History of catering in the British Army

This booklet summarises the history of catering in the British Army. It was written by two officers from the Army Catering Corps in 1978, and is published here with permission from the Corps. Reproduced below is an extract from the introduction to the book.

The book can be viewed on line without charge from this web site, or can be downloaded from this link.

The history of feeding in the British Army is a complex subject. Little has been written about it, probably because it savours of trade and as such has no place among the records of military heroics on which historians, not unnaturally, have always preferred to dwell. The intensity of modern war and the introduction of the welfare state are responsible for the high standard of troops feeding which exists nowadays. In the past it was the exception rather than the rule for. troops to feed well. The quantity and the quality of their food were determined by 3 factors. Firstly, what would cost the tax payer least money. Secondly, what could the contractors provide with the money available after they had made their profits and thirdly what would the long suffering soldier accept without serious complaint.

Napoleon Bonaparte, perhaps the greatest military commander the world has known, observed that "armies march on their stomach". This maxim is more true of the British Soldier than any other in the world; not only his physical condition but his morale depends on a regular supply of good wholesome food.

Considering this it is rather surprising to find that throughout the last 4 centuries, during which time British arms have only once been defeated in major war, that the attitude of the authorities toward the soldier's food has been one of indifference and apathy. As a result of public indignation at the poor administration in the Crimean Campaign some improvements were made in troops feeding but it was not until 1937 when Mr Hore Belisha became Secretary of State for War that any really noticeable improvements were made.

In the following chapters it is proposed to examine the history of feeding in the Standing Army since its origin and comment on feeding in other Armies.


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