An army marches on its stomach, observed Napoleon. One hundred and fifty years later General Rommel remarked that the British should always be attacked before soldiers had had an early morning cup of tea. This book, written to raise money for the Army Benevolent Fund and with a Foreword by General Lord Dannatt, sets out the human story of the food and "brew-ups" of the front-line soldier from the Boer War to Helmand. Throughout, the importance of the provision of food, or even a simple mug of tea, for morale and unit fellowship, as well as for the need of the calories required for battle is highlighted with many examples over the century. For many, until 1942, the basis of food was"bully beef" and hard biscuit, supplemented by whatever could be found locally, all adequate but monotonous. Sometimes supply failed, on occasions water also. The extremes of hardship being when regiments were besieged, as in Ladysmith in the Boer War and Kut el-Amara in Iraq in the 1914-18 war. At Kut soldiers had, at best, hedgehogs or birds fried in axle-grease with local vegetation. On the Western Front the Retreat from Mons in August 1914 was almost as severe.
The inter-war years experiences of mountaineers and polar explorers, supplemented by academic diet studies of the unemployed in London and Northern England led to the introduction of the varied composite, or 'compo' rations, marking an enormous improvement in soldiers' food, an improvement commented upon by the bully beef and biscuits-fed 8th Army advancing into Tunisia from Libya on meeting the 1st Army which had landed in Algeria with tins of compo. Soldiers landing in Normandy and fighting on into Germany were generally well fed even during a hard 1944-45 winter. The worst suffering, though, fell on soldiers in the Burma campaign, especially in the Chindit columns. In one unit the only food available at one time was the chaplain's store of Communion wafers. Many men died unnecessarily from the results of poor feeding. The work has been compiled from documents in the Royal Logistic Corps Museum at Deepcut, from memoirs, letters and interviews, and from the superb collection of regimental histories in the library of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. All royalties from this book will be given to the Army Benevolent Fund.show more