#whitefeather diaries

A prison diet

Friday 25 March 2016

John wrote a great deal about prison conditions in his letters home. He explained that breakfast each day consisted of one pint of gruel and eight ounces of bread. The same was the case for supper. The main meal, in the middle of the day, depended on the day of the week. John listed the weekly menu before commenting on it:

Sunday:  4 oz cooked meat preserved by heat, 8 oz bread, 8 oz potatoes

Monday:  2 oz bacon fat, 10 oz beans, 8 oz bread, 8 oz potatoes

Tuesday:  1 pint soup, 8 oz bread, 8 oz potatoes

Wednesday:  10 oz suet, 8 oz bread, 8 oz potatoes

Thursday:  Cooked beef without bones, 8 oz bread, 8 oz potatoes

Friday:  1 pint soup, 8 oz bread, 8 oz potatoes

Saturday:  10 oz suet, 8 oz bread, 8 oz potatoes

I don't know in the least what cooked meat “preserved by heat” may mean, it actually was a quite decent kind of bully beef. The little leaven of bacon fat, even if fished out at once, spoilt the whole lump of beans. The soup was excellent, the suet tolerable though solid. Thursday's dinner was the worst, I think. The cows or horses used for it may grow without bones for all I know but they certainly use string instead. It was like eating boot leather.

Later on in the war, with much of the country affected by food shortages, rations in prison were severely cut. One unnamed conscientious objector described the effects in a letter written in 1918. Here's an extract.

The common experience is that a man passes into one or all three of the following stages:

(1)  Merely very hungry all day.

(2)  Hunger more acute, with pains in the stomach intermittently.

(3)  Extreme weakness, nervousness and constant and very acute pain. There is a sharp contraction of the muscles, the face may be seen (or, more bitterly, felt) to twitch with pain, and the face also becomes dark, particularly about the eyes. Some of the men in one or another of these stages may be sent to hospital; many recover somewhat by lying down every available moment; not that they need rest, but if you lie down you do not feel hungry quite so soon.

Sources: A Pacifist's Progress: Papers from the First World War by John Hoare (Sessions, 1998), edited by Richard Hoare, and Objection Overruled: Conscription and Conscience in the First World War by David Boulton (Dales Historical Monographs, 2014).

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hands outside a prison window
Friday 25 March 2016

Last week we saw John sentenced to six months’ hard labour. He began the sentence at Wormwood Scrubs. He was in the prison for only three weeks. He wrote a description of life there shortly afterwards.