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`Everything on its belly'--feeding the first AIF problems and solutions of Australian Army rationing and catering in the First World War (1).

`An army trains, fights and does everything on its belly!' Lieutenant R L Andrews, Chief Messing Officer, AIF, 1919

Napoleon Bonaparte is credited with having said: `An army marches on its stomach.' Tired, trite, but true. But still very hackneyed. Fortunately, in researching this paper, I came across the quote given above, taken from a letter by an obscure officer of the AIF to the author of the medical volumes of the Official History. While Lieutenant Andrews' comment might be unrefined, it is true, to the point and far more sincere than the rather hypocritical statement attributed to Bonaparte.

What has that to do with this paper? Well, everything really. It is designed to illustrate the point that, of all things, food is the most important thing to the soldier in the field. It has been demonstrated time and again that soldiers will fight on in the most desperate situations, so long as they have something to eat. As an example, in the dying days of the American Civil War, the ragged remnants of the Confederate Army retreating from Richmond turned and fought a savage engagement against overwhelming Union odds at the Battle of Sayler's Creek on 6 April 1865. When the Confederate soldiers ran out of ammunition they fought on with bayonets, clubbed rifles and bare fists, some units even resorted to throwing rocks at the Yankees. The very next day, however, these same troops meekly laid down their arms and surrendered. Why? Because they were starving. And while their commanders could hold out the hope of reaching Lee's forces around Appomatox, they couldn't promise that there would be any food there.

If we go back even further, to the 14th and 15th centuries say, we find that the campaigning season, especially in Europe, coincided with the harvest season. Why? Because that's when food was available in relative abundance along the line of march to feed troops--and heaven help the poor peasant producers of the food who happened to be on that line of march!

When Henry V of England was preparing his army for his campaign into France in 1415 there was no way he could have hidden his intentions from Phillip of France's spies. Even had he been able to conceal his purely military preparations, French agents would have noted that the wheat and rye crops were being bought up by the Crown, that the price of beef and pork had gone up and that milk could not be obtained anywhere. Why? Because these items were being turned into field rations--bread, sausage, cheese--for the great cross Channel adventure. Note the timing of the operation also. Henry landed in France in late August, the end of the harvest. Not only did he take the fruits of England's harvest with him, as a good 15th century field commander he intended to live off the French harvest as well. The French, of course, did their best to deny these resources to him and in the end it was hunger, along with disease of course, which almost destroyed his expedition.

To refer back to Napoleon, whether or not the famous quote about an army marching on its stomach was actually said by Bonaparte I cannot say. I will say, however, that if Bonaparte did say that, then it smacks of the rankest hypocrisy. As anyone with any knowledge of the logistic effort of Napoleon's army will tell you, the most that the Empire provided for its sons was a loaf of bread and a litre of wine per day. Everything else had to be obtained by the troops themselves by requisition--a polite word for rapine, loot and pillage. Later, in the Peninsular Campaign, it was Wellington, Napoleon's great foe, who in fact paid meticulous attention to the feeding of his troops.

So, all of this goes to prove the point that food is very important to soldiers. It also brings us to the point of this paper--an examination of the feeding of the Australian Imperial Force in the First World War.


In order to understand the magnitude of the problem facing the Australian Army at the outbreak of the First World War, it is necessary to put the subject into an historical context. Prior to the outbreak of the Great War, feeding of soldiers in Australia had been a relatively simple business. To feed its troops, the colonial British garrison had in the early days followed the time honoured method of issuing bulk rations to individual messes and then leaving it up to the men to prepare and serve the food themselves. Although this sounds rather rudimentary, it worked reasonably well. The system later became a bit more sophisticated with the building of permanent cookhouses at the various barracks around Australia. The men's rations were then prepared in the cookhouses in bulk by permanently or semi-permanently appointed cooks and issued out to the various messes. When the British left and defence became a local responsibility, the cookhouses were taken over by the small permanent military establishments in each colony and used to prepare food for the troops of the garrisons. (2)

It was a different story for the part time militia and volunteers. When these troops went into camp for their annual training period rations were procured and distributed by part time Army Service Corps units and cooking was done in the field, over trench fires and prepared by companies. Again, while this sounds pretty basic, it must not be forgotten that the maximum period in camp was 16 days and the rationing and cooking facilities were really quite adequate. More than adequate according to some people: in 1884, Major General French specifically forbade the preparation of food by company messes in the Queensland volunteer forces as he believed that it made the men lazy and did not allow them to become trained in the `arts' of field cooking! (3)

These practices carried over into the Commonwealth forces following Federation and this was basically the scheme at the outbreak of the Great War. That is, for the small permanent forces food was prepared in the cookhouses attached to the barracks and forts and distributed to the various barrack messes. Rations were procured by the small full time ASC detachments in each state and prepared by permanently appointed cooks. Quite often these cooks were men with previous cooking experience and were recruited specifically to carry out catering duties. For the militia, when they went into camp the rations were obtained and distributed by part time ASC detachments and cooked in company messes over trench fires in dixies. In some cases the system was refined a bit by having the cooking done by civilian cooks hired for the duration of the camp. (4)

This system was more than suitable for the military forces of the Commonwealth prior to the outbreak of the war. With Australia's entry into the war, and the decision to recruit a large overseas expeditionary force, the system immediately fell apart. With tens of thousands of troops in permanent camps, sometimes for months at a stretch, the small existing catering capacity was overwhelmed and the system of having the men themselves cook their rations out of doors over trench fires was simply not adequate to the task.

The problems were quite overwhelming. In the first place, there weren't enough qualified supply troops available to procure and distribute the rations. Even when the rations arrived, in the early days there was no one to cook them, nowhere to cook them, nothing to cook them in, nothing to serve them with, nothing to sit down to eat them off and nothing to eat them from or with!

The problem fell into three categories, namely feeding the troops: in camp in Australia; in transit by sea from and to Australia; and in the field. Each of these problems presented its own unique circumstances and problems.

Training Camps in Australia

With the outbreak of the war, major training camps were set up in all states--at Enoggera in Queensland; at Liverpool, Menangle and Richmond in New South Wales; at Broadmeadows, Bendigo and Seymour in Victoria; at Mitcham in South Australia; at Blackboy Hill in Western Australia; and at Claremont in Tasmania. Into these camps marched the thousands of first enthusiastic volunteers for the AIF. These men needed to be armed, clothed, housed and, above all else, fed. In the early days, as a number of histories of the AIF record, feeding was not all it should be.


In the first place, there were no cooks. Units were expected to solve this problem by appointing cooks from within their own ranks. This wasn't always successful. In some cases units were lucky enough to find in their ranks men with cooking experience, gained in shearing sheds, in railway lunch rooms or in that hardest and most demanding of cookery schools, the merchant navy. More often than not, however, there were no experienced men and commanding officers called for volunteers or they just appointed likely, or as often as not unlikely, candidates.

Some units obtained volunteers for the cookhouse by making the cooking a rotational job and excusing those on cookhouse duty from all other duties, drills or fatigues. This did not always work out as well as expected. First, very few men possessed even the most basic culinary skills and often the results of their labours were less than desirable. Secondly, many viewed the cookhouse duty as simply an avenue to get out of harder work. For instance, the unit history of the 2nd Battalion records the case of group of `cooks' who volunteered for the duty when they learned that one of the perks of the job was unrestricted access to the wet canteen during working hours. These men were in the habit of pooling their money and buying a dixie of beer which they dipped into liberally as they went about their cooking duties. The results were apparently what might be expected. (5)

The other expedient, that of appointing men to the cookhouse, was generally even less of a success. Armies being armies and officers and NCOs being officers and NCOs, when the call came out for men for the cookhouse, invariably the dirtiest, slowest, clumsiest and laziest were picked for the job. Although some men picked in this way did their best and even became a success, in the main the culinary results of this process were what would be expected. Units, of course, had no one to blame but themselves.

In some units, messing was devolved to company or below and the cooking duties shared among the men of the sub-unit on a rotational basis. While this worked well enough when the `cooks' on duty had some rudimentary skill, the system fell apart when the next poor incumbent didn't possess any skills. For example, the history of the 11th Battalion records the travails of Private Bettson of the Machine-Gun Section who was adjudged `the worst cook in the world.' Little sympathy was apparently shown for the hapless Bettson since the history records that `when his turn of cookhouse came he used up all his pay buying ready-cooked food for the boys. His life might have been in danger otherwise.' (6)

Complaints in the early days were widespread, vociferous and bitter. The military authorities, to their credit, quickly saw the need and did their best to meet it by appointing qualified cooks on the scale of one sergeant cook to every 1,500 men under instruction and one corporal cook to each cookhouse or kitchen in use. (7) These men were required to possess a recognised certificate of cookery if possible. If not, they had to be able to produce evidence of their experience and competence. In addition to the corporal cook, in due course one private, gunner or sapper was required to be provided to each kitchen or cookhouse on a two week rotation. This latter soldier was basically a cook's assistant although he was supposed to be under instruction. The theory was that the practice would provide a pool of `trained' and experienced men to serve as cooks with each overseas draft. It seems to have worked, but was far from satisfactory. With the best will in the world, often the most that a `trainee cook' learned in his two week rotation was how to boil the tea water without burning it!

Later in the war, strenuous efforts would be made to establish an AIF cookery school, both in the UK and in the Middle East. Despite the best of effort, however, this came to nought. The best that could be arranged was a limited number of places at British schools for selected AIF members. An interesting series of letters and notes exists which deal with AIF attendance at a British Army cookery school in Alexandria, Egypt, which was run by a civilian lady, a Miss Marion Higgins. One could perhaps wonder how this lady coped with Australians. However, by the tone and content of her letters to Lady Godley, Miss Higgins seems to have been an archetypal British Imperial lady who, while developing an affection for the Anzacs, was not prepared to take a single ounce of nonsense from them. (8) The kind of person Australian soldiers react readily and favourably to.


At the outbreak of the war, excluding existing fixed facilities, the basic cooking implements were the `Kettle, Camp, Oval 12 Quart' or `dixie' and the Soyer stove.

Dixies have been around since before the Crimean War and are merely a refinement of the cast iron cooking pots Wellington's men used in the Peninsular. The refinement consists largely in the shape. Unlike Wellington's round bottomed iron pots or kettles, the dixie was oval and flat bottomed which allowed dixies to be easily stacked for storage and transportation. The lid could also be used as a frying pan or baking tray. Readers will have seen one or both of the movies dealing with the Second Zulu War, Zulu or the later Zulu Dawn and may have noticed dixies in use in the movies. This was not an anachronism as dixies were really used that long ago (and even earlier). Dixies, which could be either placed over trench fires to cook in the field or on the hot plate of a stove, were a very, very useful piece of kit. So useful in fact that they are still in use today in the Australian Army.

