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Rum, Port and Beer: called booze or grog

It is not recorded how popular/unpopular these were.

These cans of Aussie beer were from a Tribute to the WW2 Veterans series.

They all carry the "Thanks for the Freedom" message.

A WW1 rum jar. S.R.D. Rum,  from Supply Reserve Depot (possibly any one of the alternatives below in blue ), the inscription found on rum-jars 

  • Services Rum Diluted 

  • Service Ration Depot

  • Special Red Demerara

  • Standard Rum; Diluted

  • "Seldom Reaches Destination"

  • "Soon Runs Dry"

  • "Seldom or Rarely Delivered"

 Since earliest times the troops have been offered a measure of alcohol for various reasons.

Finding two 'experts' that can agree on the details is more difficult than getting my wife to agree that I should play more golf.

What I have done is reproduce several of the reports so that we may get somewhere close to the truth.

What we do know is this. Diggers on active service now are entitled to 2 cans of beer per man per day, to be consumed at a time of the CO's choosing so that it does not interfere with efficiency.

The troops call it ...

  • 2 cans per man, 

    • per day, 

      • perhaps.

This "celebration" Tawny port is named for the Vietnamese battalion D445 which was the major adversary of the Australians & Kiwis in Viet Nam.

D445 was a major player at Long Tan.

It was bottled at the "Baria Laundry".

WW1 British Rum ration Jug; 1½ gallon capacity heavy crockery jug bearing the initials S.R.D. which stood for "Service Ration Depot". (or as the front-line troops would claim; "Seldom or Rarely Delivered", "Soon Runs Dry" "Standard Rum; Diluted" and so on...) Having been utilized by the tens of thousands, these jugs littered the western front during the post war years. They still turn up at flea markets and junk shops in North-west France and Belgium.

Some beer was produced as being for "H.M. Forces only"

Some was produced for Anniversaries

  • 3 different draught beer labels of beer made for ships of the New Zealand Navy



From the earliest days of sail, men have had need of liquid during voyages. The most readily available were water and beer. As there was no method of distillation, water was taken on board and stored in casks, to be replaced at the end of the voyage or at ports of call. Beer was also stored in casks and the ration for seamen was a gallon a day. Water would quickly develop algae and turn slimy, and beer would turn sour. So the custom was to drink the beer before it soured and then turn to water. Stale water could be sweetened to make it more palatable, and was often sweetened with beer or wine. As the British Empire grew and longer voyages became more common, the problem of spoilage and shortages increased.

The origin of grog lies with Vice-Admiral William Penn, father of the founder of Pennsylvania, during his campaign for Cromwell in the Indies. In 1655 Penn arrived in Barbados and captured Jamaica. Unfortunately Jamaica had few stores of beer or wine. Jamaica did, however, have rum. Penn, therefore, began the use of rum as a ration.

In the seventeenth century, an early form of rum was known as "rumbustion." In Elizabeth 1's time, privateers and pirates traded in rum, and it was a liquor well-known to sailors. After 1655, as the Indies became an increasingly popular port, the use of rum increased. Although it became common, rum was not part of the "Regulations and Instructions Relating to His Majesty's Service at Sea" until 1731 at which time a half a pint of rum was made equal to the provision of a gallon of beer. In the early days this was specific only to ships in the West Indies, and rum was not diluted.(1)

Vice-Admiral Edward Vernon is known as the father of grog. Vernon was a noted seaman, and victorious at Porto Bello, but he was a constant critic of the Admiralty and a supporter of better conditions aboard ships. He derided pressment and advocated better treatment of sailors. His sailors gave him the name of "Old Grog" because of a waterproof boat cloak he wore. (Grogam being a thick material that was a combination of silk, mohair and wool which was often stiffened with gum.)

By Vernon's time straight rum was commonly issued to sailors aboard ship - and drunkenness and lack of discipline were common problems. On August 21, 1740, Vernon issued an order that rum would thereafter be mixed with water. A quart of water was to be mixed with a half-pint of rum on deck and in the presence of the Lieutenant of the Watch. Sailors were to be given two servings a day, one between 10 and 12 AM and the other between 4 and 6 PM. To make it more palatable it was suggested sugar and lime be added. In 1756 the mixture of water and rum became part of the regulations, and the call to "Up Spirits" sounded aboard Royal Navy ships for more than two centuries thereafter.

