Fringe Box



Book Review: Battlefield Rations – A Story of Food, Hope And Charity

Published on: 12 Dec, 2013
Updated on: 12 Dec, 2013

By David Rose

Military history now includes much more than just the stories and facts about great battles won and lost down the ages.

Those interested in the subject are now keen to learn about the humble fighting man and what daily life was really like in the theatres of war.

Anthony Clayton’s new book Battlefield Rations – The Food Given to the British Soldier for Marching and Fighting 1900-2011 reveals fascinating details about an ‘army marching on its stomach’.

Battlefield rationsThe author lives in Farnham and his family have been associated with the military for several generations. Anthony has interesting connections with Guildford. When he was in the Queen’s Regiment he spent time at Stoughton Barracks, and from 1994 to 2008 he was an associate lecturer at the University of Surrey. He served in the Territorial Army in the infantry and Intelligence Corps, finishing as a lieutenant-colonel. From 1965 to 1993 Anthony lectured at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

He is therefore some expert on military matters. His latest book begins with the traditional 19th century soldier’s staple diet of Bully Beef or stew together with a very hard biscuit only edible by many when ground down to make a not very appetising porridge.

The book then takes the reader on a uniquely fascinating journey through the extraordinary assortment of food consumed by frontline soldiers over the next century.

Readers will learn of the origin of the familiar word “scoff” in its food context, extremes of hunger and consequential diseases in sieges during the Boer War; grub in the mud and shell holes of the First World War trenches and food cooked on the Benghanzi Burner by forward tank crews in North Africa during the Second World War.

He writes of terrible food shortages in Burma where one battalion was reduced to its chaplain’s communion wine and wafers.

In latter times army food has improved, but Anthony notes how the Ministry of Defence was economic with the truth about the regiment that less than 20 years ago suffered from scurvy.

The story continues with the Arctic “compo” rations issued in the Falklands campaign and the egg and bacon “banjo” for soldiers on the streets of Belfast.

The books also tells the stories of how the all important food was brought up to the edge of battle for the front-line men. A bewildering range of transport has been used over the years – including horses, oxen, camels, reindeer and elephants, before lorries, aircraft and helicopters.

With the 100th anniversary of the First World War in 2014, the chapter on the Great War and the monotonous food that men had to endure is particularly interesting.

And tea – what an important beverage that has been to millions of soldiers!

The book has been published by Helion & Company and costs £16.95. All proceeds will be donated to the Army Benevolent Fund.

Copies of the book can be ordered direct from the publishers with a 10% discount by clicking here.

It is also available on line through Amazon and at Waterstones bookshops.

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