Savouring History – the museum’s food based treasures

To kick off another year of museum blogs, let’s start 2024 off with a peak into the museum’s collection of food. Healthy eating is often a popular new year’s resolution, and so we thought that January would be the perfect time to look into some sweet treats from the past.

Queen Victoria Gift Box
Photo credits: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum

The Queen Victoria gift box, shown in the image above, was sent as a New Years gift from Her Majesty to the British troops serving in the Second Boer War in South Africa in 1900. This box belonged to Sergeant W. Eddie of the 1st Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who was wounded at the battle of the Modder River in November 1899. This box contains bars of Rowntrees chocolate, however, Cadburys and Frys also manufactured chocolate for boxes like this one. The image below shows the real chocolate that would have been in the tin.

Chocolate from inside the Queen Victoria Gift Box
Photo credits: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum

Below is a framed WW1 hardtack biscuit that belonged to Private William Steel, 11th (Service) Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. These biscuits were made from water, flour, and salt, and then baked before being left to dry and harden, which resulted in long-lasting but rock-hard biscuits. These biscuits were infamous for being so tough that they needed to be soaked in water or tea to make them edible. This toughness is how William was able to write his name and details on the biscuit, and he even carved out a section for his photograph without it breaking. William purchased the frame whilst he was serving abroad.

Framed WW1 Hardtack Biscuit belonging to Private William Steel
Photo credits: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum

These hardtack biscuits were often accompanied by other non-perishable foods like canned bully (corned) beef, which soldiers complained was full of fat and gristle. Some soldiers soaked the hardtack biscuits and then fried them in fat whilst others crushed it with the butt of their rifle and added it to stew. Some soldiers joked that these biscuits were so hard that they were not actually intended to be eaten and instead would make excellent hammers, tiles, fuel for fires, and armour against bullets. Some soldiers did put these biscuits to alternative uses, such as photo frames like William’s above, but they were also used for Christmas cards, souvenirs, art, and letters home.

Tin of Lozenges
Photo credits: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum

The image above is of a tin of throat lozenges that was recovered from an archaeological dig of the site of the Battle of Loos, 1915. Along with these lozenges, there was also a section of a tobacco pipe and a regimental shoulder title found in the dig. The objects were found with the unidentified skeleton of a Private whose remains were later given a military funeral and buried in a Commonwealth War Grave Cemetery. There are approximately 34 sweets in this tin.

24-hour Multi Climate Ration Pack Box
Photo credits: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum

The above 24-hour multi climate ration pack box “Menu V5” (British Army Issue), as shown above, is from around 2010-2011 and contains 25 items inside. It was used by members of the 5th Battalion of The Royal Regiment of Scotland (5 SCOTS Balaklava Company). The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders are the antecedent regiment to 5 SCOTS after the merging of Scottish Regiments in 2006. The packs provided essential nutrients needed to stay energized and are designed to be lightweight and easy to carry which makes them ideal for military operations. Below are a few examples of the items inside these packs including sliced pears, mushroom omelette, and a lemon Lucozade drink mix – all of which can be seen below.

24-hour Multi Climate Ration Pack Box
Photo credits: The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Regimental Museum

Written by Caitlin Stewart, Digital Content Volunteer