If the use of grog was common practice, the mixture was anything but standard. Vernon ordered a quarter of water to a half a pint of rum (four to one), others ordered three to one, and Admiral Keith later issued grog at five to one. Seamen mixed their grog by compass points. Due North was pure rum and due West water alone. WNW would therefore be one third rum and two thirds water, NW half and half, etc. If a seaman had two "nor-westers," he'd had two glasses of half rum and half water. 

Rum acquired the nickname "Nelson's Blood" after Trafalgar (1805). To preserve Lord Nelson's body, it was placed in a barrel of rum. Legend has it that when the sailor's learned of this, they drank the rum. From that time on, grog was also known as "Nelson's Blood."

Grog did not solve the problem of lack of discipline. In 1823 the Admiralty conducted an experiment cutting the daily rum ration in half, to one quarter pint (gill). In compensation they issued tea and cocoa, increased pay two shillings a month. In 1824 the experiment became permanent with the added bonus of an increased meat ration. However, as a gill at that time was equal to four double whiskies today, it was still a very strong mix. 

In 1850 the Admiralty's Grog Committee, which had been appointed to investigate problems associated with the ration, released a report which confirmed the relationship between drunkenness and discipline problems, and recommended the ration be eliminated altogether. As before, they recommended giving seamen compensation by way of increased pay. However, Effective January 1, 1851, the Admiralty rather than ending the rum ration, merely decreased it. The rum ration became one half gill, or one eighth of a pint. Because of the decrease in amount, an effort was made to improve the quality. Rum brokers experimented with blending and blending formulas eventually became closely guarded secrets. 

Although the American Navy ended the rum ration on September 1, 1862, the ration continued in the Royal Navy. However, toward the end of the nineteenth century temperance movements were beginning to change the attitude toward drink. The days of grog were slowly coming to an end. Finally, on January 28, 1970 the "Great Rum Debate" took place in the House of Commons, and July 30, 1970 was "Black Tot Day," the last pipe of "Up Spirits" in the Royal Navy.

Did rum have any medicinal value? Read what the R S Melloy, Armourer Sergeant of the 42nd Battalion AIF had to say in his book "Time Will Tell". (Melloy served in both wars and became a very successful businessman in Brisbane Queensland)

I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was blown up with a 5.9 shell: the impact parted me from my gas mask. I was unprotected when Fritz sent over the gas. I inhaled phosgene. For some days afterwards, my lungs felt as though they were being continuously ripped apart by barbed wire. Breathing was agony. The medics in the Casualty Clearing Station gave me a dose of something like phenyle which they said was to counter the worst effects of the gas. I took it.

Shell-shock also got me. The shakes were uncontrollable. Our medical officer, "Doc" Thompson, said I was a "Blighty" case - pretty bad. I pleaded with him. I didn't want to leave my Battalion. He said I had been too young, and never should have left home at all. Doc Thompson was like a kindly uncle. He was obviously fraught and frustrated by the senselessness of it all. I know this now, looking back. Then, it didn't matter. Didn't make any difference at all. Here I was, and here I wanted to stay. The doctor went away, and returned a short time later:

  • "Here, drink this," he said, not unkindly.
    • I tried to raise the brimming mug to my lips.
  • "You can't even hold a mug, let alone a rifle".
    • "Doc, this is rum. I don't drink."
  • 'Well, you do now. Just drink it!". More firmly, this time.

I did as I was told, and lay down on the stretcher. Twenty-four hours later, I awoke from a deep sleep. I wasn't shaking. Doc Thompson was standing over me, grinning: "Right, my fine lad, you're on a special daily issue from now on. If you insist on staying, that will be your medicine." Well, I have stayed so long, that I am still around to write this in my nineties! And I have been taking my medicine - like a good boy - ever since!

That was to prove the least troublesome part of my recuperation. Like the saying that if one chooses one's parents aright, one will live a long and healthy life, the same maxim holds true for choosing one's doctor. I was fortunate that Doctor Thompson came from Bundaberg, the Queensland town famed for the growth of sugar cane and the production of dark rum. He was able to prescribe what was actually folk medicine. It worked and I am grateful. Others also believed that rum actually did have curative powers:

"The gas was phosgene, and we were all sick, choking, when the QM arrived with rum. We swallowed some and the fumes of the rum and gas made us horribly sick and we vomited most of the gas out. After a couple of hours we only had a bad headache and didn't go out of action. Rum is the best cure for phosgene gas, but no good for other kinds".


