Food and drink on the Somme frontline: the soldier experience

The Somme was one of the deadliest clashes of the First World War, claiming the lives of more than 127,000 British soldiers. Yet, as Dr Rachel Duffett from the University of Essex explains, in spite of the widespread death and destruction, soldiers needed to eat, and even the fear induced by frontline service only dimmed that hunger temporarily. Here she explores the importance of food in the battle of the Somme…

Ministry Of Information First World War Official Collection

This article was first published in the December 2009 issue of BBC History Magazine 

On the morning of Saturday 1 July 1916, Siegfried Sassoon sat on Crawley Ridge and watched the attack on Fricourt by the 10th West Yorks and 7th Green Howards taking place below, a scene he described as “a sunlit picture of Hell”. As he noted the noise and colour of the explosions, the men filing through the trenches in preparation for going “over the top”, he also added: “Have just eaten my last orange.” It is a subject to which he returned a few days later when he bemoaned the fact that his batman (personal servant), Private Flook, was not available to source further oranges because he had been called up to help carry ammunition boxes forward. The juxtaposition of eating with a battle that was to shape British culture and on a day when the British army lost more than 19,000 men seems incongruous, but men needed to eat, and even the fear induced by frontline service only dimmed that hunger temporarily.

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