War Memoir of Robert Ellwood

In Paletsine and Syria, our food was quite good. I don’t feel that we could complain about it at all excepting the quality of our cooks. And its common knowledge that they spoilt more good food than they cooked. But apart from that we were able to more or less have good quality good, I wouldn’t say…In those days I think we started to get frozen beef for the first time, but it was quite good food. But there must have been in some way a deficiency because (I told you) that I had an absolute craving for sweets and I rode, I don’t know how many mile, to a canteen and bought a box of them and fed myself on them until I was, not sick on them, but I had a surfeit of them and never touched them again. So there must have been something lacking, but I can definitely say the food, you good not complain, for something under war conditions. You wouldn’t expect a serviette and a knife and a fork and a nicely cook baked meal, would you, on active service, but for active service food it was good.

Turnbull: Was there vegetables of fruit, or..

Ellwood: Oh no, vegetables weren’t….Oh no we did get to that stage. It was mostly a tinned turnout. Oh no, it was only very seldom when we were probably on a rest period or out of the line for some reason or the other that we were able to get things of that description, then they were mostly bought through the natives. But the orange, the boy with the orange, is anything mentioned about him anywhere?

Turnbull: No, not that I know of.

Ellwood: Whenever we were on the desert, almost, wherever we were, and we pulled up for lunch or a rest period, out of the empty desert came boys with oranges for sale, native boys. How they got there and where they were before, we don’t know, but they were always there whenever…How they came to know where we were going and that sort of business I don’t know, but the boy with the oranges was always there every time we halted. The orange was a great fruit that they use a lot of over there (this is a rather nasty dirty bit) but they were using, we used to have buckets at the end of the line for night time use and orange boys were always not allowed, but they used to somehow sneak into the lines and sell us oranges and we always went for them in a big way until somebody woke up one morning and found some of these native kids washing the oranges in these buckets. And from then on there wasn’t much about these the orange boy in the camps. But on the move, as I say, he came from everywhere and from places where you wouldn’t know he had been.

Turnbull: The canteen that you remember riding to get the chocolates and things, did they have canteens that were stationed to the back of the lines.

Ellwood: Way back at the line, yes, it would be miles behind the line, they’d have a canteen, you could buy quite a lot of things there. And that’s where we introduced variation in some food in our food, you know. That’s where I bought a tin of cooked fowl, an American pack, I told you about that..

Turnbull: That’s the one that gave you dysentery.

Ellwood: And that was about forty mile from the front line.

Turnbull: So that when you were given a spell from the front line you could go back there, did you.

Ellwood: You couldn’t just move around as you liked, you know. I would have a good deal of freedom with my position and officers would have a good deal, but you weren’t allowed to just run away and that sort of business and occasionally, we would be moved close to where a canteen was if we were far enough back from the front line, which made them readily available and the food that they had.

Turnbull: Yes, but they never gave you. You bought the oranges, but there was never any supply of say, oranges or lemons.

Ellwood: Oh, there would have been, I should think, if I remember, but I know the kids always made us pay for them if we wanted them. But they could have been in our diet, I don’t know, probably they were too.