Illustration of Paul Baumer in a German army uniform with a red background

All Quiet on the Western Front

by Erich Maria Remarque

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In the opening scene of All Quiet on the Western Front, why does Paul's company have extra food to eat?

Paul's company, who are about to go on a lengthy tour of duty, have been sent an extra supply of rations and provisions by the quartermaster. This is because the company has been decimated by casualties in their last tour of duty, so that there is now a great surplus.

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Paul explains that the extra food and provisions which his company is enjoying in the opening scene is a result of "a miscalculation".  He says that fourteen days ago they had been assigned "to go up and relieve the front line".  It had been "fairly quiet" on their sector, so the quartermaster, who had not accompanied the group to the front, had requisitioned "the usual quantity of rations and provided for the full company of one hundred and fifty men".  On the last day of their deployment, however, they were hit by "an astonishing number of English heavies (which) opened up on (them) with high-explosive, drumming ceaselessly on (their) position".  Under the heavy bombardment, the company suffered a huge number of casualties, and "came back only eighty strong".  The group has lost almost half of their fighting men, so there is a great surplus of food and goods available to those who have survived.

This opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the narrative.  Although Paul and his comrades are sensitive and fearful when they first arrive on the battlefield, years of unmitigated horror have hardened them to the vagaries of war.  Delighted with the extra rations of food and cigarettes, the men are described as "satisfied and at peace".  No mention is made of the awful fact that their windfall has been realized because almost half their number are no longer there to share it, having died bloodily on the field of battle (Chapter 1).

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