Food During World War One
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From The Trenches To Afghanistan: Food On The Frontline

There’s no doubting that the face of army cuisine has changed over the last 100 years- but how do modern rations compare with WWI?

Food During World War One

There’s no doubting that the face of army cuisine has changed over the last 100 years; Army chefs recently served up an impressive menu at the annual Grill Fest in Estonia, featuring smoked pork sausages, apple, black pudding and rosemary sat on beetroot jam, with fondant potato and caramelized carrots and a beef caviar.

During World War One, it was a different story.

According to the Imperial War Museum, the British were sending over 30 million kg of meat to the Western Front every month - mostly in the form of tinned beef stew.

As the war continued, field kitchens struggled to cope with the volume of food they had to produce; despite the vast quantities of meat being imported, the average tommy could only expect to receive 6 ounces of ‘bully beef’.

Army food

One of the problems when it came to catering for the front line, was that rations frequently failed to reach the troops there due to shelling or allocation mix-ups.

A big part of the tommy’s diet was the infamous ‘hard tack biscuit’ - which was reported to crack teeth when bitten into.

Such was its inedibility that it was often used instead of charcoal to start fires.

With the quality of food so low, many troops heralded the ration of rum they were provided as a saving grace, helping to boost morale and, to an extent, combat wartime stress.

The logistical problems when it came to feeding the army were overcome somewhat when, in 1941, the Army Catering Corps was formed, originally as a part of the Royal Army Service Corps.

Priority

Now, catering is a huge priority for the British military.

Soldiers need to be kept well-nourished and healthy so that they can perform to their optimum capacity.

A corporal from the Rifle Brigade early on in the First World War (image from 'British Tommy 1914-18' by Martin Pegler © Osprey Publishing, part of Bloomsbury Publishing)
A corporal from the Rifle Brigade early on in the First World War (image from 'British Tommy 1914-18' by Martin Pegler © Osprey Publishing, part of Bloomsbury Publishing)

Of course, bases have specific dining facilities, but soldiers are also provided with ration packs sufficient to sustain them whilst out on field operations.

One of the most important breakthroughs when it comes to military cuisine is the ‘three-year pizza’ - the “holy grail” of the ration pack.

British rations contain many much-loved brands to remind the troops of home - Kenco Coffee, plenty of Typhoo Tea, even Tabasco! 

And of course, there’s that British staple, chicken tikka masala for main.

Troops are encouraged to consume around 3,800 calories when operating in field conditions, and although they might not be the tastiest in the world, their ration packs are designed to cater to their specific nutritional needs.

MoD rations