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The Services 1930 - 1956:

Army Catering Corps

An army does not, as many people think, march on its feet, it marches on its stomach. Prior to the Second World War, each regiment, battalion or unit was responsible for providing its own cooks. The first Army School of Cookery was established in 1885, but there was no central control or oversight. Each of the Home Commands had their own cookery school run by the Royal Army Service Corps (R.A.S.C.), so standards varied considerably.

Trade pay for unit cooks was introduced in 1936, which did enhance the status of cookery within the Army. Problems with catering persisted. Equipment for safe storage of food and for cooking were often poor. In many barracks, the food was cooked centrally and then collected for distribution to individual rooms. By the time it reached its destination, often the food was cold.

One of the first actions of the new Secretary of State for War, Leslie HORE-BELISHA, on his appointment in 1938 was to order a review of Army catering, led by Major General BECK. His report covered the provision of food, training and a career structure for cooks in the Army, however, it was considered too expensive to implement his recommendations. As an alternative, Sir Isidore SALMON was appointed the Honorary Catering Adviser, and in turn Mr. R. A. A. BYFORD was recruited from Trust Houses to act as the catering adviser to the Army; he being granted the rank of Colonel.

In 1938, the R.A.S.C. opened the School of Cookery at Buller Barracks in Aldershot. This was the first, central school of cookery in the British Army. Many of the instructors were civilians from the catering trade. The cooks remained regimental personnel within their units. In July 1940, the issue of forming a new Army catering corps was raised by the then Quarter-Master-General. Initially, there was no consensus on the need for soldiers to be full-time cooks, with some believing that civilians should fulfil that role.

The experience of the early stages of the Second World War determined the need for Army personnel to be trained and permanent cooks, so the Army Catering Corps (A.C.C.) was formed on the 22 March 1941 under Army Order number 35 of 1941. It was not formed as an independent corps in its own right, but rather as a subsidiary corps to the R.A.S.C.. A new depot for the corps was established at St. Omer Barracks in Aldershot, with a new School of Cookery opening there in 1941.

The designated cooks in regiments, battalions and other units transferred to the Army Catering Corps upon its formation. The exception being hospital cooks responsible for the provision of food to patients, who remained members of the Royal Army Medical Corps, even though members of the A.C.C. were posted to units such as General Hospitals to cater for the personnel.

Some problems remained during the war. It was always a challenge to improve the quality of food served to the troops, especially in the field. It was important to minimise the distance between the place of preparation and consumption, but this was not always possible. In hotter climates, the storage of meat and vegetables was difficult although sand was found to be useful in cleaning pots and pans. In these climates, the disposal of waste food was important to avoid an infestation of flies and other insects. The Army had a long-standing system of using defaulters to prepare vegetables, a time consuming and tedious process. This brought its own problems, as defaulters were not always keen or productive workers.

In recognition of the skills required by a good cook, on the 29 May 1943, the A.C.C. was classed a ‘tradesman’ corps. This meant improved pay and conditions for its personnel and that they were not seen as front-line soldiers. This did not mean however, that members of the A.C.C. were not often to be seen in the front line. During the war, the corps is believed to have suffered one-thousand, three-hundred and sixteen casualties; of whom six-hundred and fifty-nine men died.

With the ending of the Second World War, the Army Council decided to retain the A.C.C. in the post-war British Army. The corps commenced direct recruitment in early 1947, developing its own promotion and career development structure.

The A.C.C. became a separate corps in its own right on the 1 January 1965, allowing it to develop its own career structure more than it could previously. On the 5 April 1993, the Army Catering Corps amalgamated with other services to form part of the Royal Logistic Corps.

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