They say an army marches on its stomach. The quotation is attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte.
It’s an obvious statement, borne out by some of the eye witness accounts of World War One being uncovered from archives and family collections.
In the World War One photographs uploaded to our flickr photostream there are a few photographs of the cooks at work.
It’s all the more interesting to read about army rations and to see the field kitchens when you remember that cameras and diaries were not officially allowed at the front.
The cookhouse in Preston barracks
Kitchener’s cooks, the Royal Welsh Fusiliers
Let’s hope the sheep wasn’t intended for a mutton stew
Sometimes the more informal photographs are so poignant.This photo has been treasured, carried in someone’s pocket or wallet until it has nearly worn away, but there’s so much life in these men, so much character in their faces.
From diaries and medical accounts we know that dysentry and diarrhoea were a problem at the front. Fresh drinking water was in short supply. Tinned food made you constipated. There was bromide in the tea. Mud was contaminated with human and animal waste. Rats ran through the trenches and scavenged for food .
One of the diaries we have been transcribing is by Thomas Holgate, written from January to July 1917, whilst he was in France.
On Tuesday, February 6th he wrote:
‘had a glorious breakfast. Corpl. Matthews, Wilson, W.W.Williams, B. and I, plus Powell and Seymour, were supplied with rations from Sergt. Major. Made tea and cooked bacon over a brazier. Had half a loaf per man as ration for day. A memorable meal. Bacon beautifully cooked by Corpl. Matthews and tea gloriously made by Wilson.’
Such a brief insight into his life at the front, on a good day. You can almost smell the bacon.