Witley, May 17, 1917

Thursday        Yesterday & today the weather cool and wet My face remains swollen through [because of] my teeth. On fire piquet today rained nearly all day. Sent photo’s home tonight. Did a little cleaning up today. Gas drill before breakfast

Gas drill before breakfast seems a little unkind, but I suppose it is realistic.

I hope that being on fire picquet — on fire watch — at least kept Percy out of the rain. Over in the 58th Battery, Archie Wills is indoors, on cookhouse fatigue, where a parade of inspections all week seems to be the only relief from monotony. Yesterday, “a captain from London went through the cookhouse and found fault with nearly everything. Course I guess he has to find fault or he wouldn’t have a job. Found some crusts of bread in the swill can and proceeded to give a long lecture on economy in war time.” (1)

1917 03 23 wheat headline.JPGWhen the wheat supply is threatened, it seems criminal to waste bread. Certainly the cold weather of this spring has made British farmers doubtful that their 1917 crop will be as good as previous years, even if there were labour to harvest it. As a result, Britain is seeking to buy all the surplus wheat from Canada, having already contracted Australia’s wheat surplus, and secured as much as possible from Egypt and India. A Canadian supply, transported a shorter distance than Australia’s or India’s, and in larger ships than Egypt’s, “might mean the salvation of the British people, and the decisive factor in the decision of the war.” (2)

While a wheat shortage looms, even stale bread has a place. “It can be made equal to new baked bread,” army cooks were told, “by being immersed in cold water and rebaked for about one hour.” Alternatively, “slices or bits can be dipped in milk and baked in [a] hot oven. This process makes delicious rusks.” (3)

Just how delicious those rusks really were can be questioned; what is certain, however, is that the soldiers eating them would need strong teeth.

pigs feedingIn defence of Archie and the cooks of the 58th Battery, please note that the crusts of bread that so incensed the inspector were not really wasted: they were in the swill can, and were presumably destined for pigs on a nearby farm.

(1) Wills, Archie. Diary. 4: 60. May 16, 1917. Archie Wills Fonds, University of Victoria Archives. Copyright 2007, University of Victoria.
(2) “Why Great Britain wants our wheat.” The Globe (1844-1936). March 23, 1917. 7. Archive available from ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
(3) Qtd. in Andrew Robertshaw, Feeding Tommy: Battlefield Recipes from the First World War. 2013.

The image of pigs feeding can be found at Farminmypocket.co.uk, a “growing resource for the self-sufficient homesteader.”

 

 

Copyright 2017. See “More about this project.”

 

 

 

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