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Remembered Today:

TOMMY'S DIET AND OFF-RATION EXTRAS ON THE WESTERN FRONT


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   I am opening a thread on this topic in order to continue  a growing interest on the subject that is overflowing the bounds of the  "Postcards" thread.

Enthusiasts of marmalade  will find that topic well covered there.   I will kick it off  with a couple of general observations and examples-but hope anecdote, references, quotes from memoirs etc may gravitate here.

 

1)  The British Tommy  had access to  SOME variety of diet by use of his pay on other  items.  It seems that there were a variety of sources for this:

 

     a) Army canteens. As discussed on "Postcards"-  a wide variety of extras at fixed  non-profit prices ,with the caveat of "subject to availability"

 

     b)  Other voluntary organisations- eg YMCA, Salvation Army, other soldiers comfort funds

 

     It seems to me that this may have had some degree of official blessing.  The goods offered all took up shipping and rail capacity, so must have been done (?) with some sort of official framework and blessing.

 

2)  Food from home.

 

          a)  By post

 

          b)  Back from leave.

 

     Obviously, there had to be a great emphasis of preserved foods and dry goods.  Plenty of ads. in home publications for stuff. But what could Tommy bring back from leave,for example? Or how often could he be sent stuff from home?

 

3)  Food sourced locally

 

           a) Estaminets- wine, women (we'll pass over that one), potatoes and eggs.

 

           b) Local agriculture- I have picked up some references to British troops growing veg. behind the lines and helping out with agricultural work as well.

 

4)  Quartermasters Stores, company, regimental funds.

 

   So let's kick it off with a speculation:

 

  That there  were x number of British Tommies  whose diet actually IMPROVED during the war compared to pre-war.

 

     We are used to the experience of the Second World War with it's  facts that for many working-class kids diet actually improved - the old story that WW2 kids were the healthiest generation ever.  Thanks in part to the scheme of ration designed by Martin Winchester- stamps- that still gave the element of choice even if choices were restricted by availability, quality and quantity. In economic terms, it looks to me that the variety of choices available to Tommy may have acted as a de facto scheme  of rationing by  money rather than stamps.

 

     There is plenty available on pre-war diet  in the UK-  Under the Liberal Government of Campbell-Bannerman and Asquith, the Board of Trade produced a good series of reports on Cost of Living in Towns (including German and American towns).  The moot point is the debate before the war about Town v Country. Our colleague Muerrisch has posted elsewhere:

 

     

"What nobody has addressed is the contrast between urban and country "working class" life. In the main, the farm labourers and their families had a hard life but access to food in a variety of ways, including "the pig", chicken, a vegetable garden and occasional handouts from the farmer and the squire and the church. My grandfather born 1879 in Yapton Sussex had about six brothers. His father was the first "farm engine" driver in the area, and the boys all went into engineering /smithing/ metalwork/driving jobs. I have seen their tiny cottage, with large garden, hard by the church where the family played in the wind band [no organ]. These men may not have had much marmalade, but they had an adequate diet and were all fit for war. Grandpa was ASC MT, and an emigre brother was an infantryman in Princess Pats LI.

My grandmothers side were East Sussex: again a large family, lots of girls, who "went into service" so any poverty was ameliorated by their small incomes. Unlike some on this Forum I am old enough to have known the 1914-18 generation well [particularly as my father was busy sorting out Hitler, so grandpa was a stand-in dad]. Yes, times were hard but I do not buy the "no marmalade, no oranges" line. Both sides of the family were respectable lower class: a suit for Sundays and funerals, a crease in their trousers, a brush for shoes even if down-at-heel."

