How British Soldiers’ Rations Have Changed Over The Last 100 Years
David Urban

How British Soldiers’ Rations Have Changed Over The Last 100 Years

Hard ration biscuits were a staple of soldier’s diets and the butt of many jokes. This example survived being sent through the post back to England at the end of the Boer War (1899-1902).

In 1811 the pioneering Donkin and Hall partnership developed the vacuum tin can and the world’s first factory solely for canning food. Used from the Napoleonic Wars onwards, the inventions had a major impact on how food could be delivered to troops engaged in conflict. Supplies could be preserved and protected from damage before consumption. The tinned emergency rations consists of a meat ‘dinner’ in one end and cocoa in the other. It was designed to sustain a soldier for 36 hours while on active service during the Boer War (1899-1902).

First World War period tinned ration by ‘Maconochies’ – a very familiar component of the British soldier’s daily life and diet. It was more blamed than praised and many considered it only edible if mixed with something else. Others (probably a minority) liked it . Brophy and Partridge describe it thus: ‘A tinned ration consisting of sliced vegetables, chiefly turnips and carrots, and a deal of thin soup or gravy. Warmed in the tin, ‘Maconochie’ was edible; cold, it was a man-killer. By some soldiers it was regarded as a welcome change from bully-beef.’

Imperial War Museum Historian Laura Clouting:

“Army food was basic but filling. Soldiers could expect to receive around 4000 calories a day to fuel their arduous work.  Tinned rations, like ‘Maconochie’ stew, formed the bulk of a man’s diet. Troops were supposed to receive one hot meal a day. But soldiers sometimes went hungry because ration parties were unable to reach them in trenches under shellfire. Parcels from home, eating meals behind the lines and ‘scrounged’ treats helped to liven up the diet. Wealthier men requested hampers from home, one noting that ‘after seven days bully beef, we felt we must have lobsters and white wine’.”

British Army emergency ration, unopened, containing chocolate. These rations were to be used only as a last resort when no other food was available.

This type of ration pack is distributed by the Ministry of Defence (MOD)to troops on active operations in Afghanistan. It is designed to meet all nutritional requirements and provide a constant release of energy, containing a minimum of 4,000 kcals and high levels of carbohydrates. The pack contains 43 items including meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner, biscuit and sweet snacks, hot and energy drinks, disinfectant wipes, water purification tablets and dental chewing gum.

PICTURES: The National Army Museum & The Imperial War Museum 2014


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