The other basic item of cooking equipment was the Soyer Stove. If for no other reason that it is an historically fascinating story, it is worthwhile to digress at this point and talk about the inventor of the Soyer Stove, Monsieur Alexis Soyer, and his marvellous brainchild. Soyer was a French chef who was working as executive chef at an exclusive London club in 1855 at the time of the Crimean War when he read a newspaper account of the debacle in the hospital kitchens at Scutari. On learning of the appalling culinary situation at Scutari, he travelled to the Crimea at his own expense to provide catering assistance to the hospital kitchens. He was so successful there that he was asked to expand his work to include the whole expeditionary force and in fact became, if I might coin a phrase, the `Florence Nightingale of the field kitchens.' (9)

Apart from his excellent work in improving the standard of both hospital and field cooking, Soyer's main claim to fame was the famous stove which bears his name. When he was interviewed by Lord Panmure prior to departing for the Crimea, Soyer had been asked if he could improve army cooking equipment. Could he? `Mais oui! Certainment!' He scribbled down a design for a portable field stove on the back of an envelope and took it to a firm of stovemakers who provided him with a model on a scale of one inch to the foot within 48 hours. He demonstrated his model to the Duke of Cambridge who was so impressed that he ordered a number of stoves to be made up forthwith and despatched to the Crimea.

Soyer's marvellous invention could cook meals for 120 men at a time and used one tenth of the fuel required for dixies on trench fires cooking for an equivalent number. Moreover, his stove was designed to be easily transportable: two stoves could be carried on one pack mule, each load including one day's supply of fuel packed inside the stoves. The stove was a brilliant design. At its first demonstration at the end of August 1855 in the Crimea, Soyer produced a palatable meal for 800 people cooked in 10 stoves, using only army rations. (10)

The two main items of cooking equipment for the Australian Army at the outbreak of the war were the dixie and the Soyer Stove. The authorised scale of issue for these items was one dixie per eight officers and men and one Soyer Stove per 300 men or three stoves per battalion, light horse regiment or field artillery brigade, as well as one stove per officer's and sergeant's mess.

However, official records of the Commonwealth Department of Defence reveal that in August 1914 the Army had on hand 14,000 dixies and no Soyer Stoves apart from a small number on issue to officer's and sergeant's messes in garrisons and fortresses. (11) That number of dixies while sufficient for 112,000 men, and was nowhere near enough for the combined needs of the AIF, the Permanent Forces and the militia, which of course continued to serve in the defence of Australia while the AIF served overseas. To put the problem into some sort of perspective, at the approved scale of issue of one dixie per eight officers and men, the AIF would eventually need almost 8,000 dixies for its infantry battalions alone. When all other units--machine gun companies, pioneer battalions, light horse regiments, camel battalions, field artillery brigades, medium artillery brigades, siege artillery brigades, engineer companies (field and signal), ASC companies, AFC squadrons, trench mortar batteries, field ambulances, casualty clearing stations, field hospitals, general hospitals, convalescent depots, training depots, the list goes on and on--are taken into account, the problem becomes a bit clearer!

As if not having enough dixies to go around was bad enough, to add to the problem soldiers not only have to have food cooked for them, once it is placed in front of them, they need to have something to eat the food off and with. In August 1914 the Australian Army held no stocks of tables, no plates, bowls or cups and a grand total of 2,000 sets of cutlery, ie, 2,000 each of knives, forks and spoons. (12) This raises the intriguing question of how the pre-war army went about feeding more than 2,000 men in camp at any one time. From various references it would appear that militiamen were required to turn up at camp with their own set of `eating irons' in their packs. The 2,000 sets held by the army appear to have been on issue to permanent units or in store. As to what the troops ate off, while the permanent troops certainly had tables in their barracks and messes, for the militia it seems that they sat on the ground or on the floor of their tent and that was their table. That was for the enlisted personnel anyway. Militia officers and NCOs seemed usually to have eaten at tables which were hired for the duration of the camp.

This absence of the most basic catering items caused problems in the early days of the AIF. The unit history of one battalion records that the commanding officer, a wily pre-war militiaman, marched into camp with 25 sets of cutlery in his trunk. These were used to feed the troops in shifts until proper stocks arrived. The war establishment of an infantry battalion was 1,022 officers and men which divided by 25 equates to 41 separate sittings for each meal--things must have been a bit tense around the mess hall at meal times!

To the credit of the various sections of the Army and the Defence Department involved in setting up the AIF, enormous effort was expended in the early stages of the war to overcome these deficiencies, and by the middle of 1915 at the latest, all of the training camps had been equipped with sufficient kitchens to provide for numbers in camp and either proper dining huts or at least dining tables in the barrack huts had been provided for the men to eat at. Similarly, Australian industry had risen to the challenge and a number of manufacturers were churning out enough supplies of cups, bowls, plates, knives, forks, spoons etc to meet the demand.

The food

There is a strongly held belief that the AIF fought the First World War on an unvaried diet of bully beef, biscuits and black tea. Nothing could be further from the truth. This myth has grown up, probably, as a result of the stories and reminiscences of the soldiers themselves. Although quite a varied diet was provided for the troops, based on the contemporary British Army (1910) ration scale, the food served in front line was of course based around bully beef and biscuits as these were the combat rations of the day. The dreary monotony of bully beef day in and day out for at least one meal of the day doubtless stuck in men's minds and it is what they remembered after the war and what they told the home folks about. So the myth has grown up. Table 1 shows the army ration scale which was adopted for the AIF.

Although the ration scale certainly lacks the wide variety of a modern diet it was more than adequate. The scale was copied from the British Army and had last been modified (by the British) in 1910. It provided for an energy output of 4,000 calories per man per day. (13) As it turned out, for various reasons that wasn't enough and caused a number of problems, especially in the British Army, later in the war (but that's another story). Suffice it to say that this scale of rations was vastly more varied than the bully beef and dog bikkies of myth and legend.

Procurement of rations was the responsibility of the Army Service Corps. ASC companies in each military district were responsible for purchasing rations from local suppliers then conveying and distributing them to the various camp quartermasters who in turn issued rations out to units for preparation in the cookhouses and kitchens. At the outbreak of the war the small existing permanent ASC establishment and the slightly larger militia ASC establishment were severely taxed in meeting the demands of the rapidly expanding AIF. Clearly, they were over-stretched. Not only were the number of personnel available for the task insufficient, the problem quickly became worse as officers and men left both the Permanent Force and Militia ASC companies to join the AIF. This drain was particularly acute in the case of officers who were all highly skilled and experienced men and the Army was hard put to replace them. (14)

In 1917 the daily requirement for rations in the AIF training camps in Australia in 1917 was as shown in Table 2.

As can be seen, it was quite a shopping list. In addition to rations for the troops, the AIF was required to obtain and transport on a daily basis 35 tons of oaten chaff, 15 tons of oats and 10 tons of bran as forage for its horses. (15) The bulk of the Australian Army's transport at the time was animal transport and thus all of the supplies listed in the table had to be collected, carted and delivered by horse drawn wagon and of course the horses had to be fed. But this hurdle, like all of the others, was eventually overcome, and by the end of 1915 the supply of rations in Australia was running quite smoothly.

Quality and types of rations available varied from time to time and place to place but records indicate that the Army went to great lengths to ensure as high a standard as possible for rations. Once they got to the cookhouse of course, it could be a different matter for the various reasons already discussed. But while the end product may not have been all that was desired, at least the thought was there, as Table 3 shows.

Taken from the official report of the Department of Defence for 1917, Table 3 shows the menus for the soldiers messes in an AIF training camp in Australia at that time. The variety of food on offer was a far cry from bully beef, biscuits and tea, even if the food selections in some cases appear a bit idiosyncratic to the modern eye (curry and rice followed by chops and mashed potatoes for breakfast)! The selections shown here were, of course, the ideal and who knows what the end result hitting the mess table was.

Nevertheless, provision of food in the camps was not always of the best standard and continued to cause trouble. Indeed, one of the causes of the famous Liverpool riots of 1916 was the poor quality of food provided in the camps at Holsworthy, Ingleburn and Casula. One thing which particularly angered the men was the fact that German internees in the internment camp at Holsworthy received better food than they did. To the credit of the military authorities, these complaints were addressed and while the quality of the food never approached the level of haute cuisine, it certainly did eventually improve enough to remove it as a major possible cause of unrest. It is noteworthy that the authorities soon realised that men might in fact still be hungry at the end of the day, even after consuming the munificent Army fare. To provide for this contingency, the Army followed the lead of the British Army, paying the troops an allowance of one shilling and ninepence per day on top of their standard pay to allow them to purchase additional food from the dry canteen or other outlets. (16) Unfortunately, there are no figures available to indicate how many men spent their allowance of food and how many headed straight for the wet canteen.

Rationing on Sea Transports

Once a man was trained the next part of his soldier's journey was the trip overseas. This of course was by ship and the Army found this yet another hurdle to be overcome. Prior to the Great War, Australia's only real experience of trooping was in the Boer War. In that conflict voyages to South Africa were via normal merchant vessels and the passage was often paid by the troops out of their own pockets. On the voyage, food was provided by the shipping company as part of the passage fare and what you saw (and paid for) was what you got. This fairly amateurish approach was obviously not acceptable to the Australian government or the AIF and some other system had to be found.

Nevertheless, when Australia despatched its very first overseas expeditionary force of the War--the AN&MEF to German New Guinea in 1914--the force was carried on chartered merchant ship, the Berrima, and the troops (17) were fed by the ship's staff as part of the passage contract. This was very early days, however, and was in any case a one off event.

When plans were drawn up for the dispatch of the first contingents of the AIF overseas, various methods of rationing and feeding the troops on the transports were examined and rejected. In the end, some lateral thinker at Army HQ hit on the novel idea of asking the Navy, based on the logic that since the Navy fed servicemen at sea all the time, then they probably knew something about it! As a result of this and following discussions at Departmental level, an agreement was made between the Departments of the Navy and Defence whereby rationing in transports was placed in the highly capable hands of Fleet Paymaster Treacy, Director of Naval Stores and Victualling. Paymaster Treacy drew up a ration scale based on a combination of the Navy and Army scales and then, by some arcane means known only to paymasters, arrived at the magical figure of one shilling and fourpence per man per day as the cost of rations on sea transports. This was the amount written into hiring contracts and was the amount the shipping companies were told they were allowed to spend to cover the cost of feeding troops in transit. The scale arrived at is interesting in its comparisons. The Navy, for instance, used the Admiralty ration scale which allowed 12 ounces of meat per man per day but as Table 1 above shows, the Army allowance was 20 ounces. Paymaster Treacy originally specified the Admiralty allowance in his scale but the AIF would have none of it and the final sea transport scale allowed 20 ounces per man. (18)

The system as laid down was that out of their per capita allowance, the shipping companies purchased rations for the voyage through their normal supply channels. These rations were inspected by officers of the Australian Army Veterinary Corps and officials of the various State health boards prior to loading. As far as can be ascertained the highest standards of quality were generally maintained, at least in the later stages of the war. (Some problems with quality in the earlier voyages are mentioned below.) One curious item concerns ox liver, which had long been a staple of ship's stores. Under inspection by State health officer and AAVC officers, so many shipments of ox liver were found to be infested with hydatid cysts and flukes that the item was excluded from the ration scale. (19)

The shipping companies at first stated that they would be unable to provide messing on Paymaster Treacy's scale at less than two shillings and sixpence per man per day. Treacy, however, was not to be moved and the price stayed at one shilling and fourpence although later it would be raised to one shilling and sixpence and finally to one shilling and tenpence due to increases in the cost of basic foodstuffs. These rates for privates and corporals. The rate for sergeants and warrant officers was three shillings and threepence while for officers it was six shillings per day. These latter scales were never increased. There were various qualifications, of course. If, for example, the vessel chartered was not equipped or supplied with refrigeration, resulting in a need for live meat supplies to be carried, or if the total number of men to be fed was less than 120 (thus `spoiling the average'), an additional sum of fivepence per head was paid to cover the cost of forage and wages, etc, of slaughtermen and butchers. This was later increased, in line with the per capita costs mentioned above, to elevenpence and then to one shilling and twopence. (20)

Once aboard ship, rations would be prepared by either ship's cooks assisted by cooks from units in transit or by the unit cooks only, depending on the size and type of ship and the cooking facilities available. Table 4 lists representative menus for troops aboard a contracted transport vessel. This was a `rotational menu' with the first selections listed being served on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday, the second list of selections being served on Monday and Friday and the third list of selections being served on Wednesday and Saturday. (21) Presumably, a new rotation would be prepared for the following week but that of course would depend on the variety of rations available and the skills of the catering staff.

As with the food in the training camps, while the quality of the basic rations supplied on transports was generally quite high, what finally hit the mess table greatly depended on the quality of the cooks and their facilities. There were a number of incidents throughout the war when members of the AIF protested about the quality of the food served aboard transports. For example, the diary of Sergeant Murphy, Cook Sergeant of the 1st Battalion aboard the transport Afric contains a couple of very illuminating entries. On 28 October 1914 he wrote, `Meat condemned at midday meal.' Then on 4 November 1914 he wrote, `B Company throws food overboard.' Although this was very early in the war, these sorts of complaints popped up throughout the war and indeed Murphy, who was invalided back to Australia in 1916, records personal complaints about the rations on his return voyage. (22) These types of incidents were investigated and where possible real problems were rectified. But problems remained for the whole war. Largely these resulted from the requirement of the shipping companies to provide rations to a scale using what they always saw as an inadequate per capita allowance, along with varying standards of cooks and facilities. Probably the most that can be said is that everyone did the best they could. One thing that helped was the dry canteens operated aboard the ships by the Regimental Institute where troops could purchase additional food items if they wished.

Hospital Ships

The Australian government chartered and fitted out several merchant vessels during the war as hospital ships. Detailed and fairly prescriptive contracts were drawn up by the government, in this case its agent the Naval Shipping Board, and contracting owners were expected to adhere to them strictly. Contracts specified that all cooking, baking, butchering and stewarding was to be done by the crew and specified that each ship hired and fitted out must include in the crew, `3 cooks, 1 scullery boy, 2 washerwomen, 1 butcher.' (23) In addition to the staff to prepare, cook and serve the food, the owners were contractually obligated to provide, `all utensils, &c., required for messing and cooking'. To cover this expense, contracts allowed a per capita rate at the time of fit out of 20 shillings per man for the first 100; 17 shillings per man for the next 100; and 15 shillings per man for all others above 200. The contracts also provided, with no logic explained, `two shillings and sixpence in addition for each man berthed on a deck without side lights.' (24)

Rationing was based on a standard requirement of 500 invalids for 100 days, plus the requirements of the embarked medical staff. Medical authorities devised four diets which were authorised for use on the ships. Diet No. 1 was the so-called `Milk' diet; Diet No. 2 was the `Beef Tea' diet; Diet No. 3 was the `Chicken' diet; and Diet No. 4 was the `Ordinary' diet. As with the normal rationing on troopships, owners were allowed a specific sum within which they were to provide the rations for the diet. These sums ranged from one shilling per man per day for the Milk diet to a (relatively) whopping three shillings per day for the Chicken diet. Owners were required to embark sufficient stores to provide 4,000 Diet No. 1, 4,000 Diet No. 2, 2,000 Diet No. 3 and 20,000 Diet No. 4 (30,000 rations in total). (25)

The list of ration items required to be embarked for purely medical use, ie, convalescent diets etc, referred to as `medical comforts', included such things as ale (1,440 bottles), brandy (300 bottles), champagne (300 pints), stout (1,440 bottles) and port wine (450 bottles), as well as such things as arrowroot (120 lbs) calves foot jelly (300 pints), sago (60 lbs) and tapioca (60 lbs). It should be noted that the alcohol listed were strictly medicinal items. Provision of alcohol to or consumption of alcohol by medical staff or patients was strictly prohibited except on the signed prescription of the Senior Medical Officer. (26)

As with rationing on normal transports, while an ideal situation was specified by regulation and contract, who knows what the end result being placed in front of patients and staff really was. But, it cannot be denied that the military authorities certainly tried to do their best by the troops.

At the Front

Once the voyage, good, bad or indifferent, was over, the troops were in the field and this is where the real problems of feeding began. There were three main theatres of service: German New Guinea (the so-called `Tropical Force'); the Middle East (including Gallipoli); the Western Front.

The Tropical Force

After the successful capture of German New Guinea, the Australian Government decided to maintain a specially raised garrison to bolster the military administration of the colony. This garrison, based on an infantry battalion with a small support element, was called the Tropical Force. At the time, there was very little European type food grown in New Guinea and rations for the Tropical Force were sent from Australia. The ration scale authorised for the Tropical Force is shown in Table 5.

The tropical ration scale varied little from the standard scale shown at Table 1. The only real deviations were the lack of an allowance of fresh meat, offset by tinned fish; an allowance of bacon; slightly more coffee; and no cheese. How this ration was arrived at is a mystery as no record of the decision making process has been unearthed. One interesting point about the scale is that when vegetables were shipped to New Guinea, 10% above the scale was shipped to allow for wastage en route. As with the AIF, members of the Tropical Force were paid a daily additional ration allowance and the Regimental Institute operated a dry canteen at Rabau 1. (27)

In addition to the white troops of the Tropical Force, the military government in New Guinea employed a large number of local police and labourers who were rationed at the expense of the Defence Department. The ration scale for these local personnel is shown at Table 6.

This scale was arrived at by the simple expedient of adopting the existing scale authorised for Papuans employed by the Administration in that territory. (28) Unlike the white troops of the Tropical Force, the local personnel were not paid an additional ration allowance. Even if they had been, the mores of the time were such that they would not have been permitted to use the dry canteen, let alone the wet canteen!

The Middle East

Service in the desert in Egypt prior to and following the Gallipoli Campaign, provided some interesting problems for feeding the troops. First, many items easily obtainable in Australia were not so easy to come by in Egypt, if not totally impossible. The members of the AIF found themselves eating a lot more rice and preserved vegetables than they had in Australia or on the ships out. Secondly, scarcity of water coupled with an abundance of flies led to health and sanitation problems. The ever present sand also caused problems, rendering food that might not have been totally palatable in the first place even less appealing. (29) Still, the Army did its best. The field bakery units had their first appearance in Egypt and began to produce fresh bread and rolls for the Australian units, using the ubiquitous Aldershot Ovens. Proper mess buts and kitchens were eventually built, helping to cut down the amount of sand in the food as well as keeping out the flies. This latter benefit was coupled with a vigorous hygiene campaign designed both to teach correct hygiene discipline to the troops and to destroy the problem at the source.

One cause of dissatisfaction for the Australians was the ration scale. The British command insisted that the newly arrived AIF units be taken off their existing ration scale and placed on the same so-called `Army of Occupation' ration scale as the British troops. (30) This scale, see Table 7, was markedly less generous than the AIF standard scale and caused a lot of resentment. To offset the problem, the Australian government allowed an extra sixpence per day per man to the existing ration cost to permit extra food to be purchased. This brought the scale for the Australians back to where it had been originally and this, when coupled with the existing daily extra ration allowance paid to the troops, alleviated the problem. Why the British authorities could not have left the Australians on their own scale in the first place is a mystery.


On 25 April 1915, the 1st Australian Division went ashore at Gallipoli and the Anzac Legend was born. But on the Gallipoli Peninsula, in between storming the Nek and repelling Turkish attacks at Quinn's Post etc, how and what did the Anzacs eat? In answering this question, we get a bit closer to the reality of the bully beef and biscuits myth. The special conditions of service on the Gallipoli Peninsula meant that for a great deal of the time the men did exist on these staples. There were several reasons for this. First, bully beef and biscuits were easy to supply and store. Secondly, they were relatively easy to cook if you had the time and facilities--it doesn't take much cooking talent to slice up some bully beef and fry it in the lid of a dixie. Thirdly, they could be eaten cold if necessary--a vital point when lighting a fire could easily draw unwanted enemy attention.

The second point--ease of preparation--is interesting. Unit cooks certainly went ashore at Gallipoli but do not seem to have done much cooking for the troops. Such cooking as they did was restricted to cooking for the officers and sometimes sergeant's messes. Their contribution to the feeding the men seems generally to have been restricted to the provision of hot tea, and often just hot water for the making of tea. The men were thrown very much on their own culinary resources. Some fared quite well. Private A J Summerfield wrote to his mother on 9 June 1915:
 `I get plenty to eat, and I make our tinned meat up in several ways so I do
 not get sick of it. I make it up into mince-meat, cut it up fine with
 onions and put thyme in it. The thyme grows wild around here. The tinned
 meat goes alright as a stew with some onions. Another way is to fry it, but
 I do not care much for it fried. I have porridge for breakfast. It is made
 out of biscuit crumbs. The boys are always hammering away at a bag on the
 ground with a stick. The bag contains biscuits, which are broken up very
 fine and used as oatmeal. It does not go down too bad! I use the very fine
 crumbs as flour when I make mince-meat. One day I made a sea-pie, the
 pastry being made of very fine biscuit crumbs. We have bacon, cheese, jam,
 bully-beef and biscuits issued each day--also a few onions.' (31)

Summerfield was obviously a competent and self reliant person and he does not seem to have been the exception. On the other hand of course, there were doubtless large numbers of men whose culinary skills never rose above the level of slicing some bully beef and putting it on a biscuit. As to what the men had to work with, the ration scale for Gallipoli is shown in Table 8.

