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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Parcels for Troops


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I was amazed to read about the huge numbers of parcels which made their way to the soldiers at the front, and would like to recreate for display a "typical" parcel which an officer might have recieved. I am drawing on information in the Tea Rum and Fags book, but have some questions:

What would boxes for trasport of foodstuff be made from and how were their contents protected in transit? Wood seems rather heavy and cardboard not very strong.

How were the parcels addressed and stamped /franked on the outside?

Were there any prohibited items?

Many thanks


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My forthcoming book, "Bully Beef & Biscuits", will deal with the subject of parcels, etc, more comprehensively than "Tea, Rum & Fags".

In terms of specifically officers' parcels, you would want to distinguish between the parcels that might have been sent by a man's family and those which were commercial purchases. The former would not be too disimilar to those sent to Other Ranks - small packages of favoured items. They'd be sent by the usual Army postal system, which conformed to Royal Mail regulations. The latter were purchased from companies such as Fortnum & Mason and, because of cost, were pretty much exclusive to middle class officers. Because of weight issues, they were sent by the Military Forwarding Department rather than the usual mail. I don't know specifically how Fortnums might have packaged the goods, but it was probably cardboard. The company's archivist is very helpful and may know the specific packaging used - I'm afraid I wasnt interested in that aspect so never asked her.

Addressing would be as you'd imagine - name, rank, number (for ORs) and unit.

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I'm sure I've seen something about cardboard packaging in Hansard Online

http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/ - might be worth a search for that and prohibited items.

Good steer.

House of Commons, 28 April 1915


...I ventured at Christmas time to write a letter to the papers pointing out that many of the parcels were filled with perishable material which was useless from the soldier's point of view. I examined some of the parcels. I found one containing a slice of cake, a handful of nuts, a pair of socks, a collar, half a ham, and a chicken, all jumbled together in a cardboard box, and it would never have reached the soldier in a useful condition.

Sir H. DALZIEL It probably pleased the old mother to send it.

Mr. HOBHOUSE Yes, possibly, and I had it repacked and sent to the front. But if we are to have an unlimited number of parcels of that sort the effect will be to cut off from the soldiers at the front many things that are urgently wanted. There is no unwillingness to carry on our part, but there is inability to carry such an enormous number as would be sent if we were to reduce our charges...

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Have you access to the Times Digital Archive via the e-reference section of your local public library?

I can access it from home using my library card number (Hampshire) and a search on sending parcels limited to 4 August 1914 - 31 December 1914 brings up 28 articles/letters/what have you.

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Certainly this is a WW2 reference,

Growing up (1960s) we had some old tin plate push fit lidded tins in a cupboard that were the type used to send food parcels to troops during WW2. A fruit cake or boiled eggs packed in straw would be placed in the tin. The lid pushed tight then the seam soldered to seal the lid. The whole lot then wrapped in cardboard, brown paper (kraft paper) and string with the package then mailed. Any food sent to the troops needed to be sealed in this leak and vermin proof manner. Certainly in 44 and 45 my grandmother was sending cakes and eggs to my uncle when he was at Tarakan and Morotai in this manner.

I assume that this packaging was in response to the learned experience from WW1 covered in the 1915 Hansard record above. I would expect that postal regulations on food packaging date from the middle of the war. Does anyone have a formal reference?



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Times Digital Archive is an excellent resource particularly for research into the "goings-on" at home.

As indicated at post #6, there was an on-going problem of inappropriate contents being sent by families. Delivery to the western front was rarely an issue, as delivery times were quick, but perishables sent to theatres such as Salonika will have, erm , perished on the journey.

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