Food history: what did the Czechoslovak Legion eat during WWI?
The soldiers' diaries and postcards are mainly about food...
As you may happen to know, many Czechoslovaks (and other fellows like the Polish) decided not to fight on the Central Powers' side and help The Triple Entente during WWI. Their contribution to the winning of the war is definitely worth mentioning.
We have many accounts of the everyday life of the soldiers. And to be honest, most of the time they had nothing to do. So, they wrote diaries and postcards – and it turns out that they wrote mainly about food.
So what did they actually eat?
The most common dish was a kind of porridge, usually a kasha (made from buckwheat). It's still a typical food in Russia (where most of the legion fought) and Ukraine. In the Czech Republic it's an uncommon dish; you will barely encounter it and probably won't find it in a restaurant. However, a record in a diary says that it used to be a well known dish for the Czechs.
Then there were soups. In the best case, it was a typical Russian soup, borscht, which you may know is made from beetroot. As kasha, it's still typical in eastern countries. In the Czech Republic it's often offered in restaurants, but in most cases it isn't a proper borscht (mainly because, for some strange reason they put vinegar in it).
In areas with bad supplies, it was of course different. The soups were thin and made from basically nothing. They could be made from a fish head – or worse, from a mouse. The soldiers revolted against it, but sometimes there was simply nothing else to eat. The Russian term for that kind of soup is balanda, and it's used especially when talking about the Gulag camps. Apart from a piece of bread, it was the only that thing prisoners were given.
This is an excerpt from the diary of a soldier living in relatively good conditions: "The lunch was simple, well, military. Borscht, a Russian soup, without cream, but tasty. Some beef on a stick and some dark porridge. I was looking at it for a moment and thinking from which plant it might be... The answer was simple, it was just a porridge well known in our east Moravia, called kasha."
Here's an excerpt from the diary of a soldier enduring poor conditions: "You had to find the meat in your soup. One evening I brought a bit of soup and Ondra started searching for a piece of meat... He found something. It was dark so he didn't see what it was and put it in his mouth, but immediately spit it out and shook. 'Damn, Adam, the meat is furry!'... He grabbed a match to take a look at the furry meat. The he started to swear because he found out that the cooks have put a mouse in it."
Let me know in the comments if you want more articles about what the Czechoslovak Legion ate during WWI – because they were eating many other interesting things, too.