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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Mess Baskets and Mess Boxes

Rod Burgess

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I'm (slowly) transcribing the War Diary of 14 York & Lanc Regt (the 2nd Barnsley Pals). Every time the battalion moves anywhere, great attention is given in the Op Order to the collection and transport of the Mess Baskets and Mess Boxes of the companies and Bn HQ. Sometimes they move in a "GS Wagon", sometimes in "one limber" (presumably meaning a Wagon, GS, Limbered ) and sometimes in the "Mess Cart" (presumably a Cart, Officers' Mess) or even allegedly in "the Maltese Cart" (which seems likely to be a misnomer for the Officers' Mess Cart, rather than meaning they really were carried in the MO's Maltese Cart).


Does anyone have any idea of the exact nature and contents of the baskets and boxes? How big were they? How heavy and cumbersome? What did they contain?  Presumably the dixies, pots, pans and utensils used by the company cook(s) to prepare and transport the rations cooked in the Field Cookers - or was it the rations and foodstuffs waiting to be prepared and ditributed to the troops - or was it both? Why use a basket? What was the difference in the role of the basket and the box for each company?


These Mess Baskets and Boxes were clearly vital equipment - their transport is mentioned in more detail than that of the Lewis Guns! It seems Napoleon was right: an army marches on its stomach.

Edited by Rod Burgess
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I don't know, but in this context, 'mess' may not refer just to officers' provisions, but to the battalion's entire messing requirements. See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mess. Thus, they're describing the rations and/or utensils. Just a thought ...


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Just G***ling about, I came acros this snippet at: http://www.pixnet.co.uk/Oldham-hrg/World-War1/Somme/diaries/24th/1916-06-orders1.html:

WO-95-1646-2_1-28 [WD of 24th Manchesters]

Any surplus kit over 38lbs., 1 mess basket per Coy., and Men's surplus kits will be stacked behind Headquarters Mess Kitchen at 10:00 am on the 19th instant. These kits will be stored at MERICOURT by D.A.D.O.S.

In fact, if you search for the phrase "mess basket", a few other sites come up.

I also looked for "mess box" and on: http://www.kingsownmuseum.com/kolib0218-one.htm, there is a transcript:


Document loosely inserted into Correspondence Book (Field Service) Army Book 152 used by Captain Hodgkinson, Quartermaster, 1st/5th Battalion, King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, World War One.
Quartermaster’s Correspondence, 19 Nov 1917 to 15 Jan 1918.  Book number 16.  At page dated 25 Nov 1917
Army Form C 2123 ‘C’ Form Messages and Signals
Request for limber to be sent for company mess box 25 Nov 1917.

This rather supports my theory that they were not just individual officers' kits, but company kits as well.


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Various wicker baskets of about a standard size were used for many functions, such as signallers stores and medical stores. THere is one for sale on ebay at present - absolutely no idea what it was made to be used for but appears to have been fitted out for specific equipment.

Hope that this is of some help



PS I have absolutely nothing to do with the sale/vendor and make no comment in anyway about the accuracy of any descriptions



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  • 2 weeks later...

It certainly seems from the context of the mentions in the War Diary of 14 Y&L that these Mess Baskets and Mess Boxes were not just Officers' Mess items but were part of the messing arrangements for the troops of each company. Each company had its own boxes and baskets, and so did battalion HQ. I suspect that these were hampers and boxes used for the storage and transport of all the preparation, cooking and eating equipment used by the company cooks (other than those items carried on, or with, each company's horse-drawn field cooker). Alternatively, they may have been for storage and transport of bulk rations (all those hardtack buscuits, spuds and tins of bully beef and Machonachie's stew had to be kept somewhere).

It wouldn't surprise me at all to discover that the pannier Ross found on ebay is exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about. They were clearly heavy enough to have been moved on the battalion's first line horse-drawn transport. A batallion at full strength comprised some 1100 men and, even when under strength on active service, the quantity of rations consumed daily was huge (almost a quarter of a ton of meat and nearly the same weight of bread or biscuit per day, for example).

The other item which is constantly mentioned in the War Diary whenever the batallion is moving is the men's blankets "rolled in bundles of ten and securely labelled" to be carried on the transport. The labelling did not refer to the individual man but to the company or platoon: the lice and fleas were kept within the sub-unit but shared amongst its members! Of course, the blankets did not go up into the front line but stayed with the rear party for use when in billets out of the line.

When you start to add up the weight and bulk of all this "other stuff" a unit needed, in addition to its ammunition, bombs and "military" supplies, you realise why so many wagons and carts were needed and also the large number of draft and pack animals in even an infantry batallion.

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11 hours ago, Rod Burgess said:

large number of draft and pack animals in even an infantry batallion

The Great War was very much a horse transport war. Rail may have moved materiel from ports to rail heads, narrow gauge light rail, motor transport and animal drawn wagons then moved it the depots immediately behind the front lines. To infantry positions, transport was then mostly animal or human carrier transport.


Into this mix, the quantity of horse fodder transported to France to support the BEF was tremendous, I do not have the reference to hand, but by memory occupying about a third of the volume shipping space across the channel through the majority of the war.

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