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The Cook House


drummer
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How would a soldier find himself cooking Battalion rations and clean up??? Was it assigned duty, like Kitchen Police in the US Army, was it punishment or was it volunteered to avoid field drill? There seem to be no "cooks" on the battalion establishment, only the Cook Sergeant. And how did that worthy come by the position? I am thinking primarily pre War but there was probably no difference when the troops were out of the line...

Just curious..

Thanks,

Drummer

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From what I could gather, cooks were not among the "specialists" in that it doesn`t seem to have been regarded as a skilled trade. One I knew had been "spare lad" (ie odd job man) in a pub before joining up in the Chorley Pals & I think the private soldier cooks did the humdrum stuff like chopping up carcases and emptying tins into vats. I think he may have been dragooned into the job as he volunteered to go over the top on 1/7/16 and got a bullet through the chest for his trouble.

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A slightly patch reply - this is a subject that could use some research. Much depended upon the army you were in . In the British and Canadian it was all very varied as the following extract from a Canadian army publication suggests

"By the time of WW I, cooks were integral members of their units allocated to their duties by the unit commander. Consequently, their usefulness, diligence and effective employment depended almost entirely upon the interest taken by the unit commander and his officers in this important phase of unit administration. Too often, the chief qualification for a cook was his inaptitude or inability to qualify as a gunner, rifleman, clerk or other "useful" duty. The tendency was thus to entrust the feeding of the troops to a group of "misfits", with a resultant lack of good meals, a great deal of waste and a consequent great loss of morale on the part of the troops."

The Americans had cookery and bakery companies as part of the QuarterMaster General's department and allocated to line units, an army cook book and a cookery and bakery school. This does not seem to have produced any better results than the British and Canadian ad hoc approach.

"American doughboys were heartily weary of the unimaginative and barely digestible food served by army cooks. Their diet usually consisted of beans, "Canned Willy" (Argentine beef that was already rancid when it was processed), hardtack biscuits and/or French bread, and an evil concoction called "slum." The hardtack and the bread were both so hard that one practically had to stomp on it to break it up. The Americans felt that their cooks were stuck in time, someplace between the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

When the Americans came into town, they would order gigantic omelets made of dozens of "oofs" and have the French women cook whatever else was at hand. They would literally eat a town out of food, and then go scrounging around the local countryside for more eggs, ducks, chickens, pigs, vegetables, anything that could be boiled, baked, barbecued, or eaten raw. And they would pay some absolutely outrageous prices for all of what they ate. Big men have equally big appetites. The AEF is still remembered in France as being an army of the heartiest eaters the French had ever encountered."

The French had an organisation called "Cantines des Dames Anglaises." with large numbers of British and other volunteers manning cooking facilities right up to the rear lines. They were treated as an integral part of the French Army. (The British Army high command had apparantly declined such a service and one Englishwoman serving as commander of a unit in the CdDA records the surprise of British troops on discovering the service offered their French conterparts.

Of course in the front lines units managed as best they could with the risk of cooking smoke drawing a shell or trench mortar bomb. There is significant evidence of local truces being organised with no shelling or shhoting around lunch time to allow both sides to produce halfway decent meals, apparently at these times and in these areas it was safe to leave one's trench and take a stroll in the open (see "trench Warfare the live and let live system")

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When the Sgt Cook of 2nd RWF had to be replaced, his replacement, pronoted to sergeant, was less anxious about the three chevrons than about being allowed to wear the 'flash', denoting staff status [only officers, WO and staff were allowed it in service dress]. Although the troops in the trenches whinged about the food, there is a lot of evidence that sincere and often successful efforts were made to feed them under atrocious conditions.

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The Tommies may have carped about the grub but when the Germans captured British supplies, they were as happy as Larry. Bully beef was a particular favourite along with tinned jam and butter.

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Some of the Tommies may have carped about the food, but for poor working class lads, it was more regular and often more nutritious than the food they had had to survive on at home. Hence the frequent accounts of 18 year olds growing 6 inches or more whilst in service and bursting out of their uniforms.

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Thanks, Phil and others...everytime I see a photo of the Battalion cook house crew, I can't help but think that duty was not among any young recruit's romantic notions of soldiering.

BTW, is that a wrist watch on those fellows?

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Still vaguely on subject I seem to remember reading that the Germans called their horse drawn mobile soup boiler a 'gulaschkanone'.

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No doubt if they had an appropriate trade in civil life they would have been given a cook's duties

Driver Spencer a lad from our village and apprenticed to the Village butcher was serving at Gallipoli Cchristmas 1916 and related the following. Got Christmas Dinner ready for 12 to 12.30 delayed burying a man, had dinner, commenced a sing song when hit by an high explosive shell, assistant blown to pieces, now under Doctor for shell shock. Shell splinters lodged in letters he had written.

Regards Cliff.

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The problem the British army had was that this was organised at battalion level and much depended on how importany the CO thought it was and if they had anyone who

a] already knew how to cook in the first place

b] was not needed in some other capacity (say as a rifleman)

so the standards varied considerably from unit to unit, the worst being the school of 'bung it all in a big pot and boil it for a long time then let it go cold'.

The quality of the raw materials available the the British appears to have been good but very limited in variety so that even if one's battalion was lucky enough to have some good cooks the results were still very monotonous.

