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A Yankee in the Trenches R. Derby Holmes

Feeding The Tommies

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Food is a burning issue in the lives of all of us. It is the main consideration with the soldier. His life is simplified to two principal motives, i.e., keeping alive himself and killing the other fellow. The question uppermost in his mind every time and all of the time, is, "When do we eat?"

In the trenches the backbone of Tommy's diet is bully beef, "Maconochie's Ration", cheese, bread or biscuit, jam, and tea. He may get some of this hot or he may eat it from the tin, all depending upon how badly Fritz is behaving.

In billets the diet is more varied. Here he gets some fresh meat, lots of bacon, and the bully and the Maconochie's come along in the form of stew. Also there is fresh bread and some dried fruit and a certain amount of sweet stuff.

It was this matter of grub that made my life a burden in the billets at Petite-Saens. I had been rather proud of being lance corporal. It was, to me, the first step along the road to being field marshal. I found, however, that a corporal is high enough to take responsibility and to get bawled out for anything that goes wrong. He's not high enough to command any consideration from those higher up, and he is so close to the men that they take out their grievances on him as a matter of course. He is neither fish, flesh, nor fowl, and his life is a burden.

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I had the job of issuing the rations of our platoon, and it nearly drove me mad. Every morning I would detail a couple of men from our platoon to be standing mess orderlies for the day. They would fetch the char and bacon from the field kitchen in the morning and clean up the "dixies" after breakfast. The "dixie", by the way, is an iron box or pot, oblong in shape, capacity about four or five gallons. It fits into the field kitchen and is used for roasts, stews, char, or anything else. The cover serves to cook bacon in.

Field kitchens are drawn by horses and follow the battalion everywhere that it is safe to go, and to some places where it isn't. Two men are detailed from each company to cook, and there is usually another man who gets the sergeants' mess, besides the officers' cook, who does not as a rule use the field kitchen, but prepares the food in the house taken as the officers' mess.

As far as possible, the company cooks are men who were cooks in civil life, but not always. We drew a plumber and a navvy (road builder)--and the grub tasted of both trades. The way our company worked the kitchen problem was to have stew for two platoons one day and roast dinner for the others, and then reverse the order next day, so that we didn't have stew all the time. There were not enough "dixies" for us all to have stew the same day.

Every afternoon I would take my mess orderlies and go to the quartermaster's stores and get our allowance and carry it back to the billets in waterproof sheets. Then the stuff that was to be cooked in the kitchen went there, and the bread and that sort of material was issued direct to the men. That was where my trouble started.

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A Yankee in the Trenches
R. Derby Holmes

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