Mobile Dinner of Champions!

The other day we got an enquiry about the types of food which were served by WVS canteens during World War Two, a question which proved somewhat more difficult to answer than you might think.

While we have in the collection many booklets on food and feeding published by the WVS they are mainly about emergency feeding for large numbers of people in rest centres or in the field, and of these, many seem to concentrate on the practical arrangements such as the erection of field cooking equipment rather than the food itself.

None of the emergency feeding booklets contain recipes, but some contain sample menus, for example the 1960 Emergency Feeding Civil Defence Handbook offers a three day plan.

Main courses were:
Shepherds Pie
Meat and Vegetable Stew
Fried Fish

Desserts were:
Boiled Fruit Pudding
Prunes and Custard

Jam Tart

This didn’t help though with our wartime question.

Delving a little deeper we found two information sheets from a 1940 canteen workers’ training scheme that show illustrative menus and give an idea of the kind of meals the members were trained to cook and serve in the mobile and station units.

Main courses were:
Steak and kidney pudding or pie
Toad in the Hole
Fish Pie
Braised Steak
Boiled Bacon
Roast Shoulder of Mutton

Liver and Bacon

Desserts were:
Stewed prunes and custard
Steamed Fig Pudding
Jam Roly Poly
Fruit tart and custard
Apricot Charlotte
Milk jelly with fruit
Baked bread pudding

However, in practice it seems that few mobile and station canteens cooked their own food, other than preparing sandwiches and rolls; instead they were provided with food by other agencies, such as the British Restaurants, factory canteens, or large bakeries.

The canteens were very busy indeed, and a domestic kitchen could not have coped with the quantities required. Also, during food rationing, it was much easier to make bulk off-ration purchases from such wholesale suppliers, rather than serving home cooked meals.

A day book we have from the Glasgow mobile canteens as well as a balance sheet for a wartime station canteen in Newport, and a small selection of quarterly narrative reports from canteen managers, do though give a good impression of the kind of food and drinks that were actually served.

The canteens served tea, cocoa, coffee (Twinings prepared a special coffee for WVS canteens, but the Glasgow canteen only served Camp Coffee), assorted mineral drinks, a selection of hot and cold meals (mince and potatoes are specifically mentioned), sandwiches and rolls (jam and cheese), soup, pies, sausage rolls, cakes (sugar cream cakes and “tea-bread” cakes). These were supplemented by sales of Cadburys chocolates, large tins of assorted and chocolate biscuits (bought from local factories) and cigarettes.

The canteen food was not free, and as the soldiers and workers paid for it; inevitably some items were more popular than others! Chocolates, pies and sausage rolls usually sold well; soup and sandwiches did not. Sandwiches particularly went out of favour when the weather was cold and the bread went hard!

Posted by Matthew McMurray, Archvisit and Sheridan Parsons, volunteer at 00:00 Monday, 16 November 2015.

Labels: Mobile Canteen, WWII, WVS, Station Canteen, Emergency Feeding , British Restaurant, Jam Roly poly, Charlotte, Steak and Kidney Pudding, Liver and Bacon, Chocolate, Sausage rolls

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