19 February 2015

Army Cookery in the Great War - Portslade Camp

Judy Middleton  2015

 copyright © J.Roberts
These Army cooks were photographed at Portslade Camp in 1916. Their headgear is extraordinary with every 
hat or cap looking different. Private Charles Ernest Bish is seated in the second row from the front, third from left.

Biographical Notes and Introduction

Charles Ernest Bish was born at Brighton on 9 November 1898. By 1916 he was Private C.E. Bish 32899 stationed at the Army School of Cooking at Portslade Camp, which had been set up on the playing fields of Windlesham House School.

copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph  from his private collection.
Portslade's Army Camp on the playing fields of Windlesham School in 1917

Private Bish kept his own hard-cover notebook with marbled covers in which he wrote the recipes and other information in an elegant hand. He was obviously educated at a time when penmanship was still on the curriculum. He also noted that he served with the 3rd Norfolk Regiment and was located at hut 11 in Felixstow, Suffolk. The book is date-stamped ‘Eastern Command, School of Cooking September 27 1917’. By 1918 Bish was serving in France.

After the war Bish returned home safely. On 26 May 1926 he married Elsie Haynes at St Peter’s Church, Brighton, and there were two children of the marriage, Charlie and Joyce. The family home was 7 Bentham Road in the Elm Grove area of Brighton.

Bish worked for a firm of heating engineers in Trafalgar Street, Brighton, called Adams Brothers & Broadbridge. Part of his duties required him to come to Portslade from time to time to sort out any heating problems at Portslade Industrial School. Another part of his activities for the heating firm was occasional work at the well-known manufacturing chemist Arthur H. Cox & Co of Lewes Road, Brighton and later on in his career he was offered a full-time post there. Charles Bish died on 6 February 1974.

 copyright © J.Roberts
Unfortunately, Bish did not write on the back of the postcard where this group photo was taken or when. 
Bish is seated at the far left in the second row from the front.
  copyright © J.Roberts
Charles Bish is seated on the left in the front row. On the reverse it carries the Italian wording ‘Cartolina Postale’.

It is interesting to note the important part meat played in Army cooking. For many of the soldiers from an impoverished background a meat dish on the table was a treat indeed. As a result of a poor diet many of the new recruits were by no means brawny warriors. Indeed the majority of them were short in stature and skinny with it. It was amazing what a difference a varied diet, regular meals and plenty of training in the fresh air made to such men. This was, of course, before they were despatched to foreign fields.  
copyright © J.Roberts
This photograph of Private Charles Bish
 was taken in 1918 when he was stationed in 
He was around 20 years of age and he still 
looks extraordinarily young.
The recipes do not include the identity of the meat to be used. It was most probably beef and mutton or perhaps whatever was at hand. But there was no mention of poultry although of course eggs and bacon were served. For most people roast chicken was an occasional treat and usually reserved for Christmas Day.

Army cooks used plenty of beef dripping – a rare ingredient nowadays. Even in the 1950s most households kept a dish of dripping at hand and at some schools in break time, children were offered a slab of bread coated with dripping.

Rice has long been a staple food in the British diet, probably dating back to the days of the Raj when British people served and lived in India and developed a taste for it. Army cooks included it in their recipes and a great favourite was rice pudding dotted with nutmeg. Savoury rice was also on the menu but the flavour came from salt, pepper and a good dollop of dripping stirred in once the rice was cooked. There was also an imaginative dish of rice and vegetable croquettes where cooked rice was mixed with mashed peas, carrots and turnips.

A nourishing stew was a staple for cooking in the field. The basic ingredients of meat, onions and potatoes could be tweaked into different dishes by the inclusion of various vegetables and herbs. Throwing in some curry powder helped the variety.
The Army cooks were not averse to using preserved foods. Tinned meat, probably good old bully beef, was used in a meat pie, and 12lb tins of salmon made tasty fish cakes. In a recipe for Ox Heart Pie, the directions state if the heart is frozen, thaw it first.

It is interesting to note that by April 1918 some 14,000 army cooks had qualified at the Army School of Cooking in Portslade, and it was still going strong in 1924.

*Notes from Charles Bish’s Cooking Note-book

(His work has been transcribed as Bish wrote it except for pepper, which has been changed to the same spelling throughout although he varied it from one ‘p’ to two).

Rissoles and How to Make

copyright © J.Middleton
Bish drew these identifying charts for various cuts of meat in his note-book.

