G.I. Dinner, Christmas 1943
Suggested soundtrack for this post: Glenn Miller leads the Band of the Army Air Force Training Command on the “I Sustain the Wings” radio show, December 11, 1943.
Christmas dinner was a highlight of the year for airmen learning meteorology during World War II. Airmen at Chanute Field enjoyed quite a feast on that winter day in 1943, coming amidst civilian rationing and in the wake of the Great Depression. A colorful menu fortuitously preserved gives some idea of what food meant to soldiers during the war.
I found this menu tucked inside a copy of Climate and Man, a 1,248-page behemoth produced by the US Department of Agriculture in 1941. This book described the climate of the United States in relation to food cultivation. It also had several essays that explained how the scientific basis of “modern” weather forecasting lay in studies of the upper air and atmospheric physics. Probably it was used as one of the textbooks in the meteorological training programs conducted by the US Army Air Force Technical Training Command at Chanute Field, in Illinois.
Roger F. Jarvis’s signature on the title page suggests who enjoyed this Christmas Dinner. Jarvis ticked off what he chose from the cornucopia: baked Virginia ham, roast turkey, giblet gravy, sage dressing, snowflake potatoes, buttered garden peas, candied sweet potatoes, buttered corn, Parkerhouse rolls and butter, washed down with hot coffee and fresh milk, and finished with ice cream, mince pie, fruit cake, apples, hard candies, assorted nuts and cigarettes.
“My Christmas dinner,” he noted, “not so bad eh!”
The menu had been folded in thirds to fit into an envelope. Jarvis must have mailed it to someone he was close to. It gave that someone a sense of his wellbeing, far from home amidst the war. They must have saved it and given it back to him when he returned; he kept it in the book he learned from, a valued reminder of a moment of joy during those difficult times.
This menu is just "ephemera," a printed thing designed to be used quickly and thrown away. But read its context, it reveals how food, familiar and plentiful, helped defeat the loneliness and distance imposed by mobilizing to fight a global war.
"Christmas Menu, Chanute Field, 1943." Ephemera, hand notated, probably by Roger F. Jarvis. From the personal collection of Roger Turner.