As an aside although the British and American armies were big users of tinned Argentinian beef the canning plants were different. British practice was to either ship frozen beef to be canned in Britain or, to ship already canned product (usualy tinned at Frey Bentos in Argentina) in both cases the food hygene and quality control appear to have been, by the standards of the day, quite high. America shipped beef to the US where it was transported significant distances by rail (often in non refridgerated cars) before being canned - mainly in Chicago where the standards were simply appalling. The scandals of the Chicago meat packing industry were not made public until the 1920 when this caused considerble outcry - reading an account of some of the practices is not best done on a full stomach. Consequently British Army corned beef was reasonably wholesome (and much sought after by German troops during the the 1918 spring offensive) whereas much of the American stuff was uneatable.

The big problem for all armies was getting food to the men in the front line. In quiet sections of the front where a live and let live system was in operation cooking was actually possible in the forward trenches (and there are a number of photos of small kitchen ranges and stoves 'liberated' from vilages behind the lines, installed in dug outs and trench bays). In active sections the smoke from a cooking fire could result in a toffee apple (Vickers or Krupp) or the like being sent over for desert. Any cooking was only possible after dark. As a reult much reliance was placed on ration carriers bringing food up from the rear. I don't know what the position was in the British army but in both the French and German armies ration carrying was regarded as a hazardous duty. The containers were heavy and awkward and the position of the communications trenches was known to the eneky who would shell them if they thought rations were being crried up. Consequently it appears to have been quite usual to wait until after dark and bring the supplies up over and across open ground. Much of the time front line troops were eating cold food. Fortunately the British corned beef could be eaten so straight from the can.

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What about officers` food? Did they have a separate set of cooks? And separate cooking facilities? Did the battalion get two deliveries of foodstuffs, one for the officers and one for the men? Or did they all cook from the same supply?

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Phil

In the French army at the begining of the war there was definitely a one menu for yjhr officers and another for the rest.

I think in practice it depended on where you where. The French again had three different sets of standards for troops basically there being, fortress, field and front line.

I'm open to correction but I think in the Britsh trenches men and officers got the same basic food but the latter would very probably supplement this with private stores of comforts (the odd bottle of whiskey etc)

Of course dining with General Melchit back at divisional HQ would be quite a diferent story.

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I imagine the officers` cooks would be a different breed from the ORs` cooks as well! Or did their servants look after food supply?

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It would sem that German catering arrangements also differed considerably from unit to unit

"It is true that on the way we had got some bread by begging for it, but we were still quite hungry. Nothing was to be seen of our field kitchen. The crew of our field kitchen and the foraging officer and sergeant always preferred to defend their Fatherland several tens of miles behind the front. What were others to them? What were we to them? As long as they did not need to go within firing range of the artillery they were content. Comradeship ceases where the field kitchen begins.

There were, however, some field kitchens belonging to other parts of the army. They had prepared meals, but could not get rid of the food; even if their company, i.e., the rest of their company, should have arrived they would have had far too much food. Many a one for whom they had prepared a meal was no longer in need of one. Thus we were most willingly given as much to eat as we wanted"

GERMAN DESERTER'S WAR EXPERIENCE NEW YORK: HUEBSCH, 1917 XIII THE ROUT OF THE MARNE.

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This is from a pamphlet entitled The Humorists at War printed 1961.

"One of the cooks came to me and explained there was a French civilian jabbering over at the cook house,would I come and see what he wanted?I recognised him as a farmer whom I had noticed ploughing a day or so previously.He seemed quite excited and all I could make out at first was something about "pommes de terre."I thought he was accusing the cooks of scrounging his potatoes.

At last we got to some understanding.The potatoes were generally peeled by defaulters and,as a rule,they were in no good humour after having been in the orderly room,so they took it out of the potatoes.It was wonderful when they had finished with a hundredweight of potatoes,and they did not take long about it,to find how few were the potatoes in comparison to the many buckets of parings.So Froggie came every day while we were out of the line and got the "brocks."He wanted them for seed and I hope he had good luck with them.These parings certainly looked thick enough."

George

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Stuart "Dolly" Dolden committed his memoirs to paper: "Cannon Fodder" recounts his experiences as a battalion cook with 1st Battalion, London Scottish. I haven't read it for years; indeed, I only re-discovered it in a pile in my study at the weekend. I'll have a look through it, but from memory, I suspect it would answer a lot of your questions.

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These parings certainly looked thick enough."

George

George, I don`t know whether you`ve had the pleasure of facing 1 cwt of spuds armed only with a jackknife? I have, when the peeling machine broke down at Arborfield. I fully sympathize with those guys!

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Phil,

I was once excused boots and relegated to spud bashing,with my issue KFS(knife,fork and spoon).

There was more peelings than tatties and everytime I thought I'd finished the dustbin was refilled.

I do sympathise with them :D

George

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In the French army at the begining of the war there was definitely a one menu for yjhr officers and another for the rest.

"On New Year's Day [1917] another neighbour of mine, a French gunner captain from the Basque country, who inhabited the interior of a nearby dune and was noted far and wide for the excellence of his table, asked me to celebrate with him the Jour de l'An. He was somewhat of a gourmet and had the good fortune to enjoy the services of an hotel chef from Paris as batman. The five-course meal, deliciously cooked and ending with dessert and over-much sweet champagne, left me prostrate for the rest of the day. The soul of politeness, when he subsequently came to return the call, the marine cook had chosen, to my consternation and alarm, curried bully beef as the plat du jour followed by a bizarre specimen of la cuisine anglaise known to sailors as 'figgy duff'. With Gallic fortitude he did his best to stifle fears for his digestion when confronted with these formidable gastronomic obstacles, but I felt that the Anglo-French entente had been put to a severe test."

Lt Cmdr Charles Kerr RN, RN Siege Guns

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Drummer

If you have, or can obtain, a copy of the reprinted:

"Field Service Pocket Book (1914)"

there are some interesting notes on Camp Cooking & Recipes between pages 49 & 51.

Harry

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