Friday, 20 December 2013

Festive Fridays - Christmas Dinner

Menu card for the 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, Christmas dinner 1917.  The Battalion was in reserve at Ecurie, France, at this time. (D/DLI 2/662/2(133))
D/DLI 2/662/2(133) Menu card for the 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, Christmas dinner 1917.  The Battalion was in reserve at Ecurie, France, at this time.
Samuel Warwick was a Lieutenant Colonel, born in Houghton-le-Spring in 1897.  He enlisted in the 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry at just under 17 years old, by Christmas 1916, he was a Lance Corporal serving with the 8th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment and took it upon himself to make Christmas dinner.  He recounted the experiences of this event 60 years later (D/DLI 7/748/3).

“We moved up to the front line from Zillebeke through Sanctuary Wood…The temperature was well below zero but if you were not sweating you were a sick man.  The language was pungent, repetitive, and far from Christmassy…

“This was the battalion’s second Christmas in the trenches and Christmas Eve was dead quiet.  But – just after midnight on the Christmas morning a battery of our field guns opened up on the German trench in front of us…

“About 2 o’clock [am] I…thought I would prepare a meal for the four of us sharing a dugout…[finding a water source] I had an ex-petrol can, now a water can and to fill it I used my steel helmet.  The water could not hurt it, it was already wet with sweat.  I did not know how revolting this liquid looked until I got it into the candle light of the dugout and poured some out into a mess tin…My squad were all asleep with their feet wrapped in sandbags so I…started to make the Christmas meal.  The method was as follows:-

Empty a tin of bully beef into a mess tin.  Half fill the empty tin with candle grease.  There is always plenty where a candle burns day and night.

Using a piece of four-by-two (which is the flannelette used for pulling through a rifle) as a wick, you have got yourself a first class cooking stove albeit it looks like a miniature bonfire when lit.

Next take some hard biscuits, break them up with the handle of a bayonet and soak them in water until they are mush.

Drain off the surplus water and mix this biscuit mush with shredded bully and add some bacon fat which you have saved in a Woodbine tin.

To this savoury platter add a good doze [sic.] of Curry powder (which every good soldier carries to camouflage any sort of rotten taste).

On each side of the bonfire place a full tin of bully.  On these rests the loaded canteen and let cooking commence exactly the right distance from the flame.

My hands were now perfectly clean.  There is nothing like squeezing wet biscuit for getting dirt of the hands.

The smell, or should I say aroma woke the sleepers and they were soon sitting up with canteen lids and spoons ready. 

For afters I knocked up a little something with ‘burgoo’ which is army porridge and tastes like wall plaster when unadorned.  Smother with condensed milk and add a sauce of neat rum (plenty)  with sugar.  If you have saved the rum from yesterday in an old sauce bottle the added flavour is superb…

“The Company Sergeant Major lifted the ragged canvas door of the dugout and spoiled everything just as we were going in to ‘While shepherds watched’ with the vulgar remark ‘What’s all this bloody row about.  The Bosche can hear the flaming noise’  We had forgotten all about the Bosche.  The next morning when dawn broke we ‘stood to’ in the trench, a bird twittered, a rat nuzzled an empty tin in no-man’s land, but from the enemy trench we could hear a German playing a flute.”

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