Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, December 22, 2014

Fortnum & Mason Provisions the Front

Fortnum & Mason Provisions the Front

by Assistant Editor Kimball Worcester

Asked what food typified the Western Front, most students would come up with bully beef or Maconochie's stew. Here is the antithesis of that — the luxury of a Fortnum & Mason hamper, of varying items and quantities, available to be sent to "officers". Presumably the price alone precluded other ranks from ordering these, let alone the social exclusion. Bear in mind that many officers were but of the temporary sort, not necessarily monied as in the traditional prewar days. We show below excerpts of the Fortnum's 1914 catalog, primarily for Christmas —

The 1915 catalog (note the black/white, much sparer look) expanded to include other necessities for frontline existence, including a "Mediterranean" version, presumably for those in the vortex of Gallipoli. Perishables and breakables were kept out of these hampers as much as possible. And by hamper we really mean boxes and crates, since the lovely classic wicker hamper from Fortnum's could hardly stand the ravages of wartime transport and storage. Those boxes were useful empty as well.

1915 Fortnum & Mason Catalog

Included here are parcels of the month, all labeled "January", February", etc. through December. And in another sad new tangent of the war, there is a section of parcels to send to POWs. How many of these actually made it through to their recipients can only be surmised —

After 1915 it is hard to image these abundant catalogs being made use of, or even available, given the escalating lack of food in Britain with the increased U-boat war sinking much-needed imported food. And with official rationing instituted in 1918, this prewar approach to sending treats to the front must have fallen away altogether.

To read through more of these catalog pages and find other Great War historical gems please go to The site owner Ian Houghton graciously gave permission for these to be excerpted. I had not seen his site before, but I recommend it.


  1. That is great stuff, thanks for posting. It makes me hungry just browsing it; as a former officer AND enlisted man, I'd like to think that many officers ordered parcels for distribution to men under their command. Oh, and I'd like a pair of Fortmason boots, too.

  2. When you read through diaries and letters, Fortnum and Mason parcel appears throughout the accounts

  3. I've heard stories of POW Red Cross boxes being pretty substantial not only concerning the contained vittles, but also in their physical construction. It would seem to me that all of the belligerents would want to ensure their safe delivery, as all of them had prisoners taken by the other side that would be subject to reciprocity had any hanky panky occurred. Except the Russians that is, anyone know of any Russian nobility being taken by the Germans or Austria Hungary, otherwise "Forget About It", in Russian of course. Those "Fortmason" boots do look pretty enticing don't they even at £35?

  4. I am archivist at Fortnum & Mason, and am glad that your readers are finding the information useful. It's a small point, but it would have been nice if you and Mr Houghton had asked us for permission to reproduce images that were sent to him for what we understood was private research.
    Dr Andrea Tanner