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Remembered Today:

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


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On 22/02/2021 at 23:45, RegHannay said:

"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"


This would have horrified and astonished the Germans. Even before the food shortages brought on by the British blockade, captured corned beef was considered a delicacy. By 1918, when 'meatless days' were routine and the civilians on the home front were positively malnourished, the average Landser would have been quite prepared to kill or risk his life to get his hands on just one of these tins!

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2 hours ago, bierast said:


This would have horrified and astonished the Germans. Even before the food shortages brought on by the British blockade, captured corned beef was considered a delicacy. By 1918, when 'meatless days' were routine and the civilians on the home front were positively malnourished, the average Landser would have been quite prepared to kill or risk his life to get his hands on just one of these tins!

Dangerous as well I would have thought. Anything  landing on that would have turned it into a huge shrapnel shell.

 

They would have been more horrified if they had known that one of their shells had a direct hit on the 'bully beef store' at the HQ of the West Kent's on 8th Jan 16!!

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Keith_history_buff
On 21/02/2021 at 22:59, voltaire60 said:

   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...

 

2)  Food from home....

 

3)  Food sourced locally .....

 

4)  Quartermasters Stores, company, regimental funds.

 

I don't have access to my copy at present, but Ilana R. Bet-El's "Conscripts" (ISBN 978-0-7509-2108-4) does make mention of the diet of the conscript being supplemented.

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18 minutes ago, Keith_history_buff said:

I don't have access to my copy at present, but Ilana R. Bet-El's "Conscripts" (ISBN 978-0-7509-2108-4) does make mention of the diet of the conscript being supplemented.

 

    I am not sure what this reference is- I am aware that recruits of puny build could receive extra food- this would seem to most applicable to conscripts. In a volunteer system the army could refuse- hence all the stuff about poor quality of recruits in the aftermath of the Boer War. But conscription was a two-way Hobson's Choice- the conscript had no choice but to serve-the army no choice,effectively, but to accept him-Hence,the enormous manpower merry-go-rounds of 1917-1918 to move the marginally better and replace them with the marginally worse- of the latter, the army was not lacking.

 

     I think there is a good economic model in all of this.  Availabilty of foodtsuffs, titbits and treats was, effectively, controlled- as it took up shipping and rail freight capacity, it was allowed.  Hence, the price list, say, of army canteens reflects what could not be got on ration ( I note that plum and apple jam was not available to buy in the canteens-quel surprise). But stuff such as marmalade would have been available-at a price- and the prices seem to me to be geared a) To recover costs and b) To provide some element of choice within even the limited means of Tommy.  Let's use marmalade as an example - suppose it was on ration-then that would mean that everybody got it-and to provide for all troops even the smallest official ration was a huge and expensive task. Thus, there seems to me to be a clear flip side to what was available on a fairly regular basis through canteens and non-army organisations- it provided stuff which would overburden the official ration system if the army provided it yet maintained some illusion of freedom of choice.

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A Lancashire Fusilier by Proxy

This is an interesting – and very broad – topic.

My grandfather has a very great deal to say about food in his diary, and food also seems to be a common theme in the accounts of others who are interested more in the “human” side of war (if you can call it that) than in military tactics etc., giving resonance to the saying that “an army marches on its stomach”. The entry for “Food” in the index to the published version of my grandfather’s diary is one of the longest entries in the entire index, if not the longest, especially when taken together with the two following entries, “food parcels” and “food, shortage of”. He has examples of virtually everything that Voltaire mentions in the OP, though marmalade is mentioned only once, I am afraid, and not very interestingly, nor does he throw any light on whether he felt that men were fed better by the army than they had been at home before the war, and/or whether that depended on whether they had been recruited from town or rural locations,

Regarding what he does say, I have chosen two examples, both relevant to the supplementing of the Tommy’s diet while in the trenches.

The first relates to a period when the 2/5th LF were based near Aveluy for several months from the end of July 1915. A diary entry during October records: “I erected a small wooden shed at Crucifix Corner, just at the entrance to the Communication Trench leading up the La Boiselle road. In this hut we sold hot coffee, soup, chocolate, cigarettes, notepaper, matches, boot laces, buttons, and other odd useful accessories. This proved a great asset to the men, and incidentally quite a profitable concern. All our own men derived direct benefit from the profits as they were divided amongst the Companies each month for extra messing”, and, in another slightly later entry, which must relate to the same arrangement, he says: “One of our schemes in the Line was to collect orders and money from the men for cigarettes which the Company Quartermaster Sergeant purchased for them at the Canteens behind the Line, and brought them up with the rations. We felt that we officers got our extras up each day, and there wasn’t any reason why the men shouldn’t have something done for them in the same way”, which scheme, he says, they eventually developed into running a small Company Canteen in the Line.

The second example comes from when they had moved to trenches at Rivière in March 1916, when he says: “Hot food was a difficulty as the trenches were so bad for traffic. I managed to get up a Soyer Stove (a big boiler), and we made an emplacement for this in the Second Line. I also got a cook up, so that we were able to make hot soup or coffee, cocoa, or tea during the night. This was very much appreciated.

I am particularly fond of this entry, as, in his sketch plan of the trenches in this area, he has carefully marked the position of the Soyer Stove, in its own special little dugout.

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Was Tommy really so picky and pampered?

 

Jack was content with rum, bum and the lash!

Edited by Wexflyer
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37 minutes ago, Wexflyer said:

Was Tommy really so picky and pampered?

 

Jack was happy with rum, bum and the lash!

I was always told Rum,Bum and Baccy! And on the Lash

Edited by RegHannay
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A Lancashire Fusilier by Proxy
On 28/02/2021 at 21:31, Wexflyer said:

Was Tommy really so picky and pampered?

You are right - I'm not sure whether "pampering" is quite the word, but my grandad does say quite a lot about trying to make the men as comfortable as it was possible to do in the circumstances - often, not very. I wonder whether this might have been more of a feature of a TF unit than the regular army or navy?

And, on the subject of rum, he was definitely a staunch supporter of the rum ration as a comforter and morale booster (just for the men, of course!), and very anti when there was a suggestion of its being withdrawn.

As for the rest, I'm afraid - or glad - that he doesn't comment (apart from cigarettes) so neither can I.

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