No Wah - History of Rations in the Armed Forces and the ACC


Book Reviewer
Dear All,

I am trying to do some research into Rations and the Forces through history. I have trawled the t'interweb and whilst I know the ACC was arguably founded by a frenchman during the Crimean War, I am really looking for the type of rations and feeding arrangements throughout history.

What I suppose I am really asking is, are there any RLC Chef instructors / spotters that have packs of this stuff to save me endlessly trawling through information and counter-information. I suspect that if there is such a pack, then it is likely to have been weeded well.

I have many other sources but am actually after an official military standpoint. Many Thanks.


Book Reviewer
TS - thanks.

I am aware that Fanny Adams has an affiliation to Tinned Mutton meat from Deptford Victuallers', allegedly an area where a small piece of the murderess was found at the same time the tins were issued. Thanks - it has already been included.

I have also got corn beef (dog) and macconies as well. It is official histories I am looking for.
You will find that the history of rations is much older with our Navy cousins than with the Army. Victualling ships from HM Dockyards goes back to Pepys times...

Army rationing was much more basic up to the end of the Napolionic period. Troops out of the line were "billeted" in private homes who were paid (or pressed) to feed them. Troops on the march were issued with fresh rations. this was usually in the form of flour/oatmeal and raw meat on the bone. It was issued and cooked collectively, invariably by boiling in the company pot.

Under the influence of Florence Nightingale, Alexis Soyer, who was the head Chef at the Reform Club in London, was asked to come out to the Crimea to advise on cooking for the troops which was a major cause of ill health. The need for a catering corps was recognised in the outcome of the reforms made after the (many) cocque ups that characterised the Crimean war.
I seem to recall a story about the origin of McKewns 70 and 80 shilling beer which is sold in pubs in Scotland. The name has something to do with the provision of beer to Scottish troops. The weak beer V strong beer for drinking water. I may be wrong.


Book Reviewer
I have Soyer up the Ying Yang - thanks. It is the moving on from the Crimea for the Army and the Naval thing I really need.

Thanks for your efforts.
I think the Sweet FA story was actually Priddy's Hard victually depot for the RN in gosport.
Does the Army still use Soyer Stoves? Was using them in the '60's.
Going Jungly in Malaya in the '60's we were supplied by the Aussies who slung together mainly cans of stuff, enough for a 5 man patrol for 7 days. Good stuff but bloody heavy!
The Compo in Hong Kong around the same time was put together locally and was crap.
Preferred the compo of the '50's but was young then and would have eaten anything when hungry!
A total of 3,240,948 tons of food was sent from Britain to the soldiers fighting in France and Belgium during the First World War. The British Army employed 300,000 field workers to cook and supply the food. At the beginning of the war British soldiers were given 10 ounces of meat and 8 ounces of vegetables a day. As the size of the army grew and the German blockade became more effective, the army could not maintain these rations and by 1916 this had been cut to 6 ounces of meat a day. Later troops not in the front-line only received meat on nine out of every thirty days. The daily bread ration was also cut in April 1917. The British Army attempted to give the soldiers the 3,574 calories a day that dieticians said they needed. However, others argued that soldiers during wartime need much more than this.

Soldiers in the Western Front were very critical of the quantity and the quality of food they received. The bulk of their diet in the trenches was bully beef (caned corned beef), bread and biscuits. By the winter of 1916 flour was in such short supply that bread was being made with dried ground turnips. The main food was now a pea-soup with a few lumps of horsemeat. Kitchen staff became more and more dependent on local vegetables and also had to use weeds such as nettles in soups and stews.

The battalion's kitchen staff had just two large vats, in which everything was prepared. As a result, everything the men ate tasted of something else. For example, soldiers often complained that their tea tasted of vegetables. Providing fresh food was also very difficult. It has been estimated that it took up to eight days before bread reached the front-line and so it was invariably stale. So also were the biscuits and the soldiers attempted to solve this problem by breaking them up, adding potatoes, onions, sultanas or whatever was available, and boiling the mixture up in a sandbag.

The catering staff put the food in dixies (cooking pots), petrol cans or old jam jars and carried it up the communication trenches in straw-lined boxes. By the time the food reached the front-line it was always cold. Eventually the army moved the field kitchens closer to the front-line but they were never able to get close enough to provide regular hot food for the men. Sometimes a small group of soldiers managed to buy a small primus stove between them. When they could obtain the fuel, which was always in short supply, they could heat their food and brew some tea.

