Tag Archives: First World War

Feeding Under Fire: Medicinal Food

By Simon Walker

When I first began Feeding Under Fire, I was excited for the episode on medicinal food because it offered the chance to combine my public engagement platform and my PhD research into the improvement of soldiers’ bodies in the First World War. Now that the video is up, it is important to consider the role that food played in the improvement and recovery of soldiers’ bodies, while also drawing attention to the peculiarity of medical improvements during the war being supported by traditional recipes.

Let’s start with calories. According to the British Royal Army Medical Corps Training Manual soldiers were supposed to receive between 3000 and 5000 calories per day dependant on the strenuousness of their activities.[i]

From: Royal Army Medical Corps Training Manual, p. 60.

The manual also notes that a varied and healthily diet was important for ‘general health and liability to disease’.[ii] Obviously, food was an important aspect of keeping men healthy, and meal plans were devised to attempt to ensure that soldiers were getting enough to eat.

Food also played a regenerative role. Within the 1915 Manual of Military Cooking and Dietary, several recipes are displayed under the heading ‘When soldiers are required to attend their sick and wounded comrades the following simple recipes are useful’.[iii]

Manual of Military Cooking and Dietary, p. 48.

These recipes include ‘Toast and Water’, essentially burnt bread steeped in water, ‘Calves food Jelly’, a citrus treat with sugar that had to simmer for a full day, and the onion porridge from my episode. This dish of boiled onion, salt, pepper, corn flour and butter would be very much at home on the side of a roast dinner, but instead the instructions read ‘eat the porridge just before retiring for the night. This is an excellent remedy for colds’.[iv]

Cook’s Guide And Housekeeper’s & Butler’s Assistant, p. 53.

Onions have a long history of being associated with folk medicine. Gabrielle Hatfield, for example, explains that they were already considered a cure for coughs and colds in ancient Egypt.[v] The recipe that is printed in the manual has almost the exact same wording as in Charles Elme Francatell’s 1868 Cook’s Guide and Housekeeper’s & Butler’s Assistant, except Francatell’s claims the recipe ‘…was imparted to me by a jolly, warm-hearted Yorkshire farmer’.[vi]

The story for my other recipe, rice water, is similar.  This dish, dating back to ancient Chinese medicine, has hundreds of different versions, including additions of milk, sugar, or fruits, and is found in numerous recipe books including John Milner Fothergill, Food for the Invalid: The Convalescent, the Dyspeptic, and the Gouty (1880).

Food for the Invalid: The Convalescent, the Dyspeptic, and the Gouty.

It is interesting that while improvements such as blood transfusions, plastic surgery and disease prevention through sanitation and inoculation were being employed. The British army were still somewhat reliant on recipes that soldier’s parents may have just as easily made for them as a home remedy.

Moving to consider those whose maladies carried them off the line and into medical facilities, although some of these home remedies may have remained part of their diet, overall all, food whilst in a hospital bed could be significantly more substantial. After the war, Private George Elder wrote in his memoirs about how being transferred to the hospital could have meant ‘…comfort, good food, bed and skilled attention.[vii]

Towards the end of the RAMC Manual there are several pages of recipes for hospital cooks including, meat dishes, vegetables, breakfast foods, desserts and beverages. Next to Gruel and Stewed Tripe (see Episode 7 of Feeding Under Fire for the “delicious” use of tripe in the trenches), there is also Roast Fowl, Fried Filleted Plaice, Lemon Jelly, and Lemonade.[viii]

These recipes were not only far from the ‘trench’ treatments of a nice bowl of onion porridge, but also seemingly beyond the usual fare that men were getting for their regular meals both in and behind the trenches. They may have been sick, wounded, controlled by tyrannical medical staff and wearing a blue pyjama uniform, but at least it seems the food was good.

Ultimately, food was an important part of maintaining and improving the health of soldiers, but is it interesting to note that in the face of traditional medical dishes being printed in the official military medical handbook, that its seems old remedies still had a place next to ever improving military medical practice.


References

[i] Anon, Royal Army Medical Corps Training Manual (London: HMS, 1911), p.60

[ii] Ibid. p.61.

[iii] Anon, Manual of Military Cooking and Dietary, (London: HMS, 1915), p.48

[iv] Ibid. p.50.

[v] G. Hatfield, Encyclopaedia of Folk Medicine: Old World and New World Traditions (Oxford: Clio, 2004), p.255.

