Feeding France’s Grande Armée: A Pictorial Tribute for Memorial Day

An army marches on its stomach.
~~Napoleon Bonaparte~~

Appert canning bottle, precursor to the tin

And Napoleon Bonaparte would know. He, like Adolph Hitler in another time, tried unsuccessfully to conquer Russia. What he fed his soldiers in large part depended upon the invention of a Mr. Nicolas Appert, who invented a [relatively] safe way to preserve food by canning, or sealing in glass bottles, actually. Tins came later.

War, a scourge that humans have yet to eliminate like smallpox, demanded weapons, yes, and men to carry those weapons. But waging war also required food, enough to keep the men on their feet day after day, week after week, month after month, through sunny days and bitter cold nights.

James Gillray (August 24, 1803)

The idea of the leaders feasting while the army starves seems apt.

A lone World War I soldier eating his lunch.

French soldiers eating soup, World War I.

Like the British with the Gurkhas, the French recruited indigenous soldiers to help them in their wars.

Copyright: Jean-Baptiste Tournassoud

Spahis soldiers, from indigenous tribe in Algeria, serving in the French army, 1915.

Moroccan Spahis (Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Bain Collection)

The French employed a number of other indigenous regiments, including the Tirailleurs Sénégalais, who inspired the Banania caricature.

But when all was said and done, the idea of home, the communal table, never strayed far from the minds of men far from home and the people they loved.

French soldiers in the trenches of WWI