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Remembered Today:

What a poilu ate


healdav

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I came across a book of memoirs a few days that, written by an ex-member of the Foreign Legion. It was writen about 1920 or so, and tells of his time during WW1.

This is what he says about their diet:

"Of all the armies during the war, it was certainly the French soldier who ate the best and the most. He ate it can be said, from morning to night. At reveille he had a quarter litre of coffee and an eighth of eaux de vie; at 8 a.m. a snack, perhaps cheese, chocolate or sardines. At 10.30 a vegetable soup, meat, vegetable, dessert, coffee; at 4 p.m. tea or coffee; at 5 p.m. vegetable soup, roast meat, vegetables and for those on night duty another snack. All that comes to 750gr of bread, 500gr of meat, 100gr of pasta or dried vegetables, 20gr of salt, 32gr of sugar, 30grammes of fat and 25gr of tobacco. And pinard."

I had a feeling that after a lot of complaints by the soldiers the French army HQ issued a list something like this, showing what they got to eat every day. This one of the things that provoked the 1917 mutinies as it was just fantasy land.

Remember that the author of this had served in the Foreign Legion throughout the war and so would have eaten this diet.

Is it a bit of 'reassure the folks back home' if only after the event or did the Foreign Legion get special rations?

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Poilus got wine daily, when they received a couple of regiments of US blacks - the british refused to take them - wwe insisted they not be given wine cause they would rape and pillage - they got extra sugar.

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Poilus got wine daily, when they received a couple of regiments of US blacks - the british refused to take them - wwe insisted they not be given wine cause they would rape and pillage - they got extra sugar.

Pinard is wine.

I have a flask that a nghty soldier tried to expand to get more in but burst it and had to get the blacksmith to solder it up again.

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Thanks, but was what they were supposed to get what they actually did get?

As I said, I seem to remember that the lack of food and the propaganda put out by the army about what they got (a pack of lies) provoked the mutinies.

By the way, I have a colour copy of the Mouchoir picture of the field kitchen. The place where that picture was drawn is almost exactly the same today.

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Thanks, but was what they were supposed to get what they actually did get?

I have recently read the memoirs of a French corporal who served throughout the war. They seem to have been fed reasonably well. He complained often about food being cold or not getting through. A big complaint was the poor or non-existent accommodation while in support or at rest behind the lines. He mentions an instance at Vermelles in 1915 when the British troops had not been fed and swapped tobacco and cigarettes for bread and stew of which the French troops had a surplus.( Due to a very costly attack).

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Horne's "Price of Glory" indicates that food and drink were very scarce in battle. It appears that the poilu existed - like the Tommy on tinned meat, which they called "singe" - monkey.

Chris C

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Here is another link which may provide some answers.

http://17thdivision.tripod.com/rationsofth...mpire/id16.html

Bon Appétit

Tony

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Thanks, but was what they were supposed to get what they actually did get?

As I said, I seem to remember that the lack of food and the propaganda put out by the army about what they got (a pack of lies) provoked the mutinies.

I do know that the French medical services were generally miserable. It is quite possible that a big effort was made with food, possibly due to genetics, even if this other important element of "quality of life" was so badly neglected, but the suggested daily menu certainly would have been impractable in the field. Did they have a company dessert cart?

An eight-liter of eau de vie, if it is what I think it is, would have been over four ounces of hard liquor of say 120 proof, which certainly would have, along with the large quantities of cheap red wine that they certainly did get, put a fine edge on the day. Overall, the menu seems to gild the lily.

Bob Lembke

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An eighth liter of eau de vie (wouldn't "eaux" be the plural, and not correct?) of course, not eight liters, but still quite a stiff snort, to say the least.

Bob lembke

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I have just happened on a reference to a ' co-op' being set up in a quiet period. This offered at reasonable price, fresh fish and a variety of what seems to be mainly tasty additions to the official meals, including ' roast chestnuts, six for a centime. ' I think this may be the French equivalent of the Tommies' 'pommes frites ' in the rear areas.

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Horne's "Price of Glory" indicates that food and drink were very scarce in battle. It appears that the poilu existed - like the Tommy on tinned meat, which they called "singe" - monkey.

Chris C

Some years ago I read a book called the "Universal Soldier" which looks at the everyday lives of individual fictional fighting men. I remember a Norman Knight - Battle of Winchester ? - A Confederate infantryman, a Union Cavalryman, a Victorian/Edwardian British soldier on the NW Frontier and a British para at Arnhem. Each piece is written by an expert in that particular army at that particular time. Sadly the book is in storage.

