World War I Food: Eating in a Trench

via the WebFoodCulture web site

wfc 019 great war food07“An army marches on its stomach”: these words have been attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte. The famous French general (and, later, emperor) believed that, in order to win a war, feeding troops is as important as training and arming them. His opinion proved right especially during World War 1, when food played a critical role in the balance of power between the warring sides. Let’find out why!

The First World War: a bit of history.

The First World War began on 28 July, 1914. The spark that led to the explosion of the conflict was an attack in the city of Sarajevo: a tragic event where the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife were assassinated by a political extremist. The Austro-Hungarian Empire, considering the Kingdom of Serbia responsible for what happened, began the hostilities. The golden age of Europe, the ‘Belle Epoque’, had to give way to a clash of nations of unprecedented proportions: that’s why it’s still remembered as the ‘Great War’.

The ‘Great War’: a new kind of war.

To understand how much feeding troops tipped the balance of power during the Great War, it’s important to explain first the huge difference between this conflict and the previous ones.

The hostilities broke out in 1914, involving, one after the other, a great number of nations. The almost romantic idea, legacy of the Napoleonic era, of opposing armies fighting each other with honor, vanished almost immediately. When the first charge of heavy cavalry, until then considered the most powerful weapon, was easily annihilated by machine-guns, it became clear to everyone that something was definitely changed and it was thus necessary to completely rethink the way of fighting. After a few attacks of this type, the frontline stabilized.

Troops, desperately seeking refuge from new, deadly weapons, found shelter in the trenches: deep holes in the ground, dug along the margins of the opposing battle lines.
A huge, monstrous serpent, cut Europe in half, from north to south.

The fundamental importance of food during the Great War.

The commanders of both sides involved in the conflict, initially thought that their troops were going to stay in the trenches just for a brief period: they were wrong. Soldiers had in fact to remain inside of them for many years, killed in great number during frequent attacks to enemy positions: offensives as bloody as useless. What the generals planned as a short confrontation that would ensure a fast and glorious victory, turned into a nightmare: a long and grueling war of attrition. Among other things, it became quite clear that it was necessary to create a reliable system to feed a large number of men.

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