Troops at a canteen that sells beer and stout in Zillebeke, Belgium. © IWM (Q 6011)

Troops at a canteen that sells beer and stout in Zillebeke, Belgium. © IWM (Q 6011)

At this week’s open day on the 25th of October we will be exploring food  during World War I – otherwise known as ‘chow, plonk and barkers’.

At the peak of WW1,there were over two million men from around the globe serving in the trenches. This proved logistically complex for the British Army, which had a stated aim that every soldier should consume about 4000 calories a day. Even when this was achieved – particularly rare in the front line – the soldiers complained the food was monotonous, unappetising and sometimes practically inedible- often comparing hardtack to dog biscuits.

Other considerations had to be taken into account. Food was an important part of religious observance for Muslim, Sikh and Hindu soldiers. Many Hindu and Sikh soldiers were vegetarians, while others could eat meat other than beef, but only if it had been slaughtered in the correct way. With the exception of pork, Muslims soldiers usually eat meat as long it was halal.

As well as providing fuel and forming part of religious observance, food had other, less tangible importance. It could be a morale-booster, with parcels from loved ones a reminder of family and friends, and the tastes of home helping to make the unbearable just a little less so, even for a short while. Sharing food, complaining about it, inventing slang to describe the more unpalatable items – barkers, anyone? – could provide a sense of  of solidarity. And the sharing of treasured food parcels and small luxury items could  cement friendships.

So, please join us on the 25th of October to learn more about the importance of food in the trenches and on the Home Front. Find out what exactly was chow, plonk and barkers? Is there any way of making hardtack edible? And what did trench cake and the delightful sounding chocolate potato biscuits taste like? Lets find out.