From the second week in May, the basic staples listed in the table were supplemented with occasional issues of fresh meat, potatoes and onions. In the very first days of the campaign, which were fairly cool and climatically pleasant, the rations provided were quite adequate and the troops ate them with no complaint. As the campaign dragged on and the days got hotter, the rations issued rapidly became distasteful. For example, the Australians very quickly sickened of the British cheese issued to them and more often than not threw it away. On 26 August 1915, Sapper Victor Willey of the 2nd Field Company wrote to his parents, `It would not be so bad if we could get some decent food, but we get nothing but bully beef and biscuits as hard as bricks.' (32)

Attempts to vary the diet often backfired. For example, the Australian government, at some expense and trouble arranged for frozen Australian meat to be transported to the Peninsula. The authorities were mortified to learn in due course that the units totally rejected the meat. Unfortunately, the Australian authorities, out of touch with the realities of life on the Peninsula, did not seem to realise that by the time the meat got to the company cooks, it was either flyblown or putrescent or, more often than not, both. Potatoes ceased to be issued at the end of July due to the `prohibitive cost' of supplying them, a decision that greatly angered the troops as the potatoes had helped to stretch and vary the monotonous bully beef. As the campaign wore on and the supply situation worsened, a scale of `equivalents' was established to allow for supply of additional quantities of more easily obtainable, transportable, storable items in lieu of standard items. Thus, from 18 June 1915, the scale authorised 6 oz preserved meat or 10 oz fresh meat or 4 oz golden syrup or 3 oz cheese as equivalent to 4 oz jam. From 6 July 1915, 4 oz rice, 4 oz jam, 4 oz golden syrup, 3 oz cheese, 6 oz preserved meat, 10 oz fresh meat or 4 oz dried fruit were all stated as equivalent to each other.

The only ration supplement the troops never tired of was bread. It is not generally realised that from the end of the first week of June 1915 the Australians on Gallipoli received an issue of freshly baked bread every second day. This bread was baked on the island of Imbros by the 1st Australian Field Bakery. The Field Bakery had spent a frustrating three weeks on Imbros employed as military police as MEF high command was unable to envisage a use for them. It was all the more galling to the unit, misemployed as they were, to watch the French field bakery set up and begin producing a stream of freshly baked loaves and rolls for the French expeditionary corps within a matter of days. Eventually, sanity prevailed and the unit was allowed to set up its ovens and begin baking bread and rolls, which were then carried to the Peninsula by ship and lighter for issue to the Anzacs. (33) Unfortunately, while the authorised ration was one full loaf per man every second day, wastage and theft en route meant that the ration normally amounted to half a loaf every second or third day. Nevertheless, the troops greatly appreciated the variety that bread offered. On 2 October 1915, Lance Corporal W A Mann, 29th Battalion, wrote to his sister, `We know the value of bread here and I would give anything for the stuff we used to throw away. We get it about twice a week.' (34)

The monotony of the diet was matched by its dietetic inadequacy. These problems could not even be relieved by the expedient of allowing the men to spend their additional ration allowance in the dry canteen on additional food items to supplement their diet--there was no canteen! The medical situation on the Peninsula rapidly deteriorated to levels that can only be described as catastrophic. One of the major contributing factors to this was the men's diet and cooking facilities. The food supplied was inadequate for the climate and the job. The conditions for preparing, serving and consuming the food, which could at the very best be described as primitive, were a prime breeding ground for sickness and disease. One of the problems was the disposal of food scraps and waste. The orders were for all waste to be buried. No burning was carried out due to enemy activity. Invariably food waste was not properly buried or was even simply thrown over the trench parapet, becoming a breeding ground for flies who carried their pathogens to food being prepared or eaten, and so the cycle continued. (35)

The rations also contributed to a high incidence of dental disease and complaints, ranging from teeth or dental plates being broken on Army biscuits to severe oral infections caused by a combination of vitamin deficiency and damage to the gums and lips from the rations consumed. Dental casualties were a major cause of concern for the ANZAC authorities as this was not a problem they had foreseen, the Australians at least. There were two New Zealand dental officers at ANZAC, who quickly became swamped with patients, and no Australians (none official at least). There were a number of dentists and dental mechanics in the ranks of the AIF who had enlisted in the fighting arms or medical units as there was no dental unit for them to enlist into and a number of these men carried their instruments and tools with them, doing their best to alleviate the dental problems of the Force. (36)

To be fair, higher authority did its best. Responding to pleas from medical officers, strenuous efforts were made to provide invalid food such as farinaceous biscuits and eggs. But despite the best efforts, demand always outstripped supply, to the point where in some units eggs were handed straight to the medical officer and only issued out on his prescription! At one stage over 10% of ANZAC Corps serving on the Peninsula were officially being prescribed invalid diets but there was never enough of the right food items to go around. (37)

There was no canteen at Gallipoli and thus nowhere for the troops to procure additional food, especially delicacies such as sweets, biscuits, chocolates and the like. This need was recognised and much staff effort was expended by the higher echelons in the ANZAC Corps in an attempt to obtain shipments of `canteen stores' for sale to the troops but these came largely to nothing. While this was going on, however, the Australian Comforts Fund, through quite herculean effort, managed to deliver a large shipment of luxury food items to the Peninsula in October. `Luxury' is a relative term as the consignment largely consisted of such fairly mundane items as tinned and dried fruit, jam, sweets, tinned tomatoes, chocolates, plain cakes and biscuits. Nevertheless, the shipment was greatly appreciated as it allowed the troops to vary their diet slightly just for a day or two. Needless to say, the shipment sold out within less than a day. (38)

The YMCA operated its own bakery on Imbros where it produced cakes and rolls which were then sent to Gallipoli where, believe it or not, the YMCA operated a coffee stall and reading room on the beach at ANZAC Cove! The efforts of this organisation were also greatly appreciated by the troops.

Despite the generally best efforts of the military hierarchy, the supply and rationing system on Gallipoli left a great deal to be desired and it was all for the best that the Australians were withdrawn from the Peninsula at the end of 1915. The appalling effect of the rations on the troops can be judged by the fact that following the evacuation the physical condition of the troops was so poor that the Director of Medical Services AIF ordered that all men who had served on Gallipoli be allowed an extra pound of bread and an extra pound of meat per man per day. This `above scale' allowance continued for some months until the men regained their strength and health. (39)

Palestine and Syria

From Gallipoli, while the bulk of the AIF was to go to Europe to fight on the Western Front, the major part of the AIF's mounted troops remained to fight in the deserts and hills of Palestine and Syria. The feeding of the AIF in the Middle East provided yet more problems for the Army authorities. The major problems were the scarcity of water and the mobility of the campaign which made the supply of food to the troops difficult. In many cases, during long desert operations, the light horsemen and cameleers of the Desert Mounted Corps were forced to subsist on the old fall back staples of bully beef, biscuits and tea. Once again, however, it would be totally invalid to accept this at face value as a vindication of the old myth. Bully beef and biscuits were issued for operations as they were the combat rations of the day. Despite the problems of supply the troops did not have to subsist on them forever. Field bakeries, both Australian and British, provided abundant fresh (or nearly fresh) bread for the troops. Fresh meat, as well as rice, flour, vegetables, etc, were provided whenever possible. In the field these were prepared by the squadron cooks in dixies over trench fires or in makeshift field ovens and distributed by troop and squadron messes for consumption. In addition to normal supplies provided through the Army logistics system, local purchase was used to obtain meat, flour, bread, fruit and vegetables from the local population. Cooked by the unit cooks, these provided a welcome variation to the diet, especially when on long operations. (40)

The sand was a problem that never went away and all reminiscences of the campaign that mention food also mention the ubiquitous sand! Even worse was the problem of dust. The fine, light, powdery dust of the Jordan Valley in particular, easily stirred up by the passage of a single horseman, was a constant irritant and in fact, besides getting into the men's food, was major cause of depression. There was little, unfortunately, that the authorities could do about this problem. (41) The flies, which had been the cause of so much sickness on Gallipoli, were nowhere near the problem in the desert, despite being just as prevalent. As the units were mobile they were not forced to live with their own refuse as they had on the Peninsula. Added to this was the fact that medical authorities fought a relentless war against the flies for the entire campaign and officers and NCOs rigidly enforced hygiene instructions designed to cut down the fly problem. (42)

Water was a constant problem and Middle East Force, of which Desert Mounted Corps was an element, expended vast amounts of energy and resources in an attempt to provide an adequate and ensured supply of water. British and Australian engineers bored wells, erected tanks, repaired aqueducts, constructed pipelines, laid tramways and light rail lines to transport water tanks and established distillation plants in the struggle to keep water up to the troops. Transport units conveyed water across the desert in carts, on trucks and wagons, on trams and light trains, or on the backs of camels. (43) With all this, there never seemed to be enough. Scarcity of water often predicated the type of food the men consumed since, even when water was too short for proper meals to be prepared, so long as there was enough water to brew a mug of tea to wash everything down with, bully beef and biscuits would suffice. Both of the AIF's largest battles of the campaign, Romani and Beersheba, were fought for the control of wells. Failure at Beersheba could have cost the campaign--it certainly would have been a major setback and many men and horses would have died.

Despite numerous difficulties of supply and despite the fact that circumstances forced the Australians to subsist for long periods on the old BB&B, which was a cause of much dissatisfaction, the feeding of the Australian troops in Egypt, Palestine and Syria does not appear to have caused any great problems. Sickness was a constant problem for the Desert Mounted Corps but this was, for the most part, due to the harsh climate and difficult campaigning. Food was certainly a cause, but a minor rather than a major one. It is notable that the rate of sickness went up when the units were stationary rather than moving on operations.

The Western Front

Service on the Western Front and in the UK was something of a military culture shock for the first Australians to arrive. Their experience of war to date had been the desert and Gallipoli campaigns. Arriving in England or France they found themselves part of a large modern army with well established systems of supply, transport and support and they had to fit themselves into this vast machine. First efforts were not entirely successful. As bizarre as it might sound, some commanding officers continued the practice of individual messing, which had been the norm on Gallipoli. This quickly led to waste and dissatisfaction. In their defence, these officers really didn't know any better. Often they were former militiamen whose only experience of feeding troops pre-war had been the annual camps. The experience gained at these camps had been reinforced and apparently vindicated by service on Gallipoli. Basically, they were just carrying on as normal. They were very quickly brought into line and the pattern of feeding the troops centrally from the unit kitchens was soon established. The unit cooks finally came into their own on the Western Front.