Ingredients for 100 men – 21lbs meat, 3lb of fat or suet, bread, onions, mixed herbs, salt, pepper and a little flour.
Method of Making
Remove meat from bone and cut up small; remove skin from suet & chop up finely. Soak the bread & squeeze the water from it. Peel & cut up onions. Place the meat, suet, bread, onions into mixing bowl & mix well together. Then pass through the mincer. Add herbs, salt, pepper and mix well. Then place it on to a floured table & portion out the number of pieces you require & roll to shape of a sausage & five ounces in weight.
Place them on a greased baking dish and cook for 30 minutes.

Date Pudding

Ingredients – Household flour, barley flour and rice flour, dates, dripping and salt.
Stone the dates and chop up in small pieces. Place the flour, barley flour, rice flour & salt into a mixing bowl & mix the whole well together. Thread in the dripping and rub well in taking care to leave no lumps. Add the fruit & mix well. Make a bay & add sufficient cold water to make into a stiff paste. Place it into a scalded cloth, roll & tie up the ends. Place in boiling water and boil steadily for one hour for every pound of paste.

Detail of Travelling Kitchen

 copyright © J.Middleton
Bish’s neat writing outlines the details of a travelling kitchen.

The travelling kitchen consists of two parts, the cooker and the limber (in military terms a limber was the detachable fore-part of a gun carriage).  The cooker holds 5 boilers and the limber 4 making a total of nine. Eight of these boilers are interchangeable & the ninth one is known as the fixed or tap tank. Each boiler will hold 7 ½ gallons of water. The kitchen will cook dinner for 252 men and make tea for 500. The fire is situated in the centre of the kitchen or cooker & on either side are two coal bunkers holding 1 ½ cwts of coal. At the rear of the cooker is placed the chimney which works on an hinge so as to lay flat when not in use.
The limber contains four asbestos compartments into which will fit four boilers where the dinner or vegetables will finish cooking in their own heat. It will keep food at boiling point from five to seven hours, hot from eight to ten hours, and warm for twenty four hours. Strapped to the side of the limber are four frying pans and care should be taken that these are firmly & properly fixed for if not they will catch in the spokes of the wheels. In front of the limber is a locker, the side of which will let down and can be used as a cutting board. In the locker are four tin boxes for holding tea, sugar and salt and the salt box is wood lined. There is also a compartment in the locker for holding twenty four hours spare rations. At the rear of the limber are two more lockers for holding spare tools, rags, & two grease boxes which should always be kept full of grease or fat. On the front of the limber is carried a leather bag for carrying butcher’s implements. Nine antisplashing tins are also carried to prevent splashing when on the move. An hinged lifting rod is carried on the cooker for the purpose of transferring the boilers from one compartment to another.
The total weight of the kitchen when on the move is thirty seven & a half hundredweights & it is drawn by two draught horses and is managed by two cooks, one driver & if possible a brakesman. Four kitchens go to a battalion.
Note – Two spare dixies can be carried for officers mess cooking.

Aldershot Oven

 copyright © J.Roberts
Charles Bish stands on the right wearing 
full uniform including puttees and holding a 
fearsome looking gun with bayonet attachment. 
When Bish was posted to France, 
he was stationed at Abbeville on the Somme.
An Aldershot oven consists of the following. Two arches made of sheet iron strengthened by iron bars, four tie bars, two ends, one peel, (this was a wooden shovel such as a baker would use) nine tins or pans & one bottom & the weight of the whole is 374 lbs & weight of the bottom is 66lbs which can nearly always be dispensed with. The measurements are as follows, 5 ft 1 inch in length, 3 ft 6 inches in width & 1 ft 9 inches in depth.
Points necessary to be observed when building an Aldershot oven. First select your site trying to avoid sandy or marshy ground & also if possible have it on a gentle slope with mouth of oven to face prevailing wind. Second level off your site and lay the tie bars in position. Then put up your front arch & then the back one which is always known by the flanged end which overlaps the front arch. Next thing you have to do is to bind the two together with wire through the two rings on the arches & then place the end of the oven on tying it to an iron stake driven through the D on this end. If bricks are available you will then proceed to build an arch over the front iron arch keeping the front of the bricks about an inch from the front as this will allow you to seal up the door when roasting.
You will then proceed to cover up your oven with clay keeping it from ten to twelve inches in front & a gradual slope to the back to seven or nine inches at the rear end. This will keep you from knocking the back out with your peel & also help to keep in the heat. This oven will cook for two hundred and twenty men.
How to lay a fire in Aldershot oven. Put two pieces of wood lengthways and two pieces crossways & then carry on until the oven is full. Then place small pieces of kindling wood in crevices or in front. Then when you want to light it all you have to do is to put in your paper and apply a match.
How to test an Aldershot oven. You test it by placing the back of your hand in the centre of the mouth of the oven & if you can count four as the tick of the clock it is hot enough for baked meat & potatoes. If you can count six it is hot enough for Yorkshire and milk puddings to do and not hot enough for roast or baked meat. If you can count eight it is not hot enough to cook anything but will have to be relaid & lighted.