This "action" took place due south of Sailly-le-Sec and 3.75km SSW of le Hamel.  

Captain FC Russell,  AIF 

Villers Bretonneux had been captured by the 15th Australian Brigade on Anzac Day, 1918. The Germans were in there. They'd advanced down and they were within fifteen kilometers, looking right down on Amiens, straight down, and that's a fairly big city. Just on fifteen  kilometers, within gun range. They didn't have any heavy guns to shell it from there. 

They were firing big long-range guns from further back, lobbing only occasional big shells in Amiens and doing a bit of damage.   Of necessity, we couldn't tolerate this because while they could shell  Amiens they could interfere with the railway service which terminated in Amiens. So the 15th Brigade, they divided — half went to the left, half went to the right — round the back of Villers Bretonneux, and did it at night, and, and, by Jove! They met head on. 

The road went straight through Villers Bretonneux and they met on that road. They had great fun there. One place there was a Winery, and the Fritzes had found it and it was full of Germans, drunk as owls. Our fellows got in with them. It finished up with Australians and Germans drunk as owls together.  Up to their knees in wine in Villers Bretonneux. 

Then the heads said, 'Where's everybody got to?' They suddenly discovered this Winery and went in, and here was this spectacle. The Fritzes were dragged out by their feet, drunk as lords, and they finished up in the prisoners’ compound.  The police had to come and put a guard on this place and that was the end of that.  Then they mopped up the town.  The line finished just about half a mile beyond Villers Bretonneux.  They never got any further.  The Fritzes never did get Amiens.

This is how the Canadians saw it.

Another, more down to earth morale-booster was the daily rum ration.

Canadian infantryman Ralph Bell wrote that, "when the days shorten, and the rain never ceases; when the sky is ever gray, the nights chill, and trenches thigh deep in mud and water; when the front is altogether a beastly place, in fact, we have one consolation. It comes in gallon jars, marked simply SRD." That SRD was army-issued Services Rum Diluted or Special Red Demerara (there is some difference of opinion on what the letters stood for), and it became an institutionalized part of the ritual of enduring the war.

Rum and other spirits had long formed part of the daily issue of the British soldier and sailor on campaign. During the South African War, where Canadian troops fought under British command, they received a rum ration consisting of 1/2 gill (less than half a pint), three times per week. When the 1st Canadian Infantry Division arrived in France in February 1915, its units were apprenticed to British veterans already in the line. In the process of learning how to survive on the Western Front, they were again introduced to the rum ration.

Rum was used as a combat motivator, a medicine, and as part of the reward system. An examination of the multiple uses of rum in battle provides insight into the collective lives of these soldiers. As a nuanced tool in supporting morale, it produced results to the point that it was perhaps not surprising that more than one soldier remarked: "If we hadn't had our rum, we would have lost the war."

Life in the trenches was nasty and often short. Summer months were spent in sweltering heat, with rotting corpses and flies. Winter carried its own trials, with mud and freezing water saturating the trenches. The squalor broke men down. It was as unnatural a way to live as having people you have never met attempt to kill you each day. With their apocalyptic landscapes, battlefields like the Somme in 1916 and Passchendaele in 1917 were veritable wastelands.

M.A. Searle of the 18th Cdn. Battalion was one of the infantrymen ordered to hold the dissolving ground at Passchendaele and he frankly recounted: "Most of us carried on...because of not limitless but more than ordinary issues of rum."

Fighting in the same mud, Private G. Boyd of the 8th Bn. remembered that "if we had not had the rum we would have died."

Rum was initially given to men at the dawn stand-to and stand-down at dusk. As these were the expected times for an enemy attack, the whole forward unit was called out to wait with rifles at the ready. If no attack came, sergeants doled out two ounces of the over-proof rum to each man. The practice of stand-to faded out in the second year of the war when both sides were aware that the other was on high alert, but the rum ration remained.

Regulations ordered that it was to be drunk in the presence of an officer or non-commissioned officer so no hoarding could be done, with any extra rum to be poured out into the mud. In reality though, not a lot of rum went into the dirt, with friends of the NCOs and old hands generally benefiting. As one official memorandum noted, "the individual man is in all cases free to refuse the issue of rum if he so desires, but this option is only exercised in a few instances."

