Witley, March 22, 1917

Thursday    We are temp:- [temporarily] attached to the D.A.C. [Divisional Ammunition Column] and we are getting awful food. just about enough to pup a rat.

According to his official record, Percy was assigned to the 55th Battery today. Quite why they needed to be attached to the DAC escapes me. They are still in the same quarantine huts. Food in camp, however, is getting worse everywhere, not just in the Ammunition Column.

Complaining about food is of course a time-honoured army tradition. Irreverent definitions of food are a frequent topic of humour. A tongue-in-cheek guide for new recruits contains the following information:

Cook House.
(1) Place where they try to poison you with a vile concoction called ‘Mulligan.’
(2) Enquire here for the meaning of ‘Bully.’ ‘Murphies’ – Irish for potatoes. ‘Mush’ – scotch for porridge. (1)

cooking snip v 3 16.JPG“Bully”, Arthur Empey tells us in his Tommy’s dictionary, is “a kind of corned beef with tin round it. The unopened cans make excellent walls for dugouts.” (2)

“Mulligan” stew is memorably described by one survivor of the Great War as “yellow, tough, old Australian or New Zealand mutton swimming in greasy vegetable ends.” Bully tasted better, he thought, than the “chunks of tallowy, aged ewe.” (3) It seems such a stew was made from whatever might be available: once, some unidentified meat, plus “crushed hardtack, rolled oats, and Oxo cubes, seasoned with salt and mustard.”(4) A real potato in the stew could be highly sought after: “There is great competition among the men to spear with their forks the two lonely potatoes.” (5)

Those descriptions come from fare in France, but the Witley boys were none too impressed with what they were fed in “this starved out berg [sic].” That was William Calder’s description as he thanked his mother for a food parcel — especially the cherries, dried we presume. (6)

(1) The Rouelles Camp Magazine. vol 4: September 1918. Published for the Canadian General Base Depot, London, 1918. 18. Available from Early Canadiana Online. A copy without a title page, and not identified by this title, is among William Calder’s papers in the Canadian Letters and Images Project.
(2) Empey, Arthur Guy. Over the Top by an American Soldier who Went. 1918. 285
(3) Beatty, David. Memories of the Forgotten War: The World War 1 Diary of Pte V.E. Goodwin. Baie Verte, NB: 1988. Quotation taken from the excerpts published on the Courage Remembered website of Mount Allison University.
(4) Cane, Bruce. It made you think of home: The Haunting Journal of Deward Barnes, CEF 1916-1919. Dundurn Press, 2004. Chapter 4.Note to May 14, 1917.
(5) Empey, 43.
(6) Calder, William. Letter to his mother, March 28, 1917.Available from the Canadian Letters and Images Project.

The Bairnsfather cartoon is entitled “The Imminent, Deadly Breach:” look carefully at the seat of the soldier’s pants. Fragments from France. Vol 3 Still More Fragments from France, nd. 16.

Copyright 2017. See “More about this project.”

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