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Crimean texts

[Transcribed by Megan Stevens]

The Times 16 Feb 1855 p 8


Who is there that sits down on one of these bitter mornings to his comfortable breakfast, or returns home to the white tablecloth, the clean-swept hearth, and the close-drawn curtains of his dining-room, who thinks of himself alone at such times, — whose thoughts do not cover in an instant the three thousand miles of sea that divide us from the Crimea, to dwell among the varied scenes of misery which every tent and every hut of our camp contain? We have put forth the whole strength of the nation in order to feed, shelter, and clothe these men, and we have signally failed. We protect them from the icy blast in tents that glowed five-and-forty years ago beneath the burning sun of the Peninsula. We serve out to them green coffee and raw salt pork, without any of the means required for making these materials available for the food of man. Dysentery and scurvy and strange diseases, baffling the art of the physician and the care of the nurse, are the results of this dreadful regimen, the quantity of which is as insufficient as its quality is loathsome and repulsive. Potatoes and onions are sent out for the use of the men, more valuable than their weight in gold to our sickly army, but they cannot be received for want of some commissariat formality, and they rot in salt water, or are plundered by Maltese traders. A cargo of bottled porter is sent from London, but the commissariat is unable to recognize its existence from some defect in the invoice, and so it returns as it went — bottled porter. Nor do we see any reason to expect any improvement in these matters. We have not yet recalled a single official from the scene of his misconduct, and no considerable improvement in the system is perceptible. To get these departments into working order would be in itself a feat more gigantic than to do the work which they have so signally failed to perform. So hopeless, indeed, has the idea of making our officials do the work for which they are paid been considered, that private charity has taken the matter in hand, and felt rather grateful to the commissariat than otherwise for not entirely obstructing its efforts to feed those whom they lead to starvation. This, however, cannot always last, and when Parliament comes to vote the estimates for the army it will probably think it not alien from its duty to inquire whether raw pork and green coffee are all that a generous nation can afford for its bravest defenders. Possibly also some financial DRACO may be led to inquire at what cost this miserable pittance has been doled out to our soldiers, and we are assured by those who have made the calculation that our soldiers are starved and poisoned in the Crimea at a rate of expense not less than one pound a-head per diem. Here is a case, where a remedy is required, and if we are correctly informed, a remedy can be applied. Did it ever occur to any of our readers to consider what would be the result if our commissariat were intrusted with the task of provisioning a steamer like the Great Britain, and carrying two hundred passengers on a voyage hence to Australia? Judging by the manner in which they have succeeded in supplying our troops with the necessaries of life, we can form some idea of the way they would purvey its luxuries, and the rage and discontent which prevail among the passengers when the discovered the irremediable omissions in their dietary scale. Yet there are persons who do these things with such precision that a vessel shall circumnavigate the globe without her passengers being conscious of a single want or omission. Now, it has occurred to us, that although the commissariat could not undoubtedly victual the steamer, it is very possible that those who can do this latter feat might by exercise of the same provision and arrangement be enabled to discharge the duties of the commissariat. That this idea is not wholly visionary will appear from the following statement, with which we have been favoured by a firm of the highest respectability in the provisioning trade, and which we commend to the serious attention of the much-enduring British public.

This firm, then, are prepared to bind themselves in the heaviest penalties which the jealousy of Government can impose to supply to the British army in the present position, or anywhere within two hundred miles of the coast, food consisting of three meals a-day, to be cooked and delivered at the head-quarters of each battalion. The breakfast is to consist of tea, coffee, or cocoa, according to choice, and of fresh-baked bread; the dinner of bread, meat, and potatoes, with a quart of malt liquor, and the ordinary allowance of rum. They undertake to give fresh meat twice a-week, and vegetables besides potatoes. To this is to be added a substantial evening meal. They are willing to bind themselves under the heaviest penalties, not merely for the performance of the contract in general, but for the punctual delivery of every meal to the soldiers. They ask no assistance whatever from the Government for performing this task, except their forbearance and non-interference. They want neither our ships, our horses, our carts, nor our men. They are contented to take the roads as they find them, and to relieve the British soldier from any care or thought for his own maintenance. And this service they are ready to perform at the rate of 3s. 3d. a-head per diem, expressing every confidence that they shall gain at least ninepence a-head by the contract! Observing, also, the miseries suffered by our men from defective tents, they are willing to undertake, for another threepence a-head, to provide our soldiers with excellent tents, to be approved by the commanding officer, and to be replaced whenever disallowed. Thus, for three-and-sixpence a-head per diem is a firm of the most undoubted respectability and solvency willing to undertake, under the most ruinous penalties, to provide our troops with competent food and shelter. A rough calculation will show that, at this rate, an army of 30,000 men might be fed and sheltered for about 1,825,000l. per annum, — a sum which would not only provide our men with that which, with all our machinery of Boards, of transports, of commissariat officers, mules, carts, returns, contracts, vouchers, and invoices, we are not able to do, but would set at liberty the vast amount of shipping now employed in this fruitless and wasteful attempt, and leave us in the undisputed possession of the energies of all our commissariat officers, if we could find any useful purpose to which we could apply them. If the contract were really performed, the saving to the public would be enormous, but the mere pecuniary economy would be nothing, compared with the delight every one in this country would experience in thinking that our soldiers were no longer worse fed than his dogs, and that the richest country in the world was no longer subject to the reproach that, while wallowing herself in abundance, she left her best and bravest to feel the horrors of famine, or feed on food little better than slow poison, and that within seven miles of the sea, of which she boasts to be the mistress. Possibly it might be found, also, that starvation and death are not the necessary and inseparable lot of the poor animals of draught and burden employed in the service of a campaign, and that a contractor might be found who would accomplish what the commissariat found impossible, — the providing them with food, and the sheltering them from the cold. Our national character requires redeeming in the eyes of Europe, and we should rejoice to see that, amid the utter prostration of the administration of war, the energy of individual citizens was capable of restoring to the country that honour of which the weakness of her Government had deprived her.

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