Whenever we think about Tommies in the trenches of the First World War, we think about mud, trench foot and a questionable diet. Is it true that Tommies survived on rock hard biscuits and the occasional rat to satisfy their ever-increasing hunger? Or was their diet a little better than what we think? I have been looking into this recently in anticipation of launching an 'Eat like a Tommy' day at the school I teach at in Walsall, Staffordshire.
Food available to the men fighting in France and Belgium was very often far superior and in greater quantity than what was available at home. For example, "a working class family of two adults and at least one child in Britain would eat 3lb 6oz of beef or mutton a week, along with 19lb 8oz of bread and just over 25lb of potatoes between them, each soldier would receive 8lb 12oz and the same weight in bread. He also had 1lb 5oz of bacon and 3lb 8oz of vegetables" Source
As the war went on more and more food was prepared closer to the front lines to cater for the increase in soldiers serving on the Western front. As thousands of soldiers from India joined the ranks of the British Army curry was prepared and became more widely available to soldiers. Of course, the usual dishes still reigned supreme-like 'bully' beef and 'Maconochie' and not everyone was a fan of these trench staples. One soldier regarded 'Maconochie' as a 'war crime' whilst the French referred to 'bully' as 'monkey'. But, as soldiers were paid in local currency they were able to supplement their rations with local food bought from cafes and restaurants.
As for rats being trapped, roasted and eaten in desperation because the only alternative was rock hard biscuits-it looks like it could be more of a myth than a reality....
Great Wyrley High School in Walsall, Staffordshire are hosting their 'Eat like a Tommy' day on 27th June 2014. On the menu will be delights such as; beef tea, curried cod, fish pie, potato pie and milk biscuit pudding.
Tuesday, 18 March 2014
Tuesday, 8 October 2013
Wednesday, 7 August 2013
Monday, 22 July 2013
Wednesday, 9 January 2013
|Queen Victoria I|
The past week I have been anxiously awaiting the arrival of my second daughter-today she is 8 days overdue. Needless to say I have been a little bored waiting, especially since my first born daughter came on her due date-waiting is something I have not been used to! So when I saw a programme on TV about Queen Victoria and her relationship with her daughters I was very keen to watch with my blog in mind.
I will point out that none of this is my own original research and when I use a direct quote from the programme I will accredit it to the relevant historian.
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert had 5 daughters; Princesses Victoria (Vicky), Alice, Helena, Louise and Beatrice. Victoria had a somewhat complex relationship with all of her children in one way or another and reasons for these sometimes difficult relationships varied from child to child-if she considered particular children to be unattractive she would harshly criticise them for it in her letters, or if they supported particular causes that she did not, for example women's suffrage, she would harangue the child in question.
Leading historians in this field, like Dr Piers Brendon and Helen Rappaport describe Victoria as 'controlling' and 'selfish' in her behaviour towards her children. And her behaviour towards her children seemed to get worse when her beloved Prince Albert died in December 1861. Princess Beatrice was only 4 when her father passed away and bore the brunt of her mother's intense grief. Victoria would wake Beatrice up in the middle of the night to take her into her bed to clasp Beatrice to her bosom, sobbing into the small child. Historian Matthew Dennison describes this behaviour towards Bea as a type of abuse as it had 'a profound affect on Beatrice's psyche, on her outlook [and] on her whole personality'.
|Princess Beatrice on her Wedding Day|
|A Victorian woman breastfeeding|
One issue that did bring Victoria into conflict with two of her daughters was the up and coming trend of breastfeeding your own babies, instead of using the services of a wet nurse. Upper class women in Britain were even getting involved in this trend and both Princesses Vicky and Alice expressed an interest in breastfeeding their babies. This absolutely disgusted the Queen, who thought that it was not the place of a princess of the royal blood to be doing such a thing. Victoria commanded her daughters not to partake in such an 'undignified' act (Victoria's own repulsion towards babies is evidenced in her letters-she always found them to be ugly creatures). But, it seems, both Vicky and Alice were a little too far away from their over bearing Mother to take any notice of her condemnation and breast fed their children regardless. Princess Alice did not escape the wrath of Victoria though who delighted in writing to her daughter to tell her that she had named one of her dairy cows after her.
|Princesses Vicky and Alice in the 1850s at Osbourne|
Alice would end up in Victoria's bad books on more than one occasion-mother and daughter clashed over Princess Helena's marriage and when Alice took a keen interest in nursing and medicine during the Austro-Prussian war. Alice could see Helena's marriage for exactly what it was-a ploy to keep Helena at home in Britain within the grips of the Queen. A pauper Prince was set up for Helena which guaranteed seeing her staying near her Mother and under her Mother's influence. The cash strapped royal in question was Prince Christian of Schleswig-Holstein (Princess Helena and Prince Christian were given as estate in Windsor Great Park where Christian was to become Ranger-concerning himself mostly with the frog population). Princess Alice openly accused her mother of sacrificing her daughter's happiness for her own convenience-this led the Queen to remark that Alice was the true devil of the family. But the upset would get worse when in 1871 Alice set up beds for the wounded in Palace gardens, managing the field hospitals herself whilst heavily pregnant. This of course saw another rise out of Victoria who believed that a princess of the royal blood should not be working so closely with the human body.
