Army biscuits in WW1

Discussion in 'World War 1' started by laura2013, Nov 22, 2013.

  1. laura2013

    laura2013 New Member

    I am doing some research into WW1 army biscuits, particularly those manufactured at the Huntley and Palmer’s factory in Reading. I have seen everything there is to see at Reading Museum and in the H&P archive which is at the University of Reading / Museum of English Rural Life, but am left with some unanswered questions, and wondered if anyone here could help.
    Some of the things I am interested in are:

    · Why do H&P army biscuits have so many different numbers? H&P appear to have made (during the 1914-1918 period) army biscuits numbered 1-5 and 9 and 10 and also something called Brown Buttons which shipped in 48lb crates and had army-style packaging (I have seen either recipes or packaging or both, 1914-1918, for 1-5, 9 and 10 and Brown Buttons). Then there’s 6 & 7 (MERL holds packaging for these which is in the same style as the WW1 stuff but without dates; the only recipes we have are from 1900). Then No 20 – for which there is only packaging from 1920 and 1921). Do the differences reflect where the biscuits were to be sent, or the kinds of rations they were meant to be (daily / emergency use?), or something else? 1, 5, and 9 all have the same recipe (although I know 9 was made in a different shape to 5 – much smaller); 6 & 7 are the same; the others are all slightly different recipes. Is anything known about the reasons behind this?

    · What did the biscuits look like? Reading Museum has specimens of 4 , 5 and 9 (literature of the period seems to suggest 4 and 5 were most commonly made / used) but nothing else (plus some round ones with no number stamped into them) and I have been unable to find even a picture of any of the others. Does anyone have pictures?

    · Which other companies made army biscuits, and what sort of share of the market did H&P have?
    · What is known about trench craft / art in WW1? Many of the biscuits have been elaborately decorated, painted, turned into photo frames, sent home in the manner of postcards and so on and in one case framed in a frame made from a cigar box (other times, they’ve just been graffiti’ed with disparaging comments about how tough they are). What is known of this tradition?

    · Were biscuits of this type eaten every day, or only as emergency rations? Info online seems to suggest the latter; poems, anecdotes, cartoons etc. by WW1 soldiers suggest that in practice it was often the former, perhaps because of difficulties in getting fresh bread and fresh food generally to the front. Might soldiers have sometimes been eating them for weeks or months on end, if there were difficulties with supply chains for rations? (I have found one contemporary poem which makes weary reference to having “had them each day for a year”).

    · How were the recipes formulated? The recipes we have show varying proportions of flour, meal, bran, salt, soda, tartaric acid, phosphoric acid, “liquor” (huge amounts of this – a fat substitute?), yeast, sugar (sometimes “lawn sugar” or “sugar pieces”), rice gluten and, in one case, something listed only as “stuff”. Is this to do with the nutritional needs of the soldiers, the different regions / climactic conditions etc. into which the biscuits were to be sent, the erratic availability of certain ingredients during wartime – or something else?

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