 

   Yet studies before the war show that the poor in towns had a better quality of diet than those in the country side-  the availability of cheap imported food in cities gave a paradox effect -the poor in the countryside PRODUCED the food but could not afford to eat it-  Imported butter and cheap New Zealand lamb and mutton are examples. This was the theme of the social survey undertaken by Seebohm Rowntree just before the war in his book "How the Labourer Lives" -this prints dietaries as well 

(available at www.archive.org-   https://archive.org/details/howlabourerlives00rown/page/202/mode/2up)

     Here is a sample budget and diet:

 

                              image.png.2d8b889a3f6376d3f582983444cc03c0.png

 

 

image.png.3a6f120175e3706f943f235afe5b01ff.png

 

image.png.190550a634f239dbfde134fb325dce2c.png

 

       The British economy well before the war  did not feed itself- BUT there were already well-established chains of overseas trade to bring stuff in.  Thus, the demise of the German economy in 1917-1918 and the Potato Winter may have been a war-winner-if reversed- in that the British always had access to overseas food-the Germans did not.  In addition, it may show that the U-Boat War of 1917-1918 may have been more of threat than presumed-not because it hindered food supplies in the metropolitan economy-but because it hindered imports of food direct to the Western Front. 

 

     Anyway, I hope there may be some discussion, etc to continue this interesting subject

 

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9 hours ago, voltaire60 said:

 

 

   Yet studies before the war show that the poor in towns had a better quality of diet than those in the country side-  the availability of cheap imported food in cities gave a paradox effect -the poor in the countryside PRODUCED the food but could not afford to eat it-  Imported butter and cheap New Zealand lamb and mutton are examples. This was the theme of the social survey undertaken by Seebohm Rowntree just before the war in his book "How the Labourer Lives" -this prints dietaries as well 

(available at www.archive.org-   https://archive.org/details/howlabourerlives00rown/page/202/mode/2up)

 

 

I cannot dispute the studies but they seem counter-factual: I have read the many complaints by commanders regarding the stunted ill-fed  street-smart townies coming forward versus the sturdy but simple yokels.

No point in choice and availability if one cannot afford it.

 

[as an aside, I have a large garden. Until last year it was ornamental, with the only concession to self-sufficiency being radish [my speciality] and soft fruit.

When Corona Virus struck we converted much of the rear to cottage garden and produced beetroot, onions,, runner beans, marrows, leeks and tomatoes. We are still eating the preserved remains. My point is that with a big garden we could move towards a degree of self-sufficiency [could certainly add chicken .... adequate room for accommodation].  Someone in a back-to-back in Brum has no such option.]

In the photo all the area beyond shed and dwarf hedge is under cultivation now. The barn wall grows quinces, raspberries, Tayberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, gooseberries, with rhubarb in front.

P1090001.JPG

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Splendid picture!     Muerrisch  has kindly provided a link on the Postcards thread to a scanned verson of the Expeditionary Force Canteen Price List for 1916, repeated here as I think it will come in useful:

 

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1RvdZQcp7XRXbaDDZslMQZ03rR-wzwuZl

 

Lo and behold,   

 

image.png.0d99d50568da83ad53e9ac25332f7728.png

 

   Do you know anything about the picture -where,when who?

 

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battle of loos

Good morning,

 

here are some items found in cantonment bins that come from personal purchase made by soldiers in order to embellish their meals.

find in Artois - France 

 

1084012490_DSC_0009-Copie.JPG.89ae8c7d8bd9918c65e2e38a28199d58.JPG

 

regards

 

michel

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image.png.1a031074cef08bab2f201ee959790ba3.png

 

           There is some evidence- at a practical level- that plum and apple for chosen deliberately for overall food supply reasons rather than for the  twin aims of enriching the Tickler family and annoying Old Bill.  The key seems to be  in 3 parts:

 

1)  Where the fruits are grown

 

         Apples and plums are both UK homegrown- and the fruits are comparatively large.  

 

2) How much labour to cultivate and harvest them

 

             Both are grown with minimal  human involvement.  Being large fruits, they are not labour intensive to harvest compared to, say, blackcurrants. In addition, England has traditionally avoided famine because we drink beer- if there are crops shortages, then go without beer (Quel horreur!) and eat the grains set aside for brewing.  Similarly, apples- eat the things rather than pulp them for cider.

 

3)  Sugar content

 

           Fruits have different sugar contents- Plums have a high sugar content than most other fruits capable of being converted into jam.  So, nature grows the little beasts and it saves on sugar imports into the bargain. It may explain why marmalade was not a jam on ration-it used too much sugar. This from SMEBE:

 

image.png.fdc7ad4da4d94335423cb84ce9f6cf98.png

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12 hours ago, voltaire60 said:

Lo and behold,   

 

image.png.0d99d50568da83ad53e9ac25332f7728.png

 

   Do you know anything about the picture -where,when who?