Food was often supplied in cans. Maconochie contained sliced turnips and carrots in a thin soup. As one soldier said: "Warmed in the tin, Maconochie was edible; cold it was a mankiller." The British Army tried to hide this food shortage from the enemy. However, when they announced that British soldiers were being supplied with two hot meals a day, they received over 200,000 letters from angry soldiers pointing out the truth of the situation. Men claimed that although the officers were well-fed the men in the trenches were treated appallingly.

Food supply was a major problem when soldiers advanced into enemy territory. All men carried emergency food called iron rations. This was a can of bully beef, a few biscuits and a sealed tin of tea and sugar. These iron rations could only be opened with the permission of an officer. This food did not last very long and if the kitchen staff were unable to provide food to the soldiers they might be forced to retreat from land they had won from the enemy.

There's a bit more info and soldier quotes at the bottom of the page.

I believe the ACC was formed in 1941 from men of the RASC (my Father amongst them).

I have a 1915 Manual of Field Cooking and Dietry, which has number of 'typical' menus for camp cooking, I can scan a few for you if you wish.
I may also have a WW2 catering site in my 'favourites' (if I can find it)

Any help? If so, drop me a PM

I have done a bit of digging for you through some books and diaries and have the following quote which may be of interest:

"31st Feb 1899 - Marched up to Table Top Mountain to fight with the Boojer Kommando out of Natal. Set up camp and deployed Piquets and Sentries. My bugler got kicked in the face by an elephant just after sundown - he was trying to milk it. The rations situation is desperate. The men have resorted to eating anything and everything they can find.

1st Mar 1899 - Beat off a dawn attack by the Boojer's and have now taken the plateau of Table Top. The men are shimfing like wagonners - no food! Did an inspection after reveille and Pte Guthorse had to be flogged for eating his trousers, I suspect that few of the others have shared in this small delicacy as they all seem to have bits of cloth stuck in their teeth. Guthorse will now have to complete the rest of this campaign in his pants.

2nd Mar 1899 -Good news! God save the Queen! CSM McGrunter found a small pack of custard creams in the Zulu village that we burnt down this morning. The Officers dined well at breakfast. The CSM was invited to watch, I allowed this concession on the account that he had found the offering, although when I spoke to him I noticed that he too appears to have some sort of material stuck in his teeth. I've also noticed that Guthorse has lost his shirt, I suspect that the SNCO's have decided to eat the rest of Guthorse's Uniform. The blasted Commisariat need to get supplies to us soon.

3rd Mar 1899 - Flogged Guthorse again this morning. The damned fool has eaten 10 rounds of ammunition and his Rifle strap.

4rd Mar 1899 - The officers have decided to eat Pte Guthorse. We plan to sautee him in elephant pi55 and then flash fry him with his boots and pants in a big black pot. It has been agreed that the men can eat what remains of his uniform.

5st Mar 1899 - Guthorse put up a bit of struggle and had managed to swallow half of the CSM's arm before we finally managed to subdue him by hitting him on the head with LCpl Figtit. 8 men died in a fight over a button off of his tunic and Cpl Waftcock choked to death on one of his collardogs.

6rd Mar 1899 - The men looked surprisingly fat on the march to Ladysmith this morning and seem in good spirits. I have reported in my journal that Captain Fontelroy Smedwick-Blythe is missing.

7st Mar 1899 - The Colour Sgt's have been industrious in their foraging overnight! Woke up this morning to see the men eating a Hippo. The wretched beast was screaming like Fu*k and there was hippo sh1t everywhere. The Officers ate the CSM who had died in the night from the wounds he received subduing Guthorse."
Taken from the Diary of Lt Col Dicky Spillwater 193th Foot "The Hungry Boys"

So as you can see, logistics, and in particular, rations haven't always been easy to come-by. 193th Foot were eventually found by the Provost General up a tree munching on baboons. As a direct consequence of their campaign, the Army decided to cancel it's Pay as you Dine contract in South Africa.


Book Reviewer
Great chaps, I have trawled many similar things on t'interweb - many thanks. No RLC chefs out there that get their history infused into them with a light bouquet garni?

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