Tuesday, November 06, 2007

bully beef and biscuits

It appears I am not the first in the family to have a fascination with food. My paternal Grandfather bet me to it, as a soldier in WWI. His diary of his time in the army records memorable meals as well as is distain for the bully beef and biscuits, the standard rations at the Front.

His journal shows he spent more time ill or convalescing, than as a Runner in France. From joining up in early 1916, to the end of the war – outside training, he spent barely 6 months at the Front. His career in the New Zealand Rifle Brigade saw the majority of his time in hospital or classified unfit for active duties. But perhaps the food had something to do with it? A few weeks into his journey to England on the troop ship, he was the 75th on board to get the measles. This is the first time food really enters the picture. He wrote:

Meals good while in H(ospital). Breakfast – porridge, fish and bread and jam, tea. Beef tea in morning or lemon drink. Dinner – soup, fish, tripe and onions, custard or sago, bread and honey. Barley water in afternoon. Tea jelly and bread and jam Cocoa and biscuits for supper


Fortunately he managed to avoid getting meningitis that was also doing the rounds on the ship, or the scarlet fever that caused his hut at Sling Camp to be quarantined. After a few weeks of training in trench warfare, the boys in the 4th Reserves were ready to ship out. Perhaps it was the recent measles but his heart and/or eyes failed the medical and he was bitterly disappointed to see his mates ship off across the Channel without him. Despite two attempts to send him home, which he hotly protested, they finally gave in and sent him into active duty many months after the others that he had arrived with. But not before Christmas day at camp:

Breakfast fish, (unreadable) and bacon, fried onions and mashed potatoes. Dinner Turkey, Goose, cauliflower, potatoes and peas and stuffing, plum pudding and brandy sauce, nuts, fruit, oranges, apples, bananas. Tea roast pork, fruit salad and Devonshire cream, chocolate and bulls eyes, mince pies. Supper ham, cheese, biscuits.


Not quite a blogger but you got the feeling that young Bill liked his food. By Boxing Day he’d come down with a cold and forwent his final few days of leave to stay in bed with a fever of 100 F. Perhaps it was all the food – as they say “If you feed a cold, you will starve a fever”.

While in and out of the front lines he endured the coldest day in France since 1895, “black frost completely frozen bread etc. All time a bully beef and biscuit now”. Parcels from home relieved the monotony of the tinned meat. The odd cake and shortbread that travelled 2 months from home to the Front, went down a treat.

In his diary the only mention of not eating came less than a month after Christmas, with the line “dysentery…very bad could not eat.” The diary goes quiet for weeks after that, til he was cheered up with a dose of mumps that got him sent to the ‘St Omer Mumps Hospital’. “During time in hospital had good time and food good”. The 2 weeks or so away from the shelling, rats and bully beef did wonders for his spirit. A month later, back at Messines he was hit in the foot by shrapnel which had him evacuated back to England where he convalesced in hospital til after the Armistice, 17 months later.

Bill managed to live to see his 70th birthday. He was a keen gardener and grew many of his own vegetables. Shortly into his 8th decade a bus fatally knocked him down, on his way home from a day at the races. I can bet his last meal wasn’t bully beef and biscuits.

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4 Comments:

Blogger mutemonkey said...

Thanks for sharing those excerpts from his diary! I liked reading them :)

6:32 pm  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

It's a pleasure - I will be doing some non-food transcriptions to put up on http://otherrants.blogspot.com sometime in the near future.

If anyone is interested I'll link to some earlier ephemera, pre diary, when I was trying to put the pieces together.
http://otherrants.blogspot.com/2007/01/more-ephemera-from-western-front-to.html

7:37 pm  
Blogger Lucy said...

Great post AOF.

Will head over to Other Rants.

Glad to be home?

8:42 am  
Blogger Another Outspoken Female said...

Thanks Lucy - but which home? It all gets a bit confusing being a global citizen sometimes :)

9:54 am  

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