If the soldiers found the rum invaluable, so too did the officers. The issue of rum to soldiers reinforced the hierarchal nature of the armies that was so integral to their success. A few lead, many follow. In the unparalleled slaughter of World War I, discipline and hierarchy were essential. Soldiers rarely questioned orders, even seemingly suicidal ones. Punishment and discipline were the main deterrents for potential troublemakers, but rum also played a role in reinforcing this hierarchy. The clay rum jars were issued to the battalions, with each quartermaster dividing it out to the companies. Men who were under punishment were excluded. Those who were in the good books lined up and the more senior ranking men moved down the line doling out the precious liquid.

Each soldier waited for his share, all the while aware that it was the higher-ranking soldier who divided up the portions, giving a little more or less depending on his whim. Indeed, the politics of power were essential in all armies and the rum issue helped to support them.

Rum was also useful as a depressant. While in the trenches, soldiers were chronically sleep-deprived. One American who served in the Canadian Corps recounted in a postwar novel: "Sleep, sleep--if only we could sleep. Our faces become gray. Each face is a different shade of gray. Some are chalk-colored, some with a greenish tint, some yellow. But all of us are pallid with fear and fatigue."

The rum ration helped as a sedative, a "warming elixir" as one trench soldier described it, and its potency could knock men out for hours, notwithstanding the cold or heat, the lice or rats, and the constant pounding of the big guns.

There was a need to continually shore up defences at night or to protect the front lines by patrolling and raiding. As a result, extra rum was one of the few rewards for men who went beyond the call of duty. Patrolling and raiding in no man's land were dangerous assignments. These raids, normally carried out by parties of anywhere between a handful and several hundred, were designed to win control of the battlefield, gather intelligence, provide battle craft experience, and, obviously, to kill the enemy. Upon carrying out their raids, survivors were rewarded with a mug of rum.

Other strenuous tasks like carrying wounded men through miles of mud or repairing crumbling trenches also made a soldier a candidate for a late-night liquid issue. Particularly ghastly work like grave digging was among the worst of the soldier's fatigues. Private Ernest Spillett of the 46th Bn. wrote in a 1917 letter about having to clear up the corpses from the battalion's last tour: "I am used to these sights they don't have to prime me with rum before I can handle a man; although' I have and do certainly drink it sometimes on those jobs but usually afterwards, to take the taste of dead men out of my mouth."

After the disastrous campaigns of 1915, the British concluded that the infantry could only pass through the killing ground of no man's land by advancing behind massive artillery barrages. Still, the barrages never annihilated all the defenders, and one machine-gunner was enough to wreak murderous havoc.

With hours and even days of artillery bombardments "softening" the enemy defences, the worst time on the front was waiting for zero hour. As minutes ticked down on synchronized watches, men fiddled with final adjustments, prayed, and gripped their rifle stocks with sweating hands.

Sergeant Archie McKinnon of the 58th Bn., wrote to his sister that "after a three-hour artillery bombardment, when you finally get the word 'Over top in one minute,' your heart comes clean out of your mouth." Many must have felt as if they were waiting for their own executions.

"We were all scared...but there was a job to do and you had to do it. The thing to do was to try and hide it from the others and not let fellows know you're scared, " recounted Sergeant James Page of the 42nd Bn. That was not always easy, but George Bell of the 1st Bn. recorded that "a good stiff 'tot' of rum served to buck up the spirits of those wavering."

Officers and NCOs went up and down the forward firing line to calm men with a greeting and a ladle of rum, beyond the normal ration. Even the generals far from the front realized the importance of giving artificial stimulants to their warriors. Operational orders for the Canadian Corps' attack on Vimy Ridge, for instance, declared that "the comfort, efficiency and fighting value of the troops are greatly increased by the issue of fortified alcohol...."

Some operations succeeded while others failed, but all had terrible casualties. The ebb and flow of battle meant that soldiers attacked and were, in turn, counter-attacked. The wounded were left behind as flotsam. During and after battle, those wounded men who could walk struggled to the rear; but those who could not, called out in pain or waited as stretcher-bearers braved enemy fire, administering to them in turn.

When soldiers were found, wounds were bound and a shot of rum poured down throats to lessen the pain. Those who survived the agonizing hours until they made it back to a casualty clearing station or a field ambulance were once again given painkillers like rum, port or morphine before a hasty medical operation.

