Thursday 24 April 2014 by robvan. 5 comments
First World War Centenary, Anzac Connections, Collection

On the eve of landing at Gallipoli, 99 years ago, Sergeant Apcar De Vine of the 4th battalion took pen to paper to write of his preparations for the landing. Under orders to sail at 12am he records a meal of tea, bully beef and eggs. He describes packing iron rations for three days. “Two tins of Bully Beef, tea, sugar, biscuits, 2 cubes of Bovril, also rations for the first day of landing, bully-beef and biscuits, we had to rearrange our packs to get all the food in, also an extra ration of water ... in an empty lemonade bottle”. He also packed a billy to boil water for tea.

Through De Vine’s personal diaries of the Gallipoli campaign we can see that water supply was a problem from the outset. Water had to be carted and usually in kerosene tins. After their salty pre-landing meal, physical exertion and limited water rations we can only imagine how thirsty the men might have been. On the 25 April De Vine describes running “many trips backwards and forwards carrying water to the 2nd battalion in the trenches at night” He writes that he ”delivered the water safely, but lost my way coming back to the beach, discovered a nest of snipers & fired on but not hit”. He writes that he left his pack, containing his personal food rations, on the beach at the time of the landing and notes when he went back for it several days later that he couldn’t find it.

It wasn’t until the 4th of May that De Vine records having a good meal “had a good feed today the first since landing consisting of cheese onions & tea the first really good meal & feel better for it” and a couple of days later “left trenches for 3 hours today to make some Bovril and fry a piece of bacon, quite a treat…” He also describes having a “tot of rum” issued against the cold.

On the 12 May De Vine mentions that “kitchens have been established behind the trenches and an attempt made to make some hot food, cooks are called for some of the boys volunteer, we seem now to be settled down permanently, we manage to get a hot meal today, & for the first time since the landing – each man is served with ¼ loaf of bread which has been cooked on the transports, it was only one fairly thick slice, but it was quite a luxury & did not last very long, barely sufficient for one meal do not know when we will get any more, so we have to depend on hard army biscuits again.”  On the 15 May “water is now becoming rather scarce free issue being stopped today, one water bottle is the only issue to last 24 hours”.

Food and rations is just one thread of the many stories and experiences recorded in Apcar De Vine’s diaries. He kept a detailed account of his experiences throughout the duration of his service from landing at Gallipoli through to serving on the Western Front. Having served with the 4th Infantry Battalion throughout the war he returned to Australia on 16 June 1919. At war’s end Sergeant De Vine had almost five years’ service history which he figured at the end of his diary to be 4 years 290 days.

Anzac Connections is the Memorial’s major digitisation project to preserve these valuable eye witness accounts of the First World War and make them available for all Australians.

Read more diaries …here


Alison Wishart

It's great to see food getting a mention - it's such an important, though often overlooked part of the war experience. The un-nutritious rations provided to the diggers at Gallipoli is one of the main reasons that they became so sick over the summer months. More men were treated at Gallipoli for sickness than for wounds. It's certainly very different from the way our troops are fed today:

Tim White

The old story is still the same that an army marches on its stomach! Food is the most important side to war, without it the army grinds to a halt and in the case of Gallipoli the problems with water and food. I teach History at school and my favourite lesson is when I buy some bully beef and bring it in for the boys with tea and biscuits and show them what they use to eat.


Thanks Tim - One of my favorite quotes from Charles Bean's Official History is where he described the monotonous rations: "over-salted “bully”, which, in the heat of midday or afternoon, slipped in its own fat across the platter or mess-tin, swamping stray flies as it went … or for the cheese, greasy from exposure to the sun and filling the dugout with an odour sickeningly reminiscent of that exhaling from the corpses in No-Man’s Land." The brands of bully made a difference the men prefered Australian Fray Bentos and Maconochie’s rations. Brands from South America, such as Stelna and Colon [yes unfortunate name], were less popular:

Claire Dujardin

I was pleased reading this, because I could live what he wrote. Very interesting details about food. When I was Young, I liked to drink "Bovril".

kim fawkes

Some time ago I was asked by someone from the Department of Veterans Affairs if he could buy a tin of butter I had in my possession which my brother, a soldier, had given me in the 1960s. I was surpised at this request but gave him the butter only to find out later that this brand of butter was implicated in, I think, a health scare due to the fact it contained a chemical which contributed to bowel cancer. The high incidence of this cancer among former soldiers had led the Department to link it to the butter consumed by the soldiers. I heard no more about this so can only think that my grandfather's stomach problems during the war may have been linked to the food they were given. I have seen Maconchie's rations and can think of no more unpalatable food to give to a soldier but when food is scarce you will eat almost anything. Cheers Kim.