However, it also includes an account of the everyday life of a French "Poilu" in the trenches. I have been racking my brains to remember what it says about food, but all I can remember is the soldier complaining that the unit wasn't the same as at the start of the war. People being sent food from home, like tins of sardines, actually ate it themselves! Instead of sharing it around. Some war weariness had set in too. Newly arrived young soldiers were saying one of the patriotic slogans: "Ons Les Aura", which translates to something like "We Will Get Them". To this the veterans replied: "Yes, Lice". IIRC this chapter ends with the Frenchman having a leg blown off.

Does anyone have a copy of this book? If so, what does it say about food?

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Does anyone have a copy of this book? If so, what does it say about food?

I managed to find a copy last year, 20+ years after giving away my original copy to my best friend.

I'll try to look it up.

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Some years ago I read a book called the "Universal Soldier" which looks at the everyday lives of individual fictional fighting men. I remember a Norman Knight - Battle of Winchester ? - A Confederate infantryman, a Union Cavalryman, a Victorian/Edwardian British soldier on the NW Frontier and a British para at Arnhem. Each piece is written by an expert in that particular army at that particular time. Sadly the book is in storage.

I tracked the book down on Abebooks:

http://www.abebooks.com/servlet/SearchResu...Soldier&x=0

The best account of the book is probably No. 12. From this is taken:

"...the life of the common soldier on campaign, from A.D. 43 to 1944. Where did they come from? Why did they enlist? What was their pay, their food, their recreation? What did they wear, and what did they carry? What songs did they sing? How did they gamble away their pay? What did they feel about their officers, about discipline, about their women, about the enemy? What sort of soldiers were they, and what sort of men?"

"Tom Ovenden of the Buffs watches the dawn from a stony ridge on the Indian frontier: and less than a generation later Henri Gautier, potter of Tours, loses a leg in the slime of Verdun. Finally there are Jurgen Stempel, railway apprentice from Hamburg, riding a half-track into Asia at the tip of Hitler's armoured spearhead: and Bert Fisher, a corpse in a red beret, huddled in a, wrecked house in Arnhem."

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I think I remember reading that the French meat was canned in Madagascar.

I suspect that that was a joke. I believe that there is or was little commercial meat production on Madagascar, certainly not in the quantities that the French needed, while they probably have and had lots of monkeys.

Eating monkey meat is a very risky business, unless one likes AIDs and some even worse diseases.

Bob Lembke

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I suspect that that was a joke. I believe that there is or was little commercial meat production on Madagascar, certainly not in the quantities that the French needed, while they probably have and had lots of monkeys.

Eating monkey meat is a very risky business, unless one likes AIDs and some even worse diseases.

Bob Lembke

An army joke, meaning that the tinned food tasted, and looked, like it was made from monkeys.

I once read an account of tinned meat being issued to Axis troops in north Africa in "round two" being marked "AM". The Italians said that "AM" stood for the "Dead Arabs" it was made from, and the German soldiers said that it stood for "Old Men" - being made from people who had died in hospitals, workhouses etc in Berlin.

Of course, "AM" stood for the words "Dead Arabs" & "Old Men" in Italian/German. :D

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My father's letters from the front were pre-occupied with food for most of the war, unfortunately crowding out the military stuff. In December 1916, in a storm unit stationed at Stenay-sur-Meuse about 30 miles from the front (storm units supposedly got better food), he complained that in the last week they only got dinner four nights out of seven, and those were two spoon-fuls of a nasty artificial "jam" to be eaten with their bread ration, which of course was shrinking and turning into a large proportion of sawdust instead of grain. He complained that on Christmas Day they could not even have boiled potatoes. Three days later he was badly wounded and lay in a hole in no-man's land on Dead Man's Hill for three days before being found.

He became a dealer in delicacies like coffee taken on flame attacks on Allied positions, and kept his family in Germany fed by sending such treats to them, to be sold for staples. Even his staff officer father had problems getting food, and took to dropping in on the nearest Army unit and pushing his way in to eat with the enlisted men, not hard to do it as he ranked as a battalion commander.

He said that sometimes in a combat situation they took a while out if possible, like a kindergarten "nap time", due to weakness from mal-nourishment. And these were carefully selected especially fit men.

Bob Lembke

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