It may be the final of the Great British Bake Off this evening where tensions will be rising in the tent – but imagine having to create your own yeast and baking bread in the Turkish heat whilst under attack from the enemy. This letter written during the Gallipoli Campaign in World War One and published in the North Devon Herald, gives a fascinating insight into the day to day operations of those supplying the troops with food….
The appended letter, written by a staff-sergeant at present serving in the Dardanelles, will be read with interest, especially by members of the baking trade in North Devon:-
“. . . . But I am sure you will be interested to know how we go on with the baking out here, and how we get over the trouble with the yeast. Well, we have as good a loaf here with the field ovens as you do with your ovens in England. The first and most important thing is the making of the yeast, and that you make according to the weather, with hops, potatoes, and rice. We have to alter the ingredients according to whether we require it to work fast or slow; and if require it to work very fast we save so much sour dough from the day before to help the yeast—especially in cold weather. The recipe for making the yeast is 42 gallons of water put into 14 vessels, each holding three gallons; three ounces of hops are then placed in each vessel and boiled about 20 minutes, until they boil clear; then boil 28lbs. of potatoes and 20lbs. of rice, and let cool down and mash to about 70 degrees. Strain your hops on the rice and potatoes, and start it working with about 20lbs. of sugar and 20lbs. of flour. It takes about 36 hours to make, and it is very good yeast. We make all straight doughs about six-hour doughs—12 doughs, at the rate of four in the morning, making about 24,000 loaves per day. There are six sections of men at work, each section working 30 ovens, which hold 54 2¾ lb. loaves each; and these 30 ovens have to be filled four times per day; so we have to work for our living out here. The bread is baked on trays, nine trays to an oven, each tray holding six loaves. There are twenty men to each section, and I am in charge on No. 1 section. We have some rough times some days, I can tell you; but still we must not grumble, as plenty are worse off than we are by a long way. The over-night doughs are made at 10 o’clock, and the whole of the staff in each section commences at 5 the next morning. An incidental little worry which we have is that the enemy’s flying men come over and drop their bombs two or three times a day, doing some damage on one or two occasions, but we have brought one or two down. We brought a machine down the other day right close to the bakery, and both the men were killed outright, the machine burying itself in the ground about three feet. I am afraid that we shall have a rough time this winter, but we must keep smiling. If any ‘members of the fraternity’ would like to try the yeast we make, the following is a recipe for a small quantity. They can rely on it being good; it will take about six hours to work in the dough. The ingredients are as follow: 4lbs. rice, 10ozs. hops, 16lbs. potatoes, 3¼ lb. flour, 6lb. Sugar. Boil the hops in eight gallons of water for at least 20 minutes. Boil the potatoes and the rice, mash and strain with water in which the hops have boiled; when cool mix the flour and sugar, and it will take 36 hours to make, and then be ready for use. I trust that members of the trade will sometimes think of us who our doing our bit for our country in this somewhat remote part of the world under difficult circumstances. We have the satisfaction of knowing, however, that we are turning out really good bread, and upholding the dignity and prestige of the operative baker as a workman and craftsman.”
Transcript taken from the North Devon Herald 6th January 1916 page 5 columns f.This just one of many articles about North Devon’s experiences during World War One published in the local newspapers. For more visit our North Devon War Items Album on our Facebook Page…Barum Athena