FEEDING THE 1914 ARMY – PART 2 OF 2

Wednesday, December 30, 1914

In Camp, Lark Hill, Salisbury Plains

The Battalion War Diarist wrote for this day: “All available men on fatigues.  No training.” [1]

THIS DAY IN RMR HISTORY: “The organization of the enormous food supply required for the British Expeditionary Force, apart altogether from the forces at home, is without exaggeration a triumphant achievement.  The awful blundering, corruption, and chaos which disgraced some other wars in which we were engaged in the past, have been redeemed.  Here, anyhow, the War Office was prepared.  For more than two years before the war broke out the Director of Supplies and his staff had been studying every detail of a new method, so that when the call came the whole scheme was complete and perfect, both as regards supplies and transport.

One of the most important and splendid reforms has been the complete annihilation of the contractor or middleman, and consequently the removal of all those corrupt agencies which formerly preyed upon an army in the field.  The old system of a hand-to-mouth struggles for supplies, with contractors invoicing for orders from separate commands is abolished.  It has been replaced by a centralization of supplies ordered directly by the War Office and then decentralized in great food depots, from which they are transported to the various units according to their need.  Flour, for instance, is ordered directly from the mills, and meat is bought at the docks after inspection and valuation by Lloyd’s officials.  All other stores are supplied to the War Office from manufacturers so that again the “middleman and the agent” bywords in the old days for secret commissions and corrupt dealings of scandalous notoriety have been wiped out.

Acting in connection with the Local Government Board, tens of thousands of health officers all over the country inspect the factories, all day and every day, and analyze the food, so that there is no possible chance of adulteration or impurity or bad quality.

Another check in this system is the method of delivery.  All stores are sent to the railways without the manufacturer knowing their destination.  He has no chance of loading inferior goods in ships for the continent, too far away for inspection or complaint.  They may be going to the great Government food depots in Liverpool or Leeds where they would come under the vigilant eyes of the health officers, followed by analysis at Somerset House.  In this way better safeguard has been made against swindling, and there will be at least no food scandals at the end of this war.

Before the war broke out we had large reserves of food; in ten days we had double, and the figures speak for themselves of the rapidity with which an organization, all ready cut and dried and thought out to the last figure by expert brains, was able to cope with the sudden and stupendous demand for an Army’s food supply.

Transport was more difficult.  But here again the plans were ready, and working on a time-table of trains and ships, with a general requisition of motor lorries and wagons gathered from every possible source, the needs of the Army were satisfied, and our soldiers on the continent did not go hungry for a day, unless they happened to get out of touch with the main lines of communications owing to the vicissitudes of the war.

Sir William Robertson, the Quarter-Master General with Sir John French, is responsible for all the services of feeding, clothing, transporting, and supplying with stores the whole of the field forces.  It is his work to see that the men in the fighting line receive their food, their ammunition, and all the other supplies, and he has to organize the brains part of the business of bringing these from the bases.

In France and Belgium, I have seen the Army Service Corps at work and have passed their convoys on the roads of war.  Interminably their motor lorries and motor wagons come from the bases to the fighting lines with Tommy’s daily meals with fresh bread baked on the railways, and often with fresh fruit garnered or given from the harvests of France – which is all that does not come direct from England.

Even then on the road, in the heart of the war, I wondered how the job was done, by what miracle of organization it is possible to feed something like half a million men day by day, for breakfast, dinner, tea and supper, so far from the great store houses of our food supplies.

It is due to a great intelligence working behind the scenes deserving a share in the credit of all our victories, because unless the soldier had his “grub” he would be defeated before he fought.”  [2]

[1] War Diary, 14th Canadian Battalion, The Royal Montreal Regiment, Dec 30, 1914.  Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, http://data2.collectionscanada.ca/e/e044/e001089681.jpg
[2] “Feeding Army Masterpiece Of Organization,” The Montreal Daily Mail, Montreal, Quebec, Tuesday, December 29, 1914, pg. 5, col. 5.

 

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