 copyright © J.Middleton
Bish drew an Aldershot Oven and a Barrel Oven. The details must
 have been correct because there is an official stamp on the page.

(There were other types of field oven described too. An improvised Aldershot oven could be constructed from pieces of gun barrel, a corrugated iron sheet, pegs, clay, sand and wire. You could also use an ordinary barrel by sinking it into a hole from 4 inches to 6 inches deep and making use of bricks and clay as in the Aldershot oven. The barrel was capable of cooking enough food for 50 men).

  copyright © J.Middleton
The right-hand page carries details of an improvised Aldershot Oven.

Pea Soup

Ingredients for 100 men. Flour 3 lbs, split peas 10lbs, mixed vegetables 7lbs, onions 3 lbs, mint 1 pkt & salt & pepper as required.
Soak the peas for 12 hours, steam or boil till pulped. Clean and cut up the onions. Wash and cut up the vegetables. Place ten gallons of stock in a boiler and add the vegetables and onions, slowly bringing to the boil & simmer till cooked. Make a thickening of flour, 3 oz pepper, 6 oz salt and cold stock or water & add with the pulped peas. Bring the stock to the boil again for 30 minutes, stirring and adding dried mint if desired. Time 3 ½ hours.
(Variations on the basic soup recipe were lentil soup, substituting celery for mint; barley soup, with herbs added at the thickening stage; vegetable soup, with pearl barley; tomato soup made with minced haricot beans and onions as well as tomatoes; and hotch potch soup that seems to have a bit of everything with mixed vegetables, barley, cabbage, onion, sweet herbs, blue peas, lettuce and parsley).

Bye Products

1st class dripping, bones, crackling, fat from washing up water.
Cooks must make 11/- per week for every 100 men to get the top rate of pay which is 6d a day & must make 9/- per week per 100 men to get 3d a day.
During a total of 22 days in his cooking course, Bish managed to save 991 lbs of dripping, 1,211 lbs of bones and 92 ½ lbs of cracklings.

Savoury Rice Boiled

Wash and rewash the rice, then plunge into 6 or 8 gallons of stock or water. Cook & cut up onions into small pieces & add them to the rice & season with pepper and salt. When the rice has cooked and has absorbed the water add dripping and stir well.

Turkish Pillau

Ingredients. Meat. onions, flour, rice, cayenne pepper, salt sweet herbs & stock.
Remove meat and surplus fat from the bone & cut up small. Peel & cut up the onions. Place flour, salt, cayenne pepper & sweet herbs into mixing bowl & mix well together. Add the meat & rub the flour well in. Place a small quantity of stock into a baking dish & add meat & onions & barely cover with stock. Stir well up and cook for two hours. Bring water to the boil and sprinkle in the rice & allow to boil for ten minutes. Strain off the water & then line a baking tin with the rice. Take pillau from the oven & place in the lined baking dish & replace in oven. Cook for 40 minutes. 

copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph from his private collection.  
Portslade Camp in 1917 standing on what is now the Locks Crescent housing estate, in the background is Loxdale in Locks Hill

copyright © G. Osborne
With thanks to Mr G. Osborne for granting permission for the reproduction of the above photograph from his private collection.  
A First World War postcard that would have been on sale in one of the Old Village's shops

An Army marches on its stomach (Napoleon or Frederick the Great)

*Private Charles Bish School of Cookery Note-book (1917) :- *Property of Eric and Joyce Roberts (née Bish) of Portslade
Middleton, J. Hove and Portslade in the Great War (2014)

Copyright © J.Middleton 2015
page layout by D.Sharp