Army Rations of The Somme
19th October 2017
If you've been paying attention this month, you'll have noticed that we're thinking a lot about military food. You've probably heard us talk about our partnership with ABF The soldiers' Charity before. As a quick reminder, we're a big supporter of the charity's efforts. We're in partnership with them and as well as donations, and get involved with their fundraising activities. This month, on the 27th to be precise, that means we'll be hosting a RIFT Big Curry event in aid of their amazing work. You can pitch in too, by either going to or hosting your own Big Curry. See the official site for more details.
Army meals in WW1
We've already cast a critical eye over modern Armed Forces ration packs, so we thought it'd be interesting to look a little further back in time and see how they compare.
Take the First World War, for instance. Brutal conditions and horrific casualties were terrifying facts of life on the Somme in 1916. Somehow, the military needed to keep its soldiers well fed and fit for duty.
A typical British soldier needed over 4,000 calories a day to keep up with the demands of the job, much like today. On the Somme, that meant about a pound of meat per man each day, along with another pound of bread. In theory, variety was kept up with things like bacon, vegetables and cheese.
Transporting food to soldiers
Of course, even transporting that amount of food out where it was needed was a massive challenge. All too often the supplies fell way short of those recommendations.
When the supply chain broke down, you'd find yourself stuck with unappetizing options like “bully beef” and “hardtack”. That's basically corned beef and crackers to you and me.
Rank had its privileges, naturally. Officers sometimes had their own cooks and supplies. For the most part, though, meals could be pretty grim for the average fighting man. Where possible, food was served hot from portable cookers. Like today, a hot meal could be a significant morale booster, even if the ingredients were little more than mashed-up tinned herring and corned beef.
Getting enough to drink
Drink presented its own problems, from uncertain water safety to disappearing rum. In fact, the Supply Reserve Depot initials on rum jars were sometimes jokingly read as “Seldom Reaches Destination”. Water was purified with chloride of lime, a white disinfecting powder. This probably did a decent job of killing any bugs in the water (it's basically bleach). Unfortunately, it also made sure that no one really wanted to drink it in the first place. In modern terms, it'd probably be a bit like sipping from a swimming pool!
Hopefully, that's given you a little food for thought. While you've got meals on your mind, don't forget to include the food you're buying at work in your tax refund claim. You'll be glad you kept those receipts when you suddenly find that HMRC's eyes are bigger than its stomach...