Food in the trenches, during World War I, may have started out better than it was by the end of the war. Regardless of the progress of the war, the officers always ate better than the men in the trenches.
During World War I, there was 3,240,948 tons of food sent to the British soldiers in France and Belgium. There were also over 300,000 field workers, whose jobs were to cook and supply the food for all of the soldiers.
The British soldiers were given ten ounces of meat and eight ounces of vegetables a day at the beginning of the war. However, as the German defensive proved to be better than thought at the beginning, and as the British army itself grew, the rations were reduced to six ounces of meat per day. Eventually, the soldiers in the trenches would only receive meat nine out of thirty days.
At the beginning of the war, the war department of Britain set out standards of rations for the soldiers. They were 20 ounces of bread or 16 ounces of flour or four ounces of oatmeal; three ounces of cheese; 5/8 ounce of tea, four ounces of jam or four ounces of dried fruit; 1/36 ounce pepper; 1/20 ounce mustard; eight ounces of fresh vegetables or 1/10 gill lime; 1/2 gill of rum or one pint of porter; maximum of 20 ounces of tobacco; four ounces of butter or margarine.
The German soldiers were supposed to be rationed 26 1/2 ounces bread or 17 1/2 of field biscuits or 14 ounces of egg biscuits; 53 ounces pf potatoes; 4 1/2 ounces vegetables; two ounces dried vegetables.
Meat rations were not the only ones to decline. The bread rations did also. In 1917, the British Army tried to give their soldiers 3, 574 calories per day as dieticians directed them. Many others agreed that a fighting soldier should have many more calories than this.
In the Western Front, soldiers became vocal about the quantity and the quality of the food that were given them. Most of their food consisted of bully beef, which was a canned corned beef that got its name from the French word for boiled, boillir (pronounced boo-lay-err). They also received bread and biscuits. By the end of 1916 flour became hard to come bay so bread was made from dried ground turnips. At this time, pea soup with a little horsemeat became the main menu for the soldiers. No matter how badly these men were eating, the people at home were eating worse.
The kitchen workers began to rely on an vegetables they could find locally and started to use weeds, such as nettles in the soups and stews that went to the trenches. The kitchens that the food was prepared in had two large vats that were used to prepare all of the food, including the tea, and vegetables, so it was common for tea to taste like other food items.
Much of the food would leave the kitchen warm and fresh, but eight days later, when the bread that was baked reached the trenches, it would be cold and hard. The troops would break the bread into small pieces, and add them to other ingredients that might be available, like potatoes, or raisins. They would boil these items in a sand bag and then they were able to digest them.
Other foods that had been cooked left the kitchens in cooking pots, called doxies, gas cans or even used jam jars, then they would send it to the communication trenches in crates that would be lined with items like straw, to help keep the items warm. This did not help, the food still reached the trenches cold. The field kitchens were moved closer to the front, in the hopes to alleviate this problem, but the problem still remained. Some of the soldiers would pool their money together and buy a small stove to cook their food on, but the fuel needed to run these stoves was not easily found.
Much of the food that the soldiers received came in cans. This food was usually salted to help preserve it. One such meal was called Moconochie. This was a thin broth with thin slices of turnips and carrots in it. According to the soldiers, if this was heated it was edible, otherwise, it was a man killer.
Soldiers would also receive parcels from home or from the Red Cross, which were very welcomed as the regular food was not very edible.
The armies tried to keep the location of the food supply hidden from the enemies. Once during World War I, the British army announced, proudly, that they fed their soldiers two warm meals a day. Upon hearing this, 200,000 soldiers wrote angry letters correcting the announcement.
When the soldiers were moved into the enemy’s territory, they needed to rely on emergency rations. These consisted of corned beef, biscuits and a sealed tin of tea and sugar. The soldiers had to wait for officers to give them permission to open these rations. These kits did not last long and if a field kitchen couldn’t be set up quickly enough, the solders would have to retreat.
Another item the soldiers had brought to them was water. This water was kept in tanks, which took away its sanitary nature. Soldiers were also given a ration of tobacco and cigarettes. They may not have helped with nutrition of the soldiers but they did help take their minds off of how hungry they were.