OXO cubes even back then...
 

seaweed

LE
Book Reviewer
#16
Don't mock the rat. In some of the old sailing warships some crew members used to fish for them in the hold (line, hook and bait, just like fishing) and sell the catch to their mates. Probably easier to chew if you had bad teeth than salt meat that had been years in the cask.
 
#17
When I was a kid the next door neighbours father was an old Tommy. He had the habit of always turning his bread over several times before he buttered it (he had to butter it himself). It turned out that in WW1 he was given a piece of bread that had part of a rat baked in it and he very nearly died from the resulting illness.
 
#18
Corned beed hash seems to be the favourite our chef cooks up at trench events with lashings of HP sauce and thick bread.
 
#19
Dont forget, the postal service was very efficient. parcels through the year were shipped full of goodies from loved ones.

Gamidges , Fortnums and other big stores did this service as well.

Read of one officer who wore new underwear every day in the trenches, much to the benefit of his batman and those near him who copped the 'old' stuff.
 
#20
The book Mud, Blood & Poppycock has quite a lot to say about feeding in the trenches...

Quite a lot of bollox talked about this, mostly based on the Blackadder rat episode..

Troops were normally only ever in the front line trenches for a day or so. Cooking was not allowed so packed food was taken up and eaten - bully beef and jam sarnies and bread. British trenches were generally in a much better state than French or German ones, as they kept troops forward for much longer periods.

Most cooking would have been done centrally in the rear of the trench area. Field kitchens were the norm, and were run on quite hygenic, if not basic lines, and had been since the Crimea. As has been pointed out, there was only limited refrigeration (It did exist) so most meat was tinned, usually bully beef. There was however no problem with veg such at potatoes or carrots. In order to cook in bulk with limited equipment, most food would have been boiled or steamed, so mostly stew and duff which is easy to keep warm and serve.

The diet would therefore have been pretty boring, but sufficient. There was never serious shortages on the Brit side (unlike the Germans, who WERE starving by the end of the war). This is not to say that in some cases people went short because of resupply problems (or just bad admin), but this was the exception rather than the norm. Bread was baked daily in the field, and the Army ran field abbatoires and butcheries all the way through the war. There were even regimental lemonade factories set up by some teetotal COs...

You have to see these things in their context. Domestic life in the early 1900s was a lot simpler (although harder) than today, however much of the food manufacturing and preparation was done much closer to the populance than now. There would have been a lot of bakers, butchers etc in the ranks whose skills were utilised. The equipment and techniques used in british army catering did not change that much between 1890 and 1980... 6 foot tables, dixies, Soyer Stoves and No1 Burners.. tea, bread, potatoes, stew and plum duff.

Remember, soldiers, and especially old soldiers, always moan about the food - it's part of the culture...! The "rat in the bread" story sounds like a good one to wind up the kids.. like knocking the chocolate biscuits to shake out the weevils - yea Grandad!

... but it was OK really!
 
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