In the UK and on the Continent, the Australian troops were once again back on their old ration scale and this time the scale could actually be provided. Australian Army Service Corps (the ASC) units responsible for procuring, transporting and delivering rations quickly integrated themselves into the British system and rations began flowing to the units. To meet the demands for both the supply and preparation of rations, an AIF ASC Depot was established at Parkhouse in the UK. This depot was originally responsible simply for training ASC reinforcements and passing them along to units in the field. Later, the Depot became more closely involved in the actual logistics of providing rations. In August 1917, Lieutenant P G H Summers was appointed as Instructor of Cookery for the AIF. (44) This appointment, unfortunately, did not result in the establishment of an AIF cookery school. Lieutenant Summers' brief appears to have been that of inspection and supervision only. He may have had a role in processing and facilitating AIF attendance at British schools, but this is speculation. Efforts to improve AIF cookery and messing did eventually result in the appointment of several `Chief Messing Officers.' One of these was Lieutenant Andrews who was originally appointed Chief Messing Officer No. 1 Command Depot, Perham Downs, on 26 January, 1917. He was appointed Chief Messing Officer for the AIF in February 1918. (45) In June 1918, a variation to the establishment of divisional headquarters was approved which allowed for `the addition of a Sergeant Instructor in Cookery.' (46)

The AIF depots and training bases in the UK all had more or less permanent kitchens and dining facilities attached to them. This, coupled with the proximity to ports and access to a sophisticated transport network for supply, meant that troops in England ate reasonably well. Troops in the UK could also find plenty of places to spend their one and ninepence per day extra ration allowance.

It was not quite the same story on the Continent. First, the troops in Europe, especially those actually in the front lines, were at the very end of a very long supply chain. Often for some items, such as Australian beef and mutton, the supply line stretched all the way back to Australia. Given this fact, the ASC did an excellent job in ensuring that rations reached unit kitchens.

Rations for the AIF were either purchased locally or arrived in Europe at either Southampton or Harfleur. At both of these ports detachments of the ASC's Australian Sea Transport Service were responsible for identifying AIF stores and supplies and directing them to the correct destination via the supply rail head in France. (47) At the rail head, the Australian Railhead Supply Section, another ASC unit, managed the transfer of the rations to the corps and divisional transport elements. Prior to March 1918, transfer of supplies and rations was to the Divisional Transport Columns. The transport units of the divisions had consisted of the transport column and ammunition sub-park. The divisional transport column was responsible for the transport of rations and general stores while the ammunition sub-park was responsible for the transport, storage and issue of ammunition. Both of these elements were equipped with a mix of motorised and horse drawn transport, the majority being horse drawn. In March 1918, a major reorganisation of the AIF saw two elements combined into single all purpose transport units of the Australian Corps MT Column. The Corps MT Column was made up of six MT Companies numbered, fairly obviously, 1 to 6. There was one MT Company per division while the 6th MT Company was responsible for the transport of Corps supplies and stores. (48)

From the Railhead Supply Detachment, the Divisional Transport Column and then, after the 1918 reorganisation, the Divisional MT Company, transported the rations, along with other supplies, down to the Divisional Train. At the Train, the rations were handed over the Depot Units of Supply (the DUS). There were five of these ASC units for each division. It appears that the allocation was basically one DUS per brigade, one for the divisional artillery and one for the remained of the division. The DUS distributed rations to individual units in accordance with the ration scale and unit ration returns. (49) Rations distributed, both in the UK and in France and Belgium, included fresh meat and fresh bread. The bulk of the fresh meat forwarded to AIF units was slaughtered and prepared by the Australian Field Butcheries while the AIF's fresh bread was baked by the Australian Field Bakeries. Although both of these units were nominally subordinated to parent divisions (eg, the order of battle of the 1st Australian Division included the 1st Australian Field Butchery and the 1st Australian Field Bakery) in practice these units were grouped together in and around Rouen, located either in civilian facilities or in purpose built installations. This grouping allowed the Australian bakeries and butcheries to achieve excellent economies of scale and indeed they became so efficient and proficient that they were utilised to supply a large number of British units in addition to the AIF. (50)

From the DUS, rations went to the units where they were handed over to the Quartermaster and his staff. The QM and his assistants managed the issue of the bulk rations to sub-unit kitchens and cookhouses and it was here, at the company and battery level, almost at the very end of the food chain (pardon the pun) that the rations were mined, for better or for worse, into meals for the troops. Depending on the nature of operations and the current employment of the units, meals would be cooked in static cookhouses located at the unit billets; in a forward position near the troops, possibly a rail cutting or a quarry; or, if necessary, on the move. Wherever it was carried out and whether it was static or on the move, almost all cooking was done in the mobile kitchens which had been issued to the AIF from early 1916 on the scale of four per battalion sized unit. These cookers were, in theory, capable of producing a hot meal and tea for a company sized unit within one and a half hours and were specifically designed to be used on the move. The trick to achieving this was to get the fire going in the fire box, throw the ingredients for a stew into one pot and tea into another, hitch up the horses and head off to meet up with the company, battery or whatever somewhere down the road.

The life of a cook in the Great War was not a particularly easy one. A very good book on the subject written after the war by a man who as a youngster had served as a cook in the British Army with the London Scottish illustrates this very well. His tale reveals that it was common practice for the cooks to set off on a move up to four hours, or even more, before the rest of the unit did just so the troops could have a hot meal or at least a mug of tea when they reached the end of their march. Then, when the troops were bedding down, the cooks would either have to clean out the cooker and get ready for the next meal or, in the worst and often more common case, head off again on another trek in order to have a meal and hot cup of tea ready for the troops at the end of the next leg of the move. The cooks slept either in snatches waiting for the unit to catch up with them or took turns sleeping, if possible, on the cooker as it trundled and lurched across the countryside.

The Australian divisions, although they certainly had their share of moves, were not nearly as mobile as was the norm for British divisions but it is certain that they would have had similar tales about the endless round of cooking, moving, cooking, moving again. One mention that has been tamed up occurs in the diary of Cook Sergeant Murphy of the 1st Battalion (mentioned above). Murphy recorded that when his battalion was ordered to proceed on operational service from Egypt to Gallipoli on 4 April 1915, he and the unit cooks left Mena Camp at midnight the previous night so they could be in place to serve the unit a hot meal when they arrived at the rail head in the morning. (51)

Not all cooks had to feed troops on the move of course. The method of feeding the troops of the AIF on the Western Front depended very much on the type of unit. Headquarters and support units were generally far enough from the front lines to enjoy reasonably static facilities, comparable to those in the United Kingdom and troops of these units would more often than not be fed a hot meal three times a day, to be eaten in proper, or as near as practicable proper, dining facilities. For instance, the menu for the soldier's mess of the 3rd Australian Division Base Depot for 12 December 1917 lists the following items: Breakfast--fried rissoles, pork and beans, bread, butter, tea; Dinner (lunch)--boiled beef, cabbage, mashed potatoes, rice custard, bread, tea; Tea--bread, butter, cheese, jam, tea. (52)

For the fighting units, the infantry battalions, the artillery brigades, the engineers and the others, is was a different story. When, what, where and how these units were fed depended on what they were doing. On the Western Front, the AIF, as with the rest of the British Army, followed an unrelenting round of a period, from one to four weeks usually, in the front line trenches, followed by a period in support to the rear of the front line, followed by a period in reserve or `resting' (so called), and then the cycle repeated itself. If a unit was resting or in reserve, the three hot meals a day served from company or battery kitchens would apply. The cooks would be roused out at 4 am or earlier, depending on the time of year, to start the fires in the cookers or stoves to give the men a breakfast which might consist of bacon, chops or sausages, porridge, bread, jam and tea. Lunch, if the troops were in the billets, would be a stew or perhaps a roast and vegetables or boiled meat and potatoes, as well as soup, bread, jam and tea. If the troops were out in the field on an extended training exercise or a fatigue such as road mending, they would be issued dry rations such as bully beef, jam, bread and biscuits before they left. They would also be given an issue of tea and sugar to make a brew or, if they were relatively close to the billets, a transport wagon might take out a dixie of hot tea for them. The evening meal would be fairly light and would probably consist of soup, perhaps some cold meat with pickles, bread, jam and tea. The cooks usually served a late supper of tea or cocoa with bread and jam just before lights out. In reserve, the men also generally had good opportunities to spend their extra ration allowance in various outlets, the famous estaminets, dotted around the countryside and in the small towns and villages that were intact.

In support, the system varied in that the meals were prepared at the company or battery kitchen and carried forward in hot boxes--wooden boxes insulated with straw and holding two metal containers for food or hot liquids. Added to the hot boxes would be sacks or sand bags containing bread or biscuits. This would usually be done three times a day. The fare would not differ very much from that in the billets. The main difference was that it was delivered to the support trenches and eaten there. The cooks would usually do their best to ensure that a hot drink was also sent up in the evening.

The final stage in the food chain was the forward trenches, the front line. It was here that the feeding of the troops became a truly difficult task. The main problem was that no movement to or from the forward trenches could be carried out in the daylight hours and thus a hot meal could not be carried forward for the midday meal. In the front line trenches, the days were reversed with all major activity being carried out at night, the daytime being used for small chores and for getting what rest possible. As night fell, both sides would begin to hear the sound of iron shod wheels on cobblestones as unit transport wagons brought the rations forward. The wagons would carry hot boxes with the night's meal, usually a stew, along with hot tea and the other sundries such as biscuits, bread, jam etc. The wagons would also usually carry forward the food for the next day's midday meal and this would consist of tins of preserved meat--bully beef or the much favoured Machonicie's Stew--bread, biscuits, jam and an issue of tea and sugar. Along with the tea and sugar came the water in tins and an issue of hard coal or charcoal for heating the water for tea. Coal or charcoal was issued as it gave off little smoke and thus wouldn't give the user's position away. That was the theory anyway. Apparently it didn't always work, as the history of the 37th Battalion records that the cookhouse of the battalion's D Company (located in the forward trenches) was destroyed by shell or mortar fire twice soon after the battalion first entered the line, even though coke was being used. A decision to relocate the cookhouse more sensibly to the reserve trenches was apparently roundly applauded by the cooks! (53)

Platoons were fed in rotation, the meal being served into mess tins and panniers. The rations for the next day's lunch might be issued out to platoon sergeants at this time or might just as likely be held at company headquarters for issue the next morning at breakfast. Again, if at all possible, and sometimes it wasn't despite the best will in the world, the cooks would do their utmost to arrange for a hot drink of tea or cocoa to be carried forward for the men later in the night. It should be noted that for all the vilification heaped on the them, most memoirs and remembrances, which mention the cooks do so with warmth and affection. The cooks did their best for the men in the trenches and the men knew this and appreciated it. After the meal, the day's (night's) work began with carrying parties, wiring parties, line laying parties, trench repair parties, patrol, sentries, all the various intricate elements of trench warfare going about their business. The night's work would end about an hour before first light when the whole front line, both sides, would stand to fully armed and equipped, lining the parapets waiting for an attack.