[vi] C. E. Francatell, Cook’s Guide and Housekeeper’s & Butler’s Assistant (London: Richard Bentley, 1868), p.53.

[vii] G. Elder, From Geordie Land to No Man’s Land, (London: Bloomington, 2011), p.76.

[viii] RAMC Manual, pp.415-426.


About the author

Simon Harold Walker is a Military Medical Historian in the final stages of his PhD at the University of Strathclyde. His PhD Research focuses on how British soldier’s bodies and identities were created, conditioned and controlled over the course of the First World War. He has published on the role of Army Chaplains within the medical services in the First World War and presents a popular YouTube series, Feeding Under Fire, which examines First World War soldier’s food. Simon has also researched inoculation and power and is in the process of researching soldier’s experiences and medicinal food in the First World War.

Food Will Win the War: A K-12 Educators’ Workshop on Teaching World War I, 1914-1919

By Dana Schaffer

Each year the American Historical Association hosts a workshop for K-12 educators at our annual meeting. When my colleagues and I began planning for this year’s workshop, we knew that the 100th anniversary of World War I would make a timely subject for the attendees. But rather than focus on more traditional narratives of political and military history in the workshop, we decided instead to explore the history of World War I through the lens of food. This creative approach, we hoped, would help teachers to engage and inspire their students in innovative ways.

Our “Food Will Win the War” workshop was sponsored by the Advanced Placement Program of the College Board and co-organized by the AHA, the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, and National History Day. For the event we assembled a team of scholars, master teachers, and public historians to address the historical context of the period, demonstrate pedagogical techniques, and share resources available for classroom use.

AHA2015 K-12 Workshop #12 Helen Veit and Julia Irwin discuss the politics of sacrifice during World War I. Credit: Marc Monaghan
AHA2015 K-12 Workshop #12
Helen Veit and Julia Irwin discuss the politics of sacrifice during World War I. Credit: Marc Monaghan

For the first segment of the workshop, historians Helen Veit (Michigan State University) and Julia Irwin (University of Southern Florida) discussed some of the key issues of World War I such as the American home front, the importance of food and food conservation to the war effort, and the place of humanitarianism and hunger relief in US relations with Europe. Veit and Irwin had been involved with the development of the online exhibition War Fare: A Culinary Exploration of World War I at the National World War I Museum. As part of their presentation, they highlighted some short films they had made with American Food Roots, which were included as part of the exhibition.

AHA2015 K-12 Workshop #13 Wendy Eagan explains how educators can use this history of food to examine broad thematic concepts of World War I while fellow panelists Tim Bailey, Amanda Moniz, and Lynne O'Hara observe. Credit: Marc Monaghan
AHA2015 K-12 Workshop #13
Wendy Eagan explains how educators can use this history of food to examine broad thematic concepts of World War I while fellow panelists Tim Bailey, Amanda Moniz, and Lynne O’Hara observe.
Credit: Marc Monaghan

The second portion of the workshop included presentations about practical teaching ideas for the classroom. Wendy Eagan (Walt Whitman High School, Bethesda, MD) explained how she incorporated images and materials from the War Fare exhibition into her own AP World History class, demonstrating that she covered a wide range of themes—from politics to gender—by talking to her students about the history of food during World War I. Tim Bailey (Gilder Lehrman Institute) highlighted a “Food Will Win the War” propaganda poster from the Gilder Lehrman Collection and walked attendees through a classroom exercise they could conduct with their own students. Historian and former pastry chef Amanda Moniz (National History Center at the American Historical Association) displayed several recipes from a World War I-era cookbook and explained how students could make these recipes in the classroom. For many students, Moniz noted, cooking can inspire an interest in history in ways that that traditional texts might not.

For the final segment of the workshop Lynne O’Hara (National History Day) shared the National History Day’s World War I resource booklet, which includes dozens of primary sources and lesson modules, which can be edited and adapted to meet the needs of students in any classroom. O’Hara highlighted the lesson plan on food and scarcity during World War I.

Attendees of workshop departed with facsimiles of the “Food Will Win the War” poster, copies of the National History Day resource book, and other materials to use in with their students. A complete recording of the event, including the American Food Roots film segments, can be viewed on the American Historical Association’s YouTube channel.

Food Will Win the War Poster Image A US Food Administration poster from World War I. Credit: The Gilder Lehrman Collection #GLC09522
Food Will Win the War Poster Image
A US Food Administration poster from World War I.
Credit: The Gilder Lehrman Collection #GLC09522