Victoria's most rebellious daughter was the beautiful Princess Louise. Dr Piers Brendon describes Victoria as a 'domestic dictator' because of the extent she went to in order to control her daughters. But Princess Louise was not content to just take it and would be the Queen's most rebellious daughter. Louise was keen to become a sculptor and not content with it being just a hobby at home, she wanted to train as a sculptor at a public school. Victoria did not consider Louise's interest in sculpture as very ladylike and did not, at first, want Louise to attend school to study the art form. But Victoria was to give in and Louise enrolled at the National Art Training School-this did not mean, however, that Victoria gave Louise complete freedom to study but rather closely controlled the number of days Louise would attend the school. If Victoria wanted Louise to stay at home any particular day she would just tell Louise that she was to stay at home and help with Victoria's correspondence. Despite this Louise did persevere, becoming the first female sculptor to have a statue erected in a public place (the statue was of Queen Victoria aptly enough).
Princess Louise was also very determined that she was not going to marry some obscure German royal but to marry someone of her own choosing instead. Louise said she would like to marry John Campbell, Marquess of Lorne-at the time this perfectly suited the Queen as she recognised that foreign alliances were seen as unpopular and Victoria quite liked the idea of having fresh blood in the family (it also meant, of course, that another daughter would not be lost to her). It was the first time in centuries that a British princess was allowed to marry outside of royalty. Unfortunately, Louise's marriage was not a happy one and on a rare occasion a child of Victoria had her sympathy rather than her criticism (When Prince Alfred was shot whilst on a visit to Sydney in 1868 Victoria was quite unnaturally unsympathetic).
Queen Victoria may have been overly critical and sometimes quite harsh towards her children, but what she was was loyal to them, especially when they were in need. For example, if there was an impending crisis or a malacious rumour Victoria would use her power to make it right.
Thursday, 22 March 2012
Friday, 17 February 2012
Charlie Chaplin has hit the news today, years after his death due to the release of MI5 and FBI documents. It turns out that during the 'red scare' in the US in the 1950s Chaplin was investigated by the FBI to see if he had ever been a member of a communist party. The result was that he hadn't but did have left wing sympathies. What baffled the FBI and MI5 at the time, however, was not Chaplin's politics but his mysterious birth. Neither agency could find a birth certificate for Chaplin! Very bizarre. For more on this see the BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17072165
Sunday, 12 February 2012
He was a trend setter (of sorts and to a much lesser degree than his many mistresses), a lover of all things decadent and a one hell of a big spender. King Louis XIV was responsible for, perhaps, the most beautiful and splendid of all the buildings in France; the palace at Versailles.
Louis reigned for an amazing period of 72 years, overseeing French successes and failures and left behind one hell of a legacy (arguably an unsustainable one contributing to the French Revolution).
During his reign, Louis was a bit of a war monger-he expanded both the army and the navy and fought wars against the Dutch, the Spanish and the Holy Roman Empire. In his early reign Louis was a very successful and adept monarch. He managed to placate the nobility that had taken part in the Fronde rebellion during his infancy by compelling them to re-locate and live in his palace at Versailles. This meant that Louis could keep an eye on his nobility and it prevented them from going back to their country estates and raising armies against the King, if they had reason to. It also meant that Versailles had to have major extension work done to make it larger to accommodate all the nobility and make sure that everyone had what their status entitled them to. For many years Versailles was a construction site, with around 40,000 workers at the peak of building work (on the 'envelope'). Due to the large volume of people working at Versailles and the lack of toilet facilities it has been said that the workers alleviated themselves wherever they were! However, because the nobility were so close in proximity to the King and were entertained so well, there was less chance of another Fronde like rebellion happening, as Louis used life at Versailles to keep control of his nobility and keep them happy.