While the night's work had been going on in the trenches, to the rear the cooks would have been cleaning up after the evening meal and getting ready to cook, serve and send out breakfast. In the European summer, this meant getting up at 3am to cook breakfast and put it in the hot boxes and dixies for carriage forward. Some time before stand to, carrying parties would have been sent back to the support lines to collect the morning meal, usually handing over the empty containers from the previous night's meal. Breakfast would be served in the trenches after stand down. It might consist of bacon, sausages, chops or even bully beef rissoles with bread or biscuits and jam, washed down with hot, sweet tea. Occasionally the cooks would contrive to send up hot porridge as well. This was always welcome as it was very filling. At the morning meal, the platoon sergeant would issue out the cold rations for the midday if this not had been done the previous night and the men would go about their daytime routine.

For lunch, the troops were usually left to their own devices and although a number of reminiscences note that some men went to great lengths to cook themselves some sort of a hot meal based on bully beef or tinned stew heated over whatever fire could be contrived, most men were content to wolf down cold meat and biscuits with, if possible, another mug of the inevitable tea. Here again is seen the genesis of the bully beef and biscuits myth. The time which stuck most in the minds of the veterans after the war was the time in the trenches and what stuck in so many of their minds was the memory of the bully beef and biscuits they consumed for at least one meal a day on most days. The fact that this fare was varied as much as possible with proper cooked meals could not detract apparently from the strength of the remembered enforced diet of tinned meat and army biscuits and the myth has grown up largely from this. (54) As early as 1915, apparently in reaction to reports from medical officers on Gallipoli concerning the detrimental effects of the rations on men's health, the medical fraternity in Australia called for more attention to be paid to soldier's diets. In a leading article in the main Australian medical journal of the day, doctors demanded a change in the food for soldiers on Gallipoli. The article stated that the `ration is of such a character as to become nauseating'. (55) The article paid particular attention to the psychological affect of an unvaried diet on men confined to unhygienic trenches and subject to unhealthy conditions. Unfortunately, the medical authorities were possibly not as aware of the problems facing the military authorities on Gallipoli as they could have been and their pleas can be seen as slightly unrealistic. On the other hand, the article is a clear example of the very real concern felt for the welfare of Australian soldiers in the First World War, specifically in the area of feeding.

What the soldier of the AIF carried (or was supposed to carry) into battle to sustain him in the fight is shown in Table 9.

This is the so called iron ration. It was designed to sustain a man in the field for 24 hours in extremis. The ration was not provided for the man to eat at his discretion. Regulations stipulated that a soldier was not supposed to touch his iron ration except in emergency and even then he was supposed to have the permission of an officer. The theory was that as the troops moved forward in an advance the divisional train would push supplies, including rations, forward to keep up with the advance. Thus operational plans always included a detailed administration annex where the plans for the provision of hot meals were laid out in enormous detail. These plans, however, seldom came to fruition and more often than not the men were forced to fall back on their iron rations. Quite often men might have no more than their 24 hour iron ration to sustain them for up to three days, sometimes even longer, until they either got back to their own lines or the supply system caught up with them. Nevertheless, many personal memoirs of the AIF recall `going over the top' with the voluminous pockets of the Australian blouse stuffed with extra tins of bully beef and packets of biscuit, `just in case.'

It was after large scale operations that the cooks came into their own as one of the major morale boosting factors of the army. Whatever else had happened, as the exhausted, filthy and famished remnants of units staggered out of the line they would know that the unit cooks would have a hot meal and a goodly supply of scalding hot tea waiting at the billets. One of the arts of the quartermaster was to be able to assess how many men would survive an operation and to cater accordingly. Quite often, of course, they got it wrong, usually over feeding. This must have been a terribly sad sight for the cooks as they saw how few men sometimes had survived to sit down to eat the meal they had prepared.

The pattern of obtaining the rations and feeding of the troops became well established throughout 1916 and 1917 and into the early part of 1918. The efficiency of the sea transport service and the British military railway system, coupled with reorganisations and rationalisations in Australian transport meant that by the end of 1917/early 1918, the flow of rations to the units forward went very smoothly. When the rations reached the units, the quartermaster and cooking staff were well versed in the needs of their particular jobs and the provision of meals and rations to the front line troops was managed as well as times and conditions would allow. There were problems, there were complaints, there were administrative foul ups, but, these tended to be the exception, rather than the rule. Much has been made by various commentators of the fact that soldiers in reserve or resting tended to go out of their way to seek out non-military food outlets. While it is almost inevitable that some of these forays were forced on soldiers by inadequate unit feeding, the author's research, plus his own not inconsiderable military experience, lead him to the conclusion that in general the haunting of estaminets was more a case of soldiers wanting a change of scenery, a break from the military environment, and even a change in the style of cooking rather than any great problems with the military rationing and feeding system itself.

Some Miscellaneous Thoughts

Ration Accounting

It is a common misconception among many soldiers, even those of long experience, that the food just appears on the mess table, apparently by magic. Since the appearance of the food is magical, it obviously doesn't cost anything. This of course is not so. Every bite of food consumed by the AIF was paid for by the Australian government and every penny spent on feeding the troops had to be accounted for. After some early trial and error, the AIF settled on a composite ration accounting system. This system consisted of the `commuted ration' (70% of the daily total ration) and `field allowance' (30%). The commuted ration was that portion purchased directly by the government and consisted of 12 oz meat, 16 oz bread, 2 oz bacon, 2 oz sugar, 3/4 oz tea and 1/4 oz salt. This was the basic staple ration and the actual purchasing element, referred to as the `commuted ration allowance' was 5 1/2 per man per day (later raised to 6 1/2d--see below). Field allowance was designed to allow catering officers to purchase the additional ration items authorised in order to bring the daily ration scale up to the total authorised level. (56)

Field allowance, which was not, despite the title part of the soldier's pay, was set at 5 1/2d per man per day. The money was drawn by quartermasters or messing officers from the Staff Paymaster and used to purchase rations through the canteen system. The amount drawn was calculated from unit ration returns. In 1917, the War Office set up the Navy and Army Canteen Board (NACB) and directed that field allowance was to be paid to the board for purchase of rations. Unfortunately, the War Office further directed that the NACB was to rebate 10% of the cash paid to it back to units to be spent on `entertainment and comforts', not rations. This practice infuriated Andrews who saw it as taking food out of the men's mouths, however well intentioned the idea. (57)

Andrews was further angered by memos from the War Office at the end of 1917 which encouraged units to return a portion of the field allowance at the end of each monthly messing period, to be paid into Public Funds. This practice inevitably led to competition between units to see who could return the most funds and of course the men's rations suffered. Andrews stated to Colonel Butler that he never returned any money, either as Messing Officer No. 1 Command Depot or as Chief Messing Officer AIF. (58)

Meticulous records were kept by messing officers to ensure that the government got its proper money's worth. A letter from the catering officer of B Sub Depot to the Adjutant of No. 2 Australian Command Depot at Tidworth illustrates this well. The letter contained the `Monthly Messing Report for Month of October' (1918) and went into extraordinary detail. It recorded that for the messing period 47,773 men were rationed and that this included three separate drafts, totalling 772 men, which marched out of the depot for embarkation to Australia. The letter also recorded that the men of the march out drafts `carried the unexpired portion of the day's rations on their person, which consisted of the following: 2 Meat Pies, 1 Jam Roll, 1/4 lb. Cheese, 3 ozs biscuits, 1 Ham Sandwich, 1 Margarine Sandwich.' (59)

In a memo to Colonel Butler of the Medical Service in 1919, Lieutenant Andrews included an annex which listed the entitlement to commuted ration allowance for AIF depots in the UK for the period June 1916 to December 1918. This remarkable document reveals that a total of 31,201,887 commuted ration payments were authorised over the period. The highest monthly figure was 1,924,613 claims for March 1917 while the highest daily average figure for messing strength was 55, 652 for April 1917. The total amount spent by the Australian government on feeding its troops for the period covered was 740,299 [pounds sterling]/12/7. (60) In this modern computer age, it is almost unbelievable that such vast yet precise figures could be managed totally manually and it says a lot for the staff skills of the AIF.


A particular problem for the AIF in the last year and a half of the war was that of ration shortages. Shortages of ration commodities affected the whole BEF from mid-1917 onwards. These shortages were caused by a combination of three main factors. First, simple supply and demand: the huge numbers of men in the field on the Western Front, as well as troops at home and the civilian population had to be fed and this put enormous strains on existing sources of supply. Secondly, both 1917 and 1918 saw relatively poor harvests in those areas of France and Belgium not held by the Germans. Finally, the German U-boat campaign began to bite into British shipping from May 1917 onwards. (61) A related cause of shortages for the fighting troops at the front, one which plagued the AIF, indeed all armies, for the whole war, was that of loss of stores due to pilfering or damage resulting from incorrect storage and transport. Shortages of basic commodities hit the AIF particularly hard early in 1918. Lieutenant Andrews reported that the period April to November 1918 represented the `period of lowest rationing' for the AIF. In a table appended to a report entitled `Information on the Messing Department', he noted that the average daily calorific value of the AIF ration reached an all time low of 3,264 calories per man per day in April. Scarcity of vegetables from local sources coupled with the German U-boat campaign were stated as the cause. The caloric value of the ration did not in fact show a marked increase until November 1918, when, obviously, the U-boat campaign was stopped. (62)

This figure, 3,264 calories, is slightly misleading. It reflects the total calorie figure when both the commuted ration and the field allowance were taken into account. Combined, these should have totalled 4,000 calories (+/-) so it can be seen that the AIF's rations had suffered markedly. In his report, Andrews notes that, from the Australian point of view, the most serious shortage was meat. In February 1918, the fresh portion of the meat ration for the BEF, and thus the AIF, was cut from 12 oz to 10 oz. This was cut again in April to 8 oz, while at the same time the sugar ration was cut from 2 oz to 1 1/2 oz and the tea ration from 5/8 oz to 3/8 oz. Additional cheese was issued in lieu along with fish. First, the Australians loathed the British cheese and refused to eat it. Secondly, Australians at the time were not a nation of fish eaters and resented having their meat ration replaced with fish, especially unfamiliar North Sea varieties such as cod, hake and skate. Complaints were so bitter and loud that AIF HQ made strong representations to the War Office to have the Australian meat ration restored. The War Office gave in to Australian pressure in May 1918 and increased the fresh meat ration for Australians to either 10 oz meat plus 2 oz fresh mince or 12 oz mince. In addition, the Australian government authorised the increase of field allowance from 5 1/2d. to 6 1/2d. to allow `additional offal to be bought.' (63) While there is no record of how the increase in the Australian meat ration was achieved, it is presumed to have been done at the expense of British units.

