When it comes to World War I, most people are concerned with why and how it started, who did what, what could have been done to prevent it, etc. Dr. Foodle, on the other hand, is concerned with a slightly different matter, and definitely the most important aspect of warfare. That aspect is the food – it’s always the food.
Every strategist knows that keeping your troops fed is the key to victory. Demanding from soldiers to risk their lives is one thing, but trying to make them do it on an empty stomach is downright cruel. Do you think it’s an easy task to provide three square meals a day for thousands of soldiers while enduring enemy fire? Think again.
Most of the time, the food supply was regular and soldiers had access to 2-3 warm meals a day. In fact, it is said that lots of soldiers ate better than civilians who stayed at home. They had plenty of meat, bread, and dried vegetables. Lots of soldiers would receive packages from home that even included chocolate, but that wasn’t always the case. British soldiers, for example, ate a lot of “Maconochie,” which was an ungodly combination of fatty meat and vegetables in a can, complemented with barely edible gravy. Another despised food was ridiculously hard biscuits that had to be soaked in tea or water to even come close to edible.
However, as the war progressed and battlefronts expanded, it became harder and harder to supply fresh food to everyone. So, at some point, even “Maconochie” became a luxury. During those days, soldiers had to get creative and think of a way not to starve to death.
One way was to bring livestock. Having a herd of cows near the battlefront was a common strategy in earlier wars. In 20th century warfare, however, it was impossible to take care of a herd of cows. Long-distance artillery already existed and would easily wipe out a herd of cows. Another problem was that due to industrialization and urban development, there wasn’t nearly enough grass to feed an entire herd. However, it was known that some regiments had one or two cows in their trenches. It wasn’t enough for providing meat, but it sure produced a lot of fresh milk which was of great help when times were hard.
Another way was to grow vegetables in trenches. Soldiers who stayed in trenches for months had plenty of time to grow it and take care of it. When flour became hard to come by, a special kind of bread known as “K-Brot” was invented. It was made from pretty much anything that could have been ground. Dried potatoes, barley, oats… even straw. Needless to say, it wasn’t very popular among the troops, but it filled the stomach and sometimes, that’s all that mattered.
Hunting and fishing were, of course, also included, as was stealing chickens from local farms. As far as we know, rats were never a part of a soldier’s diet, but unfortunately, horses were, on rare occasions.
Even though at certain times the food was horrible, the logistics behind food delivery were astonishing. Being able to feed thousands of soldiers with more or less edible food was a herculean task at times and surely had a crucial role in the soldiers’ morale and will to fight.