Yet rum had medicinal uses other than for treating casualties and it was frequently used in a preventive role. If one is to believe the soldiers, rum helped to quell the rampant flu and colds that circulated. In addition, rum was valuable in cases of emotional trauma. One soldier declared in his postwar memoirs: "There are not one, but numberless occasions, on which a tot of rum has saved a man from sickness, possibly from a serious illness. Many a life-long teetotaler has conformed to SRD and taken the first drink of his life on the battlefields of France, not because he wanted to, but because he had to."

Fortifying men with alcohol was not always the best policy, however. Soldiers high on rum could lose their head on the battlefield and get themselves unnecessarily wounded or killed. "Under the spell of this all-powerful stuff," wrote one Canadian, "one almost felt that he could eat a German, dead or alive, steel helmet and all." For that very reason, rum was sometimes withheld before battle. Once again, it depended on the officers and units. That policy did not always sit well with the expectant soldiers and one draft of rough lumbermen from northern British Columbia threatened a 54th Bn. officer when he tried to withhold their rum before battle. They got their rum, and he, as recounted years later in an interview, learned not to meddle with their ration.

As the issue of rum was left to the prerogative of commanding officers and medical officers, it placed an important agent in their hands. If the CO was a teetotaler, then the men might get lime juice and pea soup instead of rum.

One of the Canadian Corps' most attack-oriented commanders, or a 'fire-eater' in the parlance of the time, was Victor Odlum, commanding officer of the 7th Bn. and then the 11th Brigade. With a missionary background, Odlum refused to issue rum to his troops. Nicknamed "Old Lime Juice" by his men, in the words of E.L.M. Burns, then a junior officer, but a general in the next war, his temperance stance "got minus zero in the front-line opinion polls." Mutinous feelings became so strong that Odlum's superior officer, General David Watson, had to overrule him and institute the rum ration in February 1917. In an organization where soldiers had little power, the withholding of rum was important enough for them to raise their disenfranchised voices.

The importance of rum in the trenches was reinforced by its prominence in the cultural expression of the soldiers. Replete in song and poem, the rum ration was an essential component of the unique culture that developed in the trenches. Some of the choice anecdotes in their memoirs and letters revolve around rum. An examination of their writings, rather than those of the senior officers or official historians, shows how references to rum slip into so many of their poems, trench newspapers and memoirs. Even the short-form name of the rum itself--SRD--was toyed with by the men. They jokingly referred to it as Seldom Reaches Destination, Sergeants Rarely Deliver, Soldiers' Real Delight or Soon Runs Dry. Along with the shared language of soldiers, rum was a component of their more joyous occasions like singing. One of the few opportunities that soldiers had to express themselves, their songs consisted of racy lyrics where women, wine and humor were intermingled.

A favorite, The Old Barbed Wire, has a stanza that revolves around the sometimes justified suspicion of the sergeant-major hoarding and cheating the soldiers out of their rum:

If you want to find the sergeant-major,
I know where he is, I know where he is.
If you want to find the sergeant-major,
I know where he is,
He's boozing up the privates' rum.
I've seen him, I've seen him,
Boozing up the privates' rum,
I've seen him,
Boozing up the privates' rum.

Although all but ignored in the official military records, rum, as well as the beer canteens, estaminets, cigarettes, letters and trench newspapers, were essential items in supporting morale for the overseas soldier. It was these small comforts that were of prime concern to the individual in the firing line; grand operational plans mattered far less. As we have seen, rum was a complex and multi-layered tool. Equally important, rum was the soldiers' tool and without it, the civilians who made up the soldier's profession--the bankers, clerks and farmers, who put down their pens and plows for rifles--might well have collapsed more frequently under the terrible strain of trench warfare. (

The selections below are just some of the differing views expressed on the web

  • The rum ration was introduced in the winter of 1914, as a remedy for the consequences of the bad weather conditions and cold. It was in earthenware jars of 1 (UK) gallon (4.5 liters).
  • One jar for 64 men. In 1918 1/3 pint (0.16 liter) appears to have been the average consumption per soldier per week. Enough to get drunk or excited to fight, as sometimes is said ? We doubt it.
  • Each battalion had its own supply of rum that it distributed to its soldiers. Each division (20,000 men) received 300 gallons. Rum was usually distributed after, rather than before an offensive. It was also issued during very cold weather. The French and German armies were more generous and supplied their soldiers with daily amounts of wine and brandy.

  • In the rations for a British Army company of 64 men was this gallon of SRD, Services, Rum, Diluted, better known to the Tommies as Seldom Reaches Destination

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