Shortages of vegetables also affected the AIF. Andrews noted in his report that vegetables were `very scarce' from April to August 1918. (64) He later went on to note that some of the shortfall was eventually made up by unit gardens. Such shortages were apparently not new. As far back as 16 May 1917, DA&QMG 1st ANZAC Corps had written to HQ 5th Division on the subject of `shortage of green vegetables.' This particular letter went on to offer the `helpful' suggestion that dandelion leaves could be substituted. In a very earnest tone, the letter advised that `French troops and people make great use of [it] which grows profusely in this area at this time of year.' The letter went on to suggest various methods of preparing the leaves for eating and requested a trial be carried out and report a forwarded. Unfortunately, no record has been found so far of the results of any such trial but such results would undoubtedly make interesting reading. (65)

Even earlier than this, shortages of potatoes occurred in 1916. This was particularly keenly felt as potatoes were, along with meat and bread, the staple most appreciated by the Australians. Once again, earnest efforts were made to compensate. This time it was chestnuts! A letter from 5th Army to formations (including Australians) under command advised that successful experiments had been carded out at the 5th Army School of Cookery at Estapols which showed that chestnuts could be used to either supplement or replace potatoes. A list of methods for preparing and serving the chestnuts which was appended to the letter does little to stir the taste buds! (66)


One method of dealing with shortages is waste management. Any large organisation feeding large groups of people on a regular basis faces the problem of waste and how to control or harness it. Lieutenant Andrews noted in a letter to Colonel Butler that `economy of waste was a matter that required most careful consideration. (67) By 1916, the vast waste incurred by the British Army, both in the UK and on the Continent, led the government to establish an organisation known as National Waste Products Ltd., a government enterprise which established depots near all major camps. Their job was to recover and process all waste matter, with a particular emphasis on paper, cardboard, string, rope, twine, bones and fat. Contractors paid the government between 38/- to 142/- per cwt of waste, depending on the type and quality. (68) One area of waste control in which the AIF was almost manic was the recovery of fat as `dripping.' Surviving memos, notes and reports consistently mention the campaign to recover dripping. As early as March 1915, a Court of Enquiry at Mena Camp found that the `cooking department' of an Australian unit had `made much pecuniary profit from the sale of fat--both dripping and fresh--which might have been used for cooking purposes to the advantage of the men.' (69) Later, in France, Belgium and the UK, a special AIF form called the `Unit Dripping Account' was created, This form was rendered to superior HQ as a return each month and contained columns for such vital points as `Amount saved', `1st class', `2nd class', `Issued as extra', `Issued to cooks', `Sold' and `On hand'. Since this was an army form, there was of course also a column for `Remarks.' (70) Cooks were supposed to produce half to one ounce of dripping for every ration of meat issued to them. (71) Economy in the all important matter of dripping was apparently later encouraged by the payment of 1/2d per pound for every pound of recovered dripping sent back to brigade or division. The regimental history of the 12th Battalion records that some units resorted to using dead horses to provide dripping, not, as it might be imagined, to collect their 1/2d per pound, but in order to avoid the wrath of higher authority. The history records that: `A Divisional Return was issued every month and often accompanied by a curt note stating `that the Divisional Commander notices, with regret, that your unit has only forwarded -- lbs. of fat (or paper or cardboard) to the DADOS during the month. Please explain.' (72) Important stuff dripping!

On 15 July 1918, an inspection of kitchens of HQ 108 US Engineer Regiment (attached Australian Corps) by Sergeant B W David, Instructor in Catering Australian Corps Troops, while generally complimentary, unfortunately found the Americans lacking in the area of dripping. Sergeant David noted in his report that in the matter of `surplus dripping', he had to explain `the necessity for economy in this line.' (73) Perhaps the best example of the AIF's fixation with dripping, however, is found in a letter from DAQMG 1st ANZAC Corps to HQ 5th Australian Division. The letter refers to an inspection visit of the kitchens of 15th Australian Infantry Brigade by the `OIC Catering 1st ANZAC Corps.' In his report to Corps, which is appended to the letter, the inspecting officer wrote the following: `... at the Machine Gun Company of this Brigade, I was rather received by the OC in a hostile way and spoken to in an impertinent manner. There, no fat of any kind was saved and the way the cooks, OC and officer (sic) received my instructions led me to understand that my room was more desired than my presence. One of the OC's remarks was that he did not know anything about saving fat and did not want to. I would suggest that for his special benefit, a letter should be sent, acquainting him of the fact that fat is really as much a necessity as his unit.' (74) So there!


The First World War was the Australian Army's, indeed the Department of Defence's and also Australia's, first big logistic challenge. The achievement of Australia, located at the literal ends of the earth, with a small population, little heavy industry and a largely agrarian economy, in raising, despatching, supplying and maintaining a major overseas expeditionary force for over four years cannot be in any way under stressed. It truly was a magnificent achievement. While most commentators with any knowledge of Australia's effort in the Great War will readily acknowledge this, it is doubtful if many have ever given any thought to the challenges faced and overcome by the Army and Department in feeding the Australian soldier during the war.

As with most other aspects of the raising, dispatch and maintenance of the AIF, the feeding of the army was never without its problems. Men did go hungry; shortages were suffered; irregularities did occur; preparation, cooking and serving were often of a poor standard. Yet, despite all this, and from a very shaky start, by the end of the war, the AIF was served by a sophisticated ration supply system and a catering department (for want of a better word) which, while by no means perfect, generally did the best it could at all times. The Australian Imperial Force may not necessarily have been the best fed army in the world at the time (although the boast was made) but it certainly fared better than most other armies during the war. As often is the case, much of the credit for this must go to a few individuals who did their utmost, often in the face of extreme institutional intransigence or inertia, to ensure that the soldier's welfare came first. High on the list of these must always be Colonel Butler of the medical service and the still somewhat shadowy Lieutenant Andrews, Chief Messing Officer. Their efforts deserve to be remembered.

Bibliography and Sources

Not all sources listed have been specifically cited in the text of the paper. All sources listed, however, were consulted and all provided information and background and `flavour'. Even if not specifically cited, all of the sources helped to make the finished product and thus I have chosen to list them. Of particular interest and help were the primary sources credited to the Australian War Memorial. The amount of material held in the AWM 25 file series was quite overwhelming and the assistance of the staff of the Research Centre was, as always, phenomenal.
Table 1: AIF Standard Ration Scale--World War One

Commodity Amount Scale of issue

Bread 1 1/4 lb (570 gm) Per man per day
Fresh meat 1 1/2 lb (680 gm) Per man per day
Coffee 3/4 oz (21 gm) Per man per day
Pepper 1/32 oz (0.89 gm) Per man per day
Mixed vegetables 8 oz (275 gm) Per man per day
Cheese 3 oz (85.05 gm) Per man per day
Potatoes 1 lb (450 gm) Per man per day
Sugar 3 oz (85.05 gm) Per man per day
Salt 1/2 oz (15 gm) Per man per day
Tea 1/4 oz (7 gm) Per man per day
Jam 1/4 lb (113 gm) Per man per day
Flour 1/2 lb (275 gm) Per man per week
Rice 1/2 lb (275 gm) Per man per week
Curry 1 oz Per man per week

Commodity Remarks

Bread Or biscuit 1 lb (450 gm)
Fresh meat Or preserved meat, salt meat or
 salt fish 1 lb (450 gm)
Mixed vegetables Or dried vegetables 2 oz (57 gm)
Flour In lieu of fat, bones &c., now sold
Table 2: AIF Daily Ration Requirement--Troops in Training
(Australia) (Source--Mullett)

Commodity Amount Remarks

Bread 77,500 lb Equivalent to 62,000 rations
Fresh meat 93,000 lb Equivalent to 62,000 rations
Potatoes 62,000 lb Equivalent to 62,000 rations
Biscuit 62,000 lb Equivalent to 62,000 rations
Vegetables 31,000 lb Equivalent to 62,000 rations
Jam 15,000 lb Equivalent to 62,000 rations
Sugar 12,000 lb Equivalent to 62,000 rations
Cheese 12,000 lb Equivalent to 62,000 rations
Bacon 7,750 lb Equivalent to 62,000 rations
Coffee 3,000 lb Equivalent to 62,000 rations
Salt 2,000 lb Equivalent to 62,000 rations
Tea 2,000 lb Equivalent to 62,000 rations
Pepper 120 lb Equivalent to 62,000 rations
Flour 4,500 lb Equivalent to 1/2 lb per man
 per week
Rice 4,500 lb Equivalent to 1/2 lb per man
 per week
Curry 550 lb Equivalent to 1 oz per man
 per week
Table 3: Sample Weekly Menu -- AIF Training Camp Australia

Day Breakfast Dinner

Sunday Dry hash, chops, Roast mutton, gravy,
 gravy and mashed boiled onions and
 potatoes, bread, jam, potatoes, apples and
 tea, coffee custard, tea

Monday Curry and rice, fried Boiled mutton and
 chops, gravy and onion sauce, mashed
 mashed potatoes, potatoes, plum pudding
 bread, jam, tea, and sauce, tea

Tuesday Irish stew, fried steak Roast beef, carrots,
 and gravy, boiled turnips, marrow,
 potatoes, fried potatoes, stewed
 onions, bread, jam, peaches and rice, tea
 tea, coffee

Wednesday Curry and rice, fried Roast mutton and
 chops and gravy, gravy, potatoes, date
 mashed potatoes, pudding and sauce, tea
 bread, jam, tea,

Thursday Haricot stew, fried Roast beef and gravy,
 steak and gravy, carrots, turnips,
 boiled potatoes, fried potatoes, plum pudding
 onions, bread, jam, and sauce, tea
 tea, coffee

Friday Curry and rice, fried Roast mutton, potatoes,
 chops, potatoes, onions, stewed apricots
 bread, jam, tea, with rice and milk, tea

Saturday Irish stew, fried steak Roast beef and gravy,
 and gravy, mashed roast potatoes, date
 potatoes and onions, pudding and sauce, tea
 bread, jam, tea,

Day Tea Supper

Sunday Bread, jam, Biscuits,
 tea cheese, tea
 or cocoa

Monday Stewed apples Biscuits,
 and rice with cheese, tea
 milk, jam, or cocoa
 bread, tea

Tuesday Rice broth, Biscuits,
 jam, bread, tea cheese, tea
 or cocoa

Wednesday Stewed Biscuits,
 peaches with cheese, tea
 milk, jam, or cocoa
 bread, tea

