I Was There! - They Bake 1,000 Loaves a Day for Invasion Craft
Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, Allied Naval C.-in-C., has sent a message of congratulation to the men in the landing ships engaged in the vitally important work of building up supplies in Normandy. Here is the story of one of these little ships – a Landing Barge Kitchen – by a Naval reporter.
We found her amid a huddle of ships on a Normandy beach when the tide was out – a queer, top-heavy-looking craft surmounted by a battery of galley chimneys. At some time in her career she had been a Thames lighter. But now, equipped with twin rudders, twin screws and engines which will drive her through the water at twelve knots, she is the Sailors' Joy. Officially this strange craft is one of ten L.B.K.s – Landing Barge Kitchens – which are providing hot meals for the men in hundreds of small craft which are helping to ferry supplies from the ships to the Normandy beaches.
The mud exposed hereabouts at low tide does not always smell pleasantly, but this afternoon the L.B.K. is baking bread for six hundred men. Mud or no mud, this spot smells good to one who knows hard compo biscuits. The C.O., wearing a white pullover and flannel trousers, was walking around his craft. He was critically examining the work of the crew, who were giving the hull a new coat of white paint. The C.O. is Midshipman J. S. McIntyre, R.N.V.R., of Berwick-on-Tweed. He is nineteen and very proud of his first command.
"This is definitely an occasion for painting ship", he said. "We have a reputation to maintain; already we have been recommended for our accounts, for the cleanliness of the ship and the high standard of the food we serve. Our complement is 25 men, including thirteen cooks, nine seamen and three stokers. Until recently we supplied, every day and in all weathers, hot meals for 500 to 700 men. Now we are baking 1,000 lb. of bread a day. Our last dinner was served to 600 men. On the menu were roast pork, cabbage and baked potatoes, followed by fruit and custard. Among the craft we supply are L.C.M.s, L.C.V.(P.)s and supply and repair barges." That is a considerable achievement for thirteen cooks, among them men who until recently were a miner, a bricklayer, and a factory hand. The Commanding Officer invited us on board.
Hungry line up for a hot meal at the serving hatch of a L.B.K. – landing barge kitchen – whose achievements in feeding the crews of small craft busy about the Normandy beaches are recounted here. Photo, British Official.
We found a ship spotlessly clean, a floating kitchen in which was installed the most up-to-date equipment, including oil-fired ranges, automatic potato peelers and refrigerators. Pots and pans were polished until they shone. In a rack on the starboard side were scores of golden loaves, still warm from the ovens. The Chief Cook, Petty Officer R. F. White, of Shepperton, Surrey, has had immense experience in field bakeries and kitchens. He took part in the Africa landing and was later in the Sicily operations. He appreciates the splendid work of his present shipmates.
"Except for two leading cooks I do not believe any of them had been afloat before D-Day", he said. "The weather then was so bad that we lost both rudders and had to turn back. All but five of the crew were seasick, for we were rolling until the decks were awash." The Landing Barge Kitchen in one of the most popular ships in the armada off the Normandy coast.
On a calm night, when ships come alongside, more than one hundred and twenty craft have called for the insulated canister of steaming meat and vegetables, and safari jars of soup, coffee or tea. In rough weather the squadron leaders organize the distribution of the food to their own craft. The Kitchen is always busy, for it must be prepared to supply hot meals at any time.
"During the gale, when we were dragging our anchor nearly to the beach, and we were constantly being shelled by enemy batteries, the cooking still went on", said Petty Officer White. "We had many near misses. One shell dropped five yards away and peppered the meat safe with shrapnel. We are a lucky ship. There were no casualties. During all that time we victualled the Army or anyone who came on board. These ships are fitted out to carry about a week's supply of food for 800 men." Petty Officer White is particularly proud of one fact. During the whole of one month – June – corned beef was issued for only one supper, and then it was disguised as cottage pie.
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