Louis made Versailles the absolute place to be and when he decided to centrally locate his entire government there it was the only place to be. Versailles became a tremendously spectacular court from where Louis ran France and kept the nobility busy. Everyone who was anyone in France was at Versailles to enjoy lavish feasts, balls, open-air theatre, ballets and firework displays-to not be included was devastating for a nobleman. However, Versailles became a gossip hotbed-no one could do anything without it going around the entire palace and so, in this sense, Versailles was a very claustrophobic place to be (and one of the reasons why Marie Antoinette hated it when she lived there as dauphine and Queen of France). Louis made the monarchy in France popular and fashionable and, above all else, powerful. The nobility would adopt deferential poses when near him and compete with each other to be the first to congratulate him or compliment him on his latest improvement to Versailles. There is one famous exchange that perhaps best sums up the kind of power Louis had over those around him at Versailles. When Louis asked one of his courtiers when his wife's baby was due the courtier responded by saying 'when your Majesty wishes it to be born'. Louis was also responsible for many of the rituals that took place at Versailles that lasted until the French Revolution. In the mornings his entourage would help Louis dress and depending on what position you held or how far up or down you were in the Royal Family depended on which item of clothing you put on the King. In the evenings his entourage would also be responsible for undressing Louis. Louis very much put himself on display for his nobles and this even extended to his mealtimes where a crowd of nobles and relatives would watch his every move and hoped in earnest to be spoken to, looked at or even requested to hand the King something-a huge honour (again, these were the things that Marie Antoinette hated about life at Versailles, which may explain why she spent a lot of her time at Petit Trianon).
Louis was a trend setter at court too-as a short man he favoured a heeled shoe, which all noblemen adopted as their shoe of choice also. Once the King's hair started to recede he began wearing long and elaborate wigs to hide his disappearing hair line-the noblemen also adopted this fashion too. The King's mistresses were also trend setters at court. If you were in the most fortunate position of being the maitresse en titre to the King you were virtually a celebrity and the women of the court would be keen to copy her in every way. Madame de Montespan was one such trend setting mistress-she invented her own bodice and trousers ensemble that court ladies quickly followed suit with.
Later in life Louis became less and less interested in improving Versailles and started to lose his star appeal and just became quite sick and tired of the frivolities of his life. Louis became more and more disenchanted with the once beautiful Madame de Montespan and instead began showing affection towards Madame de Maintenon; the pious nanny to the King's many children. The pair married secretly in a morganatic ceremony (due to Maintenon's social status) in 1685. With his marriage to Madame de Maintenon Louis himself began to become more and more pious and Maintenon became very important to Louis in terms of his religious salvation (Louis began to become gravely concerned about his relationship with Madame de Montespan as she was a married woman and adultery with an unmarried woman was one thing but double adultery was sacrilege). Perhaps the King's apparent final words to his heir are quite telling of the mood Louis ended his life in-Louis said 'Do not follow the bad example which I have set you; I have often undertaken war too lightly and have sustained it for vanity. Do not imitate me, but be a peaceful prince...' After enjoying his life to the full and after creating such a wondrous place like Versailles, Louis still ended his full life as an unhappy man that had made mistakes he couldn't change.
Friday, 3 February 2012
Amanda Foreman's wonderful biography 'Georgiana-Duchess of Devonshire', published in 1998, is an absolute treat! All I can say is that I've been truly captivated by this extraordinary woman and her high octane life. Georgiana was born into the Spencer family at Althorp on 7th June, 1757. Georgiana, despite being closely followed by a baby brother, was her mother's life-long favourite.
Georgiana had a typical aristocratic upbringing-her life governed by the seasons and moving from house to house depending on what time of the year it was. As with all aristocratic families the Spencer's regularly took holidays on the continent to enjoy the benefits of a warmer climate. The whole Spencer family embarked on a Grand Tour in 1772 when Georgiana was 15. Society everywhere admired Georgiana wherever she went-Georgiana was beautiful and graceful, even as a 15 year old girl.
During this tour the Spencer's moved to Spa in 1773-this is where Georgiana met the twenty-four year old Duke of Devonshire. After Georgiana had danced with the Duke several times and sat next to him at various dinners, she was quite 'in love' with the idea of being his wife. The Duke of Devonshire was rather inept in public, not very talkative or one to show his emotions but Georgiana thought that, like her father, the Duke would be different in private.
In 1774 talks about a marriage between the Duke and Georgiana were concluded-it was set-Georgiana would be the Duchess of Devonshire. Georgiana's reaction to the proposal convinced her mother and father that she was truly in love with the Duke, however, Amanda Foreman believes that Georgiana reacted in such a happy way because she knew the marriage would please her parents.
Georgiana was married on her 17th birthday in 1774 to the Duke in what was being dubbed the 'wedding of the year' by society. There were high hopes for the marriage; of course, one high hope would prevail over all others-the hope that Georgiana would give the Duke an heir.