Could you please help me understand the meaning of a poem by Ivor Gurney, an Englishman who fought in the First World War.

From his "Laventie":

Of Maconachie, Paxton, Tickler, and Gloucester’s Stephens;
Fray Bentos, Spiller and Baker, odds and evens
Of trench food, but the everlasting clean craving
For bread, the pure thing, blessed beyond saving.

I highly appreciate your assistance.


1 Answer 1


Maconachie was a tinned stew named after the company which made it; T G Tickler was a Lincolnshire company who made tins of jam and marmalade, Fray Bentos was and is a brand of tinned ("corned" or "bully") beef named after the Uruguayan town where it was originally produced; Spillers and Baker's was a big, British milling company originally from Bridgewater but then with a large mill in Cardiff which is now luxury flats.

All those names were industrial food producers, I can't find any reference to Paxton's or Stephens (although Gurney was once a chorister in Gloucester cathedral) but from the context it would seem that they were large suppliers of tinned or otherwise preserved and packed food to the army.

I suppose that there may be a connection to Spillers dog biscuits and Baker's Complete tinned dog food but I don't really know!

  • Excellent, concise answer!
    – Sven Yargs
    Feb 24, 2021 at 4:38
  • Dear BoldBen Thank you for your kind and precise answer. I still can't understand the latter part, "Of trench food, but the everlasting clean craving For bread, the pure thing, blessed beyond saving" Does the soldier want bread but can't get one and bemoans for the lack of bread?
    – Suzie8
    Feb 24, 2021 at 5:18
  • I don't know what kind of bread they had in the trenches, but no doubt it would be something that would keep a long time, nothing like what we know as 'freshly-baked bread'.
    – Kate Bunting
    Feb 24, 2021 at 8:51
  • @KateBunting There are images on the net of bread being baked during WW1, at least by Germans and Australians, but I suspect that it never made it to the front lines because of the transport difficulties. This would mean that the front line soldiers only had a chance of eating it on their rotations to the rear (I think they rotated every two weeks normally). However I suspect that unappetising alternatives like Huntley and Palmers No 4 were much more commonly available even behind the lines (except for the headquarters of course)
    – BoldBen
    Feb 24, 2021 at 11:31
  • Thank you for your detailed advise,and sorry for my late reply. Your comments help me a lot.
    – Suzie8
    Mar 11, 2021 at 2:55

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