 

It is a "close up" from the attached group photograph of members of the 6th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment. (Territorial Force)

Sepoy

IMG_0059.jpg

Edited by Sepoy
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I'm going to add this picture, previously posted elsewhere, of two artillery men in (Sept.?) 1918, a few miles from the Hindenburg Line.

on the table in front of them are;

 

Tinned Carnation Milk

Tinned Bayside Apricots

Tinned Anchor Red Salmon

 

The Bayside Apricots appear to have a New York connection from what I can find on the net. 

 

These rations may have be 'liberated' from American troops. 

 

 

 

59105c857d0b7_bayside2.JPG

bayside.JPG

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1 hour ago, battle of loos said:

Good morning,

 

here are some items found in cantonment bins that come from personal purchase made by soldiers in order to embellish their meals.

find in Artois - France 

 

1084012490_DSC_0009-Copie.JPG.89ae8c7d8bd9918c65e2e38a28199d58.JPG

 

regards

 

michel

 

Nice to see the marmalade. 

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Voltaire, I am about to lower the tone.

 

A senior officer sent his regrettably temporarily deaf servant into the village with a verbal shopping list.

 

All was well on return apart from a rather ancient looking packet of three.

 

"What's this?!!!!!"

 

"French letters sir, very hard to come they was an all!"

 

"Now go and get me some fresh lettuce!"

 

"Sir!"

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keithfazzani

Plum and apple jam. It was the staple at my boarding school in the early 60’s. Came in large tins, possibly war surplus. 

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20 hours ago, Muerrisch said:

 

I cannot dispute the studies but they seem counter-factual: I have read the many complaints by commanders regarding the stunted ill-fed  street-smart townies coming forward versus the sturdy but simple yokels.

No point in choice and availability if one cannot afford it.

 

I've researched the men who are commemorated on the Galashiels (southern Scotland)  war memorial and in the countryside many of the farm servants were hired on relatively short term contracts where the employer provided accomodation but little in the way of long term employment so investing time and effort in a vegetable garden when you could be kicked out every 3 months (contracts were rolled over every quarter day ) may not have been seen to be worthwile and it assumes you are provided with space and have access to tools and seeds.  

 

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RaySearching

Recommended reading on the subject

 

(1) Bully Beef and Biscuits By John Hartley   2015

 

(2)  Fishing the Somme with Mills Bomb By J R Hartley 1916

 

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10 minutes ago, RaySearching said:

Recommended reading on the subject

 

(1) Bully Beef and Biscuits By John Hartley   2015

 

    Happy to be reminded of this for 2 reasons- Its by a GWF colleague- and it's also just been remaindered through Postscript Books. It won't come cheap again!

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"Bully beef and biscuits" reminded me of an entry in my grandfathers diary - 

 

"This wholesale waste of food is one of the most stupendous things to dismay me. I have seen portions of trench parapets built out of unused corned beef tins.

I have seen heaps of biscuits rotting in many an old billet; while the amount of good wholesome food which daily finds its way to the incinerator is enough to satisfy any thinking person that we are a very amateurish army in more than one direction"

 

 I suppose  we can take it that BB&B's was not the "Tommy's" most favoured cuisine. Makes you wonder what the "Good wholesome food" was. Jars of pickled cabbage and beans maybe! Any ideas ??

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I noticed this recently, a satggering 30,000,000 kg of meat sent each month to the Western Front by 1918.

 

Being a Sheffield lad living in exile, I had a blissful moment when a period bottle of 'Hendo's' turned up in a field near Guillemont some years ago. It was only, and may still be, available in Sheffield, one wonders who had the pleasure of its contents. A splash or two of Henderson's Relish would certainly make a tin of Maconochie more palatable and cut through the greasy petrol tin water for anyone who fancied an alternative brew. My larder is thankfully stocked from family still there.

Meanwhile...

 

DSCF0031.JPG.bd9ac4da0020cee7eeed7bc129828dac.JPG

 

Edited by jay dubaya
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There was a mention in the previous posts regarding marmalade querying the where the oranges that those selling oranges in Belgium and France acquired their supplies.

