Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Value of the Rum Ration

Had it not been for the rum ration I do not think we should have won the war. 
1922 parliamentary testimony on shell shock

Standard One-Gallon Rum Jar for the British Forces
 S.R.D.-Special Red Demerara, 86-proof Jamaican Rum

Although all but ignored in the official military records, rum, as well as the canteens, estaminets, cigarettes, letters, and trench newspapers, was essential to the trench soldier. It was these small comforts that affected the individual in the firing line; grand operational plans mattered far less. Rum was overflowing in both song and poem and played an essential role in the life of most trench soldiers: by raising morale; by helping men to cope with the strain of war; by being employed as a medicine; by being offered as a reward; and finally, by reinforcing the hierarchy of the army and the masculinity in soldiers. 

Taking Their Ration in a Trench

By examining the many uses of rum, a window into understanding the often neglected trench culture of the individual soldier is provided. Viewed in this way, rum was a complex and multi-layered tool for morale. Equally important, "Demon Rum" was the soldiers' tool and without it, the common men who made up the soldiers' profession – the bankers, clerks and farmers, who put down their pens and ploughs for rifles – might have collapsed under the terrible strain, both physical and psychological, of trench warfare.

Under the spell of this all-powerful stuff, one almost felt that he could eat a German dead or alive, steel helmet and all.
Canadian Soldier

Source: “More a Medicine than a Beverage”: “Demon Rum” and the Canadian Trench Soldier of the First World War
Tim Cook, Canadian War Museum


  1. Anyone know what brand it was? Is it available today?

  2. Here's one poem that mentions rum in a very grateful way:

    If anyone knows of others, I'd love to hear of them!

  3. Here's another blog about it too.

  4. From the blog above... "The rum ration held a special place in the hearts of Commonwealth soldiers during and after the war. In 1922, a Black Watch medical officer claimed that “had it not been for the rum ration I do not think that we should have won the war.” I think after seeing the horrors - REAL horrors - as a frontline soldier, they needed to find courage and release where ever they could. And without rum, the incidence of shell shock would have been much higher.