Thursday Stewed apples Biscuits,
 and rice with cheese, tea
 milk, jam, or cocoa
 bread, tea

Friday Vegetable Biscuits,
 soup, jam, cheese, tea
 bread, tea or cocoa

Saturday Bread, jam, Biscuits,
 tea cheese, tea
 or cocoa
Table 4: Sample Menu--AIF Troop Transports

Breakfast Dinner

Porridge, mutton Soup, roast or boiled
chops, bread, butter, meat, fresh or
jam, tea, coffee, milk, preserved vegetables,
marmalade, sugar potatoes, stewed
 prunes and rice

Porridge, grilled steak Soup, stewed rabbits,
and onions, bread, potatoes, vegetables,
butter, jam, golden pudding and
marmalade, milk, tea, sauce

Porridge, liver or Barley broth, boiled
eggs, bacon, bread, mutton, potatoes,
butter, jam, tea, vegetables, plum
marmalade, milk, pudding and sauce

Tea Supper

Hot pot or similar Biscuits, cheese, tea
dish, cold meat, or cocoa
potatoes, jam, bread,
butter, milk, tea,

Cold corned beef, Biscuits, cheese, tea
pickles, jam, bread, or cocoa
butter, milk, tea,

Cold corned beef, Biscuits, cheese, tea
pickles, jam, bread, or cocoa
butter, currant buns,
milk, tea, sugar
Table 5: Standard Ration Scale--Tropical Force

Commodity Amount Scale of issue

Bread 11 oz lb (680 gm) Per man per day
Bacon 2 oz (57 gm) Per man per day
Coffee 1/2 oz (15 gm) Per man per day
Mixed Vegetables 8 oz (226 gm) Per man per day
Cheese 2 oz (57 gm) Per man per day
Potatoes 1 lb (450 gm) Per man per day
Sugar 3 oz (85 gm) Per man per day
Salt 1/2 oz (15 gm) Per man per day
Tea 1/2 oz (15 gm) Per man per day
Jam 1/4 lb (110 gm) Per man per day
Tinned fish In proportion Per man per day
 (salmon or

Commodity Remarks

Bread Or flour or biscuit 1 lb
Mixed Vegetables Or tinned fish 3 oz (85 gm) or
 dried vegetables 2 oz (57gm)
Jam Or 3 oz (85 gm) dried fruit
 three days per week
Tinned fish To be substituted for
 (salmon or vegetables if none available
Table 6: `Native' Ration Scale--Tropical Force

Commodity Amount Scale of issue Remarks

Rice 10 lb (4.5 kg) Per man per week
Biscuit 3 lb (1.35 kg) Per man per week
Meat 2 lb (0.91 kg) Per man per week Or tinned fish to be
 issued in lieu
Sugar 1 lb (450 gm) Per man per week
Tea 1 oz (28 gm) Per man per week
Tobacco 3 sticks Per man per week
Soap 1/4 lb (11 gm)
Matches 1 box Per man per week
Table 7: Standard Ration Scale - British Army of Occupation Egypt

Commodity Amount Scale of issue Remarks

Meat 1 lb (450 gm) Per man per day
Bacon 4 oz (113 gm) "
Cheese 3 oz (85.05 gm) "
Bread 1 lb (450 gm) " Or flour 1 lb or
 biscuit 1 1/2 lb
Vegetables 1/2 lb (225 gm) "
Potatoes 3/4 lb (337 gm) "
Sugar 3 oz (85 gm) "
Jam 1/2 lb (113 gm) "
Tea 5/8 oz (18 gm) "
Salt 1/2 oz (15 gm) "
Pepper 1/36 oz (0.79 gm) "
Mustard 1/20 oz (1.42 gm) "
Table 8: A&NZ Corps Ration Scale - May 1915 (Gallipoli)

Commodity Amount Scale of issue Remarks

Preserved Meat 12 oz (340 gm) Per man per day
Biscuit 1 1/4 lb (570 gm) "
Bacon 4 oz (110 gm)
Cheese 3 oz (85.05 gm)
Onions 8 oz (225 gm) Or potatoes
 8 oz (225 gm)
 and onions
 4 oz (110 gm)
Tea 5/8 oz (17 gm)
Jam 1/4 lb (110 gm)
Sugar 3 oz (85.05 gm)
Salt 1/2 oz (15 gm)
Pepper 1/36 oz (0.79 gm)
Mustard 1/20 oz (1.42 gm)
Lime Juice 1/10 gill Not to be
 issued when
 potatoes or
 onions avail-
 able for
Rum 1/2 gill When available
Tobacco 2 oz (57 gm) Per man per week Not to exceed
Table 9: Iron Ration (Emergency Ration for Consumption in the Field)

Commodity Amount

Preserved meat 1 lb (450 gm)
Biscuit 12 oz (360 gm)
Tea 5/8 oz (18 gm)
Sugar 2 oz (60 gm)
Salt 1/2 oz (15 gm)
Cheese 1 oz (30 gm)
Meat extract (2 cubes) 1 oz (30 gm)

(1) A Paper Presented to the 2000 Biennial Seminar of the Military Historical Society of Australia 9 - 12 June 2000

(2) Lindsay, Neville, 1991 Equal to the Task Volume 1 The Royal Australian Army Service Corps, Historia Publications, Brisbane, p.354.

(3) ibid.

(4) ibid.

(5) Taylor, F W & Cusack, T A, 1942, Nulli Secundus A History of the Second Battalion, AIF 1914-1919, Second Battalion Committee, Sydney.

(6) Belford, Captain Walter C, MA, 1940 `Legs Eleven' Being the Story of the 11th Battalion AIF in the Great War of 1914-1918, Imperial Printing Company, Perth, p 11.

(7) Mullett, Albert J. (by authority), 1918(?) Report Upon the Department of Defence From the First of July 1914, Until the Thirtieth of June, 1917. Government Printer, Melbourne, p. 278.

(8) AWM 25, 877/2. Letter from Miss Marion Higgins to Lady Godley.

(9) Soyer, Alexis, 1875 A Culinary Campaign. Also quoted in Hicks.

(10) It is worth noting that Soyer's design was so brilliant that Soyer Stoves remain on issue in the Australian Army to this day--believe it or not. Although they have now been relegated to the humble role of boiling water for cleaning dixies and mess tins, as recently as 10 years ago the author was served a meal which had been prepared in a Soyer Stove and the longevity of this piece of equipment is quite remarkable.

(11) Mullett, op. cit., p. 245.

(12) ibid.

(13) Butler, Colonel A G, DSO, VD, BA, MB, ChB (Camb), 1930 Official History of the Australian Army Medical Services, Vol 1, Gallipoli, Palestine & New Guinea, Australian War Memorial, Melbourne, p 52. Also quoted in Mullett, pp 276-278.

(14) Lindsay, op. cit., pp. 33-34.

(15) Mullett, op. cit., p. 278.

(16) ibid., op. cit., p. 370.

(17) Including the author's grandfather, AB H J Wilson, Queensland Division, RANR.

(18) Tregarthen, Neville, (no date) Sea Transport of the AIF., Naval Transport Branch, Melbourne, p 20. See also Butler, p 38.

(19) ibid., p. 23.

(20) ibid.

(21) ibid. p 20.

(22) Murphy, SGTMAJ T., 1917, extracts from diary quoted in ANZAC Commemorative, RSA, Sydney.

(23) Tregarthem, op cit, p 97.

(24) ibid, p 24.

(25) ibid, p 97 & p 99.

(26) ibid, pp 98-99.

(27) Mullett, op cit, pp 279-280.

(28) ibid, p 280.

(29) Butler, op cit, pp 52-53.

(30) ibid, p 52.

(31) Breed, Florence (ed), 1993 From Gallipoli With Love. Letters from the Anzacs of the Wimmera, History and Natural History Group of the MLA Society, Donald, Victoria, p 141.

(32) ibid, p 199.

(33) Butler, op cit, p 243.

(34) Donelly, Robert, 1997 Black Over Blue The 25th Battalion At War 1915-1918, USQ Press, Toowoomba.

(35) ibid, pp 233-238.

(36) ibid, p 244 and pp 361-362.

(37) ibid, p 249.

(38) Bowden, Samuel H., 1921(?) ACF. The History of the-Australian Comforts Fund, Scotow and Presswell, Sydney, p 78.

(39) Butler, op. cit., p. 598.

(40) Lindsay, op cit, pp 354-355.

(41) Butler, op cit, pp 704-705.

(42) ibid, p 52.

(43) ibid, p 598.

(44) Lindsay, op cit, p 355.

(45) AWM 25 487/6, memo to DMS, `Information on the Messing Department by R L Andrews, Chief Messing Officer, AIF.'

(46) AIFO 1253 `Estabs. DIV HQ', DAG AIF., 36/466 of 1 June 1918.

(47) Lindsay, op cit, p 220.

(48) op cit, pp 220-221.

(49) ibid.

(50) ibid. Also Bean, p 126.

(51) Murphy, op cit.

(52) AWM 25, 221/9

(53) McNicol, N G, 1936, The THIRTY-SEVENTH History of the Thirty-Seventh Battalion AIF, Modern Printing Company, Melbourne, pp 47-48.

(54) Bean, C E W, 1929, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-18 Vol. III, The AIF in France 1916, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, p 126.

(55) Anonymous, 1915 `The Army Ration', The Medical Journal of Australia, October, p. 421.

(56) AWM 25 487/6, Andrews memo, op cit.

(57) ibid.

(58) ibid.

(59) AWM 221/9 (829), letter from Lt C E Clark, OIC Messing B Sub Depot No. 2 Aust Comd Depot (Tidworth UK), 7 November 1918.

(60) AWM 25 351/14. Letter from Lieutenant Andrews to Colonel Butler dated 9 July 1919--`Memo by Lt Andrews Chief Messing Officer to AIF'.

(61) Hicks, Brigadier Sir C Stanton, 1972, Who Called The Cook A Bastard?, Keyline Press, Sydney, p 72.

(62) AWM 25 487/6.

(63) ibid.

(64) ibid.

(65) AWM 221/6

(66) ibid.

(67) AWM 25 351/14, op cit.

(68) AWM 25 487/6, op cit.

(69) AWM 25 229/1. Proceedings of a `Court of Enquiry into Irregularities at Mena Camp.'

(70) AWM 25 221/9 (829), op cit.

(71) AWM 25 221/6, op cit., letter, `2nd Anzac No. 2635/13Q of 13 December 1916.'

(72) Newton, L M, 1925, The Story of the TWELFTH A Record of the 12th Battalion AIF During the Great War of 1914-1918, 12th Battalion Association, Hobart, p 506.

(73) AWM 25 221/10.

(74) AWM 351/14, op cit.


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