At the time, were not oranges grown in the South of France and possibly supplies available from Spain? 

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Very much so- all over the south.  Given that the traditional limits of Provence are as far north as Valence- not that far south of Lyons-  then not only available but could be ultra-fresh as well.  To me, it looks as though the scarcity of marmalade may not be shortage of oranges but the large amount of sugar needed. Can't imagine Sir Doug-good Scot that he was-went without a jar of Keiller on his breakfast table.  Given the productivity of Provence in particular, perhaps we should start looking for references to fresh peaches and apricots as well. (Or the day the diggers find a garlic crusher in an old British trench :P)

 

image.png.d4554e44e269a7fa8d37013ae05d4917.png

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Thanks...much as I suspected.

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5 hours ago, voltaire60 said:

perhaps we should start looking for references to fresh peaches and apricots as well. (Or the day the diggers find a garlic crusher in an old British trench :P)


The stones of which were used for respirators. I vaguely remember an article in the local paper... I will seek it out later.

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knittinganddeath

For marmalade you need twice as much sugar as fruit by weight, especially if you are using bitter oranges. But for regular jam you can take equivalent weights, or even less sugar if you don't mind a bit of tartness. Marmalade is also labour- and time-intensive compared to apple & plum jam. I could make the same amount of jam in an hour, as I could make of marmalade in two days. Of course, the commercial process must have been at least partially mechanised, but a lot of the time for marmalade is simply spent softening the orange peel -- up to 24 hours. The beautiful clear look comes from straining the liquid before adding the sugar, which is another step that isn't necessary for regular jam. Lastly, marmalade needs to age before it reaches its peak flavour, whereas jam can be consumed immediately.

 

The American army surgeon Harvey Cushing was quite horrified by the amount of wasted food as he saw it. "The waste bread from the ambulance trains is put in sacks and unloaded anywhere. Our own waste, which is enormous, goes to the pigs — not ours but those of the Belgian farmer, who still inhabits his buildings. He is growing wealthy on it beyond his dreams of avarice, for, once raised and fattened, he sells the pigs back to us. The men in the mess kitchen have had no instruction whatever concerning the saving of food. Such economy as a bread pudding is unknown. A woman housekeeper and a farmer could feed our mess, keep pigs, cows, and chickens, and make money."

 

Cushing also talks about the Indian soldiers making chapattis, and mentions "some Tommies up there shooting rabbits" but doesn't say if it was only for sport or also for consumption.

 

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50 minutes ago, knittinganddeath said:

For marmalade you need twice as much sugar as fruit by weight, especially if you are using bitter oranges. But for regular jam you can take equivalent weights, or even less sugar if you don't mind a bit of tartness. Marmalade is also labour- and time-intensive compared to apple & plum jam. I could make the same amount of jam in an hour, as I could make of marmalade in two days. Of course, the commercial process must have been at least partially mechanised, but a lot of the time for marmalade is simply spent softening the orange peel -- up to 24 hours. The beautiful clear look comes from straining the liquid before adding the sugar, which is another step that isn't necessary for regular jam. Lastly, marmalade needs to age before it reaches its peak flavour, whereas jam can be consumed immediately.

 

The American army surgeon Harvey Cushing was quite horrified by the amount of wasted food as he saw it. "The waste bread from the ambulance trains is put in sacks and unloaded anywhere. Our own waste, which is enormous, goes to the pigs — not ours but those of the Belgian farmer, who still inhabits his buildings. He is growing wealthy on it beyond his dreams of avarice, for, once raised and fattened, he sells the pigs back to us. The men in the mess kitchen have had no instruction whatever concerning the saving of food. Such economy as a bread pudding is unknown. A woman housekeeper and a farmer could feed our mess, keep pigs, cows, and chickens, and make money."

 

Cushing also talks about the Indian soldiers making chapattis, and mentions "some Tommies up there shooting rabbits" but doesn't say if it was only for sport or also for consumption.

 

 The rabbits most likely for consumption. Another entry in my grandfathers diary :- 'Lieutenant Owen sent us four pheasants and I am enjoying one now'. (Hohenzollern Redoubt) It seem Self reliance was definitely on the cards. 

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