Students Staff

05 November 2008

Food and the First World War

Colchester Campus

A PhD student from the Department of History will talk about her research on the First World War at two events marking the 90th Anniversary of the Armistice.

Rachel Duffett will present her work at an event at Chelmsford’s County Hall, organised by the Essex Library Service and at an Ipswich event arranged by Suffolk Records Office this month. Her research is on the significance, both physiologically and emotionally, of food to the rank and file soldiers (rankers) of the Western Front.

She explains: ‘It is, in part, a narrative of army provisioning (unappetising rations, inadequate supplies, rotten cooks, dirty mess halls etc) but also an exploration of the emotions food was freighted with for many of the men. For example, food parcels from home personified the love and concern of families who could not express it explicitly in letters, while the army's rationing failures became a metaphor for other perceived injustices.’

Rachel’s research analyses letters, diaries and unpublished memoirs, primarily from the Imperial War Museum. She also looks at army practices to inform her investigation of the potential disparities between actual consumption, the men’s responses at the time, and the subsequent impact of memory. By focusing on diet and provisioning on the Western Front, her research sheds new light on both wartime culture and the emotional experience of war.

Much of the existing writing on food and the war is confined to discussions of the Home Front. Scholars have described the physical conditions of the rankers but only hinted at the complex emotional implications of food. In exploring the affective aspects of the conflict, Rachel’s research makes an important and original contribution to recent work on wartime culture and the emotional experience of war.

Rachel will also speak at the Essex Book Festival in March and at the International Commission for Research into European Food History Symposium in Paris next September. She recently had a chapter about her research published in the book British Popular Culture and the First World War, edited by Jessica Meyer.


Notes to editors:
The Chelmsford County Hall event on 11 November follows the 11am ceremony and is open to the public, no tickets needed.

For more information on the Ipswich event at 10am, Saturday 15 November, please visit:

For further information please contact the University of Essex Communications Office on telephone: 01206 872807 or e-mail:

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