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Daily rations

Daily Rations

“We had to depend upon our daily allowance of provisions, which was limited to one pound of ship-biscuit, one pound of beef and one third of a pint of spirits. We received occasionally a little rice; but this was a gratuity to which we had no just claim, consequently not regularly issued. Had these articles been good, the quantity might have been sufficient, but the biscuit was frequently crushed to crumbs or mouldered to dust, and the beef would not have been allowed a stall in the poorest market of Great Britain. The spirits were generally good, and when mixed with a little toasted biscuit, proved an exhilarating breakfast.” Sergeant James Anton 1st Battalion, 42nd (Royal) Highland Regiment of Foot "Black Watch"after the battle of Orthez 1814

 The above allowance of rations is a good example for many variations which were permitted according to circumstances. On campaign often rations did not reach the troops leaving them starving for several days. However, the official daily ration for a British soldier during the Napoleonic period was 1 ½ pounds of bread, 1 pound beef or ½ pound pork (the bones were included in the weight), ¼-pint peas, 1 ounce butter or cheese and once ounce rice. For preparation messing was general practice, i.e. several soldiers pooled their rations and cooked them together over open fire. Meat was considered best boiled with oatmeal and potatoes. Cabbage, peas or beans were cooked separately. The use of fish was discouraged due to its propensity soon to become rotten, and like pork, its frequent use was thought to cause fluxes. When during campaigns rations were short, foraging or stealing food from local farmers was common. A British soldier in the Peninsular War caught plundering for food was punished by hanging, but this did not stop troops bolstering their daily rations this way. The daily ration of spirit varied in size due to its strength and could consist of beer, wine, brandy or rum. E.g. while troops were being transported by sea a “mess” of six soldiers was issued with 4 gallons of beer. Instead of one gallon of beer 1 pint of wine or a ½ pint of brandy, rum or arrack could be given. Hard drinking was common and often resulted in punishment. But the overindulgence of alcohol among the rank and file is not difficult to understand, for with virtually no organised recreation and little opportunity to obtain books even for the few who could read, drinking was one of the few off-duty occupations available to the majority. After sieges like that of Ciudad Rodrigo 1812 and Badajoz 1812 soldiers died in vine cellars, falling asleep drunken and then being drowned when their drunken comrades broke vine barrels and flooded the cellars.