At the start of the Great War soldiers’ canteens in the United Kingdom were run by private contractors on a not for profit basis. As can be imagined this system was open to abuse and in 1915 the Board of Control of Regimental Institutes was set up. Its remit was to:
- To allow no one to supply the troops except approved firms of contractors.
- To fix the retail prices which were to govern the supplies of all contractors.
- To secure a flat rate of rebate of 10 percent from every contractor, or if the contractor had put up his own premises, then 7 ½ percent on his takings.
Despite these safeguards, the systems that had led to the creation of the Board of Control remained and in January 1917 the Army Canteen Committee was set up to oversee and run canteens for soldiers. The Army Canteen Committee took over the business of running canteens from these civilian contractors and it took over and subsumed many civilian contractors, the largest being Messrs R Dickeson & Co. By 1917 the Army Canteen Committee had over 2000 canteens under its control in the UK and it had taken over canteens in Gibraltar, Malta and Egypt. This fork is an example of those used in these canteens:As can be seen it is a ‘banjo back’ fork with the ACC logo in an oval stamped on the handle. Turning it over we can see details of its ownership:The Army Canteen Committee was very short lived, in June 1917 the navy asked to join the system and the committee was renamed the ‘Navy and Army Canteen Board’. This board would eventually become the NAAFI in 1921, still in operation today, providing food and drink to soldiers, sailors and airmen. As can be seen from the small window of operation, we can date the manufacture of the fork to between January 1917 and June 1917.
The picture below shows the staff and customers of the Army Canteen Committee, based in The Kings Hall, Herne Bay in 1917:As can be seen the canteens relied on female labour for much of their work, with the women preparing and serving the food to soldiers. The canteens would have served hot drinks, basic food and supplied sundries like tobacco, boot polish and tooth paste etc. to the soldiers. The image below shows a representative interior of one of these canteens (Albeit it run by the Officers’ Expeditionary Force Canteen) at Le Havre in 1919: