They say an army marches on its stomach - perhaps a navy sails on its?

Food is certainly a universal. Shared with others, it's a kind of bond, whether the meal is good or bad. Good eating is also a pleasure we all have strong opinions about, which is half the fun. But sometimes the best memories go with culinary disasters we've shared and learned to laugh about.

These recollections of the culinary concoction known to sailors as "red lead and bacon" are courtesy of two interesting websites. Also featured are interviews with people who ate the Navy way, and those who know what it was like to dish it out, day after day.

A cartoonist's take on a Navy staple called 'red lead and bacon'The first reminiscence of red lead and bacon, a gastronomic staple in the diet of war and post-war Naval personnel, comes via Jerry Proc's Internet site about naval radio operations during World War II . You can find this site at the follow link for The Web Pages of Jerry Proc - http://jproc.ca.

"For those aboard ship, the memories of good or bad food will always stay with them. There were several dishes which acquired unique names. The first was red lead and bacon, a concoction of tomatoes and bacon. Sometimes the bacon was not cooked thoroughly, which made the meal very unappetizing.

"Next was hardtack, a very tough biscuit which had to be softened in a hot beverage such as tea or coffee before it could be consumed. It was reputed to be a cure for sea sickness and actually helped some individuals. Last, but not least, was a hot food sometimes served during inclement weather. It was called canned afterbirth and consisted of a mixture of canned tomatoes and stale bread. Believe it or not, many of the ratings actually liked it.

"A favourite beverage among the crew was known as kye. This was a delightful hot drink made from great slabs of chocolate and was a welcome treat during the night watches."

The second "red, lead and bacon" remembrance is from recollections of HMCS SACKVILLE veterans:

"Once in a while, however, a depth charge would be used for a different purpose; one would be thrown into a school of fish to provide the men with fresh fish to eat for supper, a welcome change from the 'red, lead, and bacon' (canned tomatoes, hardtack, and bacon) served when other food supplies were unreachable in stormy seas, and an action which served to lighten the hearts of the men and solidify their team.."

Cooks were important people on any ship, and they could play a key role in making it a happy ship. During the war this was terribly important. The stories of two veterans who once cooked for the Navy are recalled by this interviewer:

"The Navy was dreadfully short of cooks during the Second World War and my man here in Edmonton was snapped up like crazy because he adapted quickly to cooking under all circumstances.

"The recruiters would often tell men that the only trades they had open were Cook and Stoker, and then proceed to discourage recruits by saying things like: "It's hot and noisy down there." etc. etc.

"My man was NOT ALLOWED to go out onto the North Atlantic in any kind of vessel. He was kept in barracks cooking there; then lured on to an examination vessel at the entrance to Halifax harbour, where all incoming civilian ships were inspected; and later drafted to HMCS AVALON in St.John's, where he cooked in two galleys. Officers always had the benefit of his skills, so you can guess why he didn't get to sea.  

"Near the end of the war he was to go to HMCS NIOBE. When he got there for a sea draft, the war was winding down and once again he was kept in barracks cooking for the ship's company there.

"Another man wanted to get into the Navy in 1938 as a Stoker but the Navy wanted cooks so finally, in 1939 he joined as a cook. He was sent to a shore draft without any training at all but three short order cooks taught him the trade."

Christmas aboard HMCS CAYUGA, Korean War period.Ed Chadwick of the Chief & POs Association in Esquimalt remembers mess deck living, and how meal duties were shared:

"I have decided to write about the joys of messdeck living in my first two ships, specifically broadside messing. Broadside messing was designed by the Royal Navy and then of course adopted by our navy. Its purpose was to feed and house men - most certainly not officers - in the most uncomfortable and cheapest way possible. An important side benefit of this system was not to allow men enough idle time to sit around and foment mutiny. 

"In the messdeck of my first ship, HMCS ONTARlO, there were about six tables on our side of the ship. Each table was a numbered mess. In my mess (#72), there were about eight men. Four or five of them were wartime re-entries. 

"You dined at your mess table with food carted won from the galley in trays and jugs. Cutlery, plates and cups were stowed in the mess.

"Carting of food, washing up and scrubbing out were carried out by mess members according to watch rotation. The leading hand of the mess was excused from these duties.

"An example of this routine is as follows: forenoon watchmen drew breakfast from the galley and put on a pot of coffee; morning watchmen after coming off watch had their meal, then did the dishes and scrubbed out the mess before turning to at 0930; afternoon watchmen drew the noon meal and forenoon watchmen did the washing up. This routine carried on through the day.

"One positive side of this routine is that you depended on one another to exist and all shared in these menial duties. Pity the poor soul who failed to do his task such as drawing a meal on time or dumped the mess cutlery down the gash chute."