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Wartime privations

Written by Judith Curthoys, posted on Sunday, July 1, 2018

Document of the month July 2018

Christ Church Archives S xxxiii.c.1

At the beginning of the First World War, the senior members of Christ Church decided to follow King George’s example and gave up alcohol for the duration of hostilities.

No doubt they looked forward to the end of fighting so that they could celebrate with the contents of a full cellar but the officers of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry – billeted in Christ Church until their more permanent barracks in Cowley became available – and then the senior men of the Royal Flying Corps stationed here from 1915 had other ideas.  Surely, but probably not very slowly, they drank the cellar dry.

Part of the Anderson letter - Christ Church Archives S xxxiii.c.1Not only were the Students sober, once rationing was introduced in 1918 they were also hungry. High Table meals were reduced; meat was served only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and guests only permitted on ‘meatless’ days.

No doubt the restrictions were unpopular with everyone but John Anderson, Student in Classics and later Camden Professor of Ancient History, made his feelings very clear in a letter to the Steward’s secretary dated 7 July:

I must really protest very strongly about the dinner provided on Saturday night.  I had asked 2 guests.  If I had known what was to be provided, I should have asked them to stay away…… Turnip soup had better be avoided in the future.  It is food for cows & there is absolutely no need to serve such stuff.  Haddock is a fish that needs far more skilful handling than the Christ Church staff is capable of, to be made palatable at all.  The spaghetti was solid food but very uninteresting…..  I think the ChCh staff would do well to use a cookery book, as they appear to have not the slightest idea of what to serve.”

Evidently, the organ recital held after dinner that evening, in aid of the Oxford and Bucks Prisoner of War Fund, did nothing to aid Mr Anderson’s dyspepsia!

Click the small detail on the right to view two pages from the full version.