Picture Postcards from the Great War
1914-1918

The story behind a Great War postcard  -  Tony Allen

(11) The rum ration

ww1 postcard The Rum Ration

This card was published by 'M. & I., Ltd.' in its "National Series" and on 22nd May was mailed from Cattrick Camp to an address in Gateshead.

The title on this card reads “NAPOO”. The origin is the French phrase “iln’y ena plus” meaning, ‘There is (are) no more’, ‘Gone’, ‘Finished’, ‘Done’ and ‘Used up’.  Distribution of the rum ration was usually strictly controlled and it was unlikely that a private soldier would have access to the rum jar as depicted on this card, except of course if he was trying to squeeze the last drop from a discarded jar!

 

A rum jar held 1 gallon - enough for 64 men. Each man got approximately one third of a pint each week. On the side of the jar were stamped the intiials "S.R.D." thought to stand for “Service Rations Depot” or “Service Reserve Depot”. Soldiers however, said they stood for “Seldom Reaches Destination”, “Soon Runs Dry” and ”Seldom Rarely Delivers”.

Introduced in the winter of 1914, the rum ration was initially given to soldiers to combat the chill and damp  of the trenches.  In the winter of 1914-15 a war correspondent wrote, “Rum rations are by now probably served out to all sections of our Flanders troops. They were started in some divisions, I know, in November. Some people at home feel very uncomfortable about the small rum ration that the troops receive. Almost every man I have met who has served during the winter is in favour of it. A few convinced teetotalers use it to rub their feet ! To most men the drink comes as a glow of light and warmth.”



In the front line, rum was issued twice a day - at dawn and at dusk. An unknown subaltern said the following, “There are men so devout they live for rum. I honestly believe some I know would commit suicide if the rum ration were withdrawn. And in truth the rum is good - fine, strong, warming stuff - the very concentrated essence of army-council wisdom.”

Despite the perceived benefits of the Rum Ration there were still attempts by some temperance societies to have it withdrawn. But there were many army officers who considered it a good thing and said so.  For example, Captain Alexander Stewart expressed an even more stronger view than that voiced by the above mentioned war correspondent. He said, “The finest thing that ever happened in the trenches was the rum ration, and never was it more needed than on the Somme. Yet some blasted, ignorant fool of a general - damned in this world and the next - wanted to stop it and, for a time, did. The man must be worse than the lowest type of criminal, have no knowledge of the conditions in which troops exist, and be entirely out of touch with the men who are unfortunate enough to have him as their commander. He should have been taken up to the line and frozen in the mud. I would have very willingly sat on his head, as he was a danger to the whole army. Curse him. Those who have not spent a night standing or sitting or lying in mud with an east wind blowing and the temperature below freezing may think that I am extravagant in my abuse of the man who denied the soldiers their rum rations. Those who have will know I am too temperate. “

Rum was also offered to men detailed on unpleasant tasks such as recovering and burying bodies, those about to undertake a trench raid and of course to give 'Dutch courage' to men about to go ‘over the top’.

 

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