There were two nearby camps, one houses displaced persons, mainly from Eastern Europe, while the other housed former German prisoners.
We were subjected to routine cooking and consumption of such by the Army Catering Corps (ACC). We would file into the Cookhouse where we formed into a single-line queue. Plates were piled high before a counter, each, in turn, took a plate. We shuffled along the counter behind which, and elevated some two feet off the ground, there was a small team of what were then known as “G.D. wallahs” (General Duties). Each was responsible for meting out of a single item on the menu. One for potatoes, one for meat, one for vegetables and one for gravy.
In front of them was a rail on which they were able to bang their ladles in order to remove the last vestige of food from them before they took another dip in the tub.
On this particular day, one of our fellows, while shuffling in the line, turned to speak to his friend behind. In so doing, he lifted his plate higher than the rail. Down came the dollop of potatoes and the ladle went right through his plate.
What a mess. The victim, without a second glance or a word, turned and got another plate and rejoined the queue while continuing his conversation.
Eventually, some of the Germans were allocated to our cookhouse. It was evident from the start that they were skilled chefs and they made considerably better meals with the food available than had our cooks from The Army Catering Corps.
My colleague at that time was one Harold Jolly who spoke fluent German. He had been interned in Switzerland for the duration of the war. He would talk to the Germans and sometimes help them with advice. In return he, and I, would get some favours with our food. They made beautiful gateau with chocolate topping, something that I am sure the A.C.C. were never taught.
I was based at Bicester for over two years and, on one night, I was told to take my turn in charge of the Guard on the main gate. It never happened again.
It was mid-winter and very cold, in the guard house we had a huge pot-belly stove burning almost red hot.
On arrival, some of the men were old hands and I asked them what we did about food. I was told that we had to go to the cookhouse to collect it.
Three of us went to the cookhouse. We were expected.
The duty cook said “You need a bucket of tea”. He then produced a gleaming stainless steel bucket in which he threw several handfuls of tea from a large tea chest.
Then he rotated the drum of boiling water to fill up the bucket. He then grabbed a can of Carnation milk, produced a bayonet, stabbed each end and then threw the can of milk into the bucket. “There you go” he said, “and don’t forget your food”.
He handed us a tray about two foot square and five inches deep. It looked like it had a covering of fat on the top of its contents. “Are we supposed to eat that ?” said I “Just put in the stove for about fifteen minutes”.
We had to eat that or go without. Back in the guardhouse we placed the tray on the stove and waited, and watched. The layer of fat turned out to be paper thin and then the feast was revealed. Baked beans in a wonderful tomato sauce, large pieces of chopped prime ham and pork sausages made up the rest of the ingredients.
“Eat your words, Harold” !
Next chapter: Chapter 27: Lunch Hours in post-war London