Reserve Rations

The vivres de réserves ("reserve rations") were composed of non-perishable provisions. These were issued in a field package (i.e. paper wrappers or cloth baggies). In 1918, this took the form of a rectangular tin. The most celebrated (and most detested) item was what the soldiers universally nick-named singe ("monkey"). In reality, it was heavily seasoned canned pork (corned beef) but its taste and consistency was so disreputable that soldiers doubted its true origin. Stringy and heavily salted, it was distributed in small round cans. Hardtack was another staple of the reserve rations. Whenever possible, soldiers tried to come up with inventive ways to prepare this rather bland food. See the recipes page for one such method. Added to the traditional provisions was a novelty adopted during the war purely for its caloric value: chocolate. A decision was reached on the 26 October 1914 to issue to each man a daily ration of 30g (1.1oz) of chocolate bars (issued in a small tin) or 15g (.5oz) of cocoa powder. At the end of 1915, chocolate became an integral part of his reserve rations. The type issued was dark, bittersweet chocolate, not the milk chocolate most Americans are used to.

A soldier was only allowed to eat his reserve rations in emergency situations or upon orders. Usually this occured when the daily rations could not be supplied and distributed amongst the men at the front due to operational circumstances (i.e. during an active offensive or a heavy bombardment). Jacques Meyers noted that it was a topic "...of great discussion on the question of knowing what moment precisely one should eat the provisions. The soldier is the greatest casuist." The table below shows the general vivres de réserves and their distribution amounts in 1916:

Reserve Provision(s) Weight [grams/oz] Packaging
Hardtack [10-12 biscuits] 500/17.6 Cloth baggie
Canned preserved [corned] beef or pork 300/10 2 individual cans [300g] or 1 large can [500g] shared by 2 men
Condensed soup/bouillon 50/1.8 Canned or in dehydrated tablets
Roasted coffee [in bars or beans] 36/1.3 Double canvas baggie*
Sugar 80/2.8
Chocolate, in bars [distributed at once in tin] 125/4.4 2 bars in 1 tin [250g]
Tobacco [usually distributed in packets of 40 or 100g/ 1.4 or 3.5oz] 20/.7 Paper packet of 100g
Brandy or rum 2 oz "Topette" or flask carried by N.C.O.