Four men learn the basics in a Great War era Cooks’ and Bakers’ School, circa 1917

They say an army moves on its stomach and no one understood this more than the U.S. War Department in May 1917. One hundred years ago today the Quartermaster Corps on Governors Island issued a joint statement along with the Navy asking trained cooks to join the ranks. Pay for a trained military cook could come to as much as $45 a  month, or just over $1,100 in today’s dollars. It was not just cooks that were in short supply. Equally scarce were butchers and bakers. Recruiting qualified candidates was no small task. One general estimated in 1918 that a single regiment of a thousand or so men required as many as forty-five trained cooks to keep the unit properly nourished. The general continued that more than 11,000 cooks would be necessary to feed what was becoming the American Expeditionary Forces. It was an immediate problem; people must eat every day and hundred of thousands of men were enlisting across the country.

The Army could train men in the culinary arts as well. Cooks’ and Bakers’ Schools had been a common feature of military barracks in the Regular Army for some time. With the United States now in the war the Army, Navy and Marine Corps were expanding their culinary schools, which were usually a four month program covering the basics of food preparedness. Recruiting food preparers proved slow going and further pleas went out over much of the summer of 1917, usually to little avail. Apparently the men were not interested because they preferred the glory of shouldering a rifle and fighting the Hun than they did the alleged ignominy of ladling soup and potatoes to hungry doughboys.

(image/New York Public Library)