With the recent announcement of a royal engagement, the world turns its attention to Britain once more (for some good news too this time!). And what can be more British than drinking tea? (Well, in truth, many things as drinking tea is also a big part of Chinese and Japanese culture.)
But the role tea plays in the life of the everyday Brit is something special. More than just something we drink in the morning or for elevenses, you could go as far to say that tea fueled the British Army during World War II.
What happened during the war?
Of course, it’s hard to summarise 6 horrendous years from history, but what I wanted to focus on was rationing. With limited supplies being available, pretty much all the countries participating in the war rationed food and drinks both for civilians and for the military. The typical weekly ration included:
- 113g bacon or ham
- 1 egg
- 1.7l milk
- 227g sugar
- 57g loose tea – that’s about 23 cups per week!
- 540g meat
- 28g cheese
- 55g preserves
- 57g of butter
- 113g of margarine
- 57g lard
- 85g sweets
Supplies of other things like fruit and veg were not rationed but they were limited.
For the soldiers the rations were:
- 2.4kg meat
- 230g bacon and ham
- 380g butter and margarine
- 110g cheese
- 850g sugar
- 110g tea
- 230g preserves
As you can tell, the military portions were considerably larger but also necessary to sustain the physical strain of the war. Another interesting thing is that while most of life’s little luxuries disappeared, the story was slightly different with tea. 23 cups (or 55 for the military) doesn’t seem like a limitation at all if you ask me.
The British government buys most of the tea in the world in 1942
And by most of the tea, that means everything they could find from every country except Japan as they were the enemy. We’re likely only talking about black tea too, as that has been and remains the preferred type of tea in Britain.
Fun fact: some say the Government’s ‘shopping list’ had the following order of priority: bullets, tea, artillery shells, bombs and explosives! THAT’S how important tea was to the British army. And Churchill is said to have given sailors on ships the right to have unlimited tea.
But why? Well, apart from being a warm drink, very useful in the colder days and nights of the war, tea was both physically and psychologically comforting. It was one of the few things soldiers and civilians could keep enjoying as if nothing had ever happened, and it united people regardless of ethnicity and social status. It also kept the soldiers happy and sober at the same time. And we have proof of it in many pictures of people enjoying it; I found these ones particularly expressive:
In fact, it was so important to enjoy this comfort from home that tank soldiers would use the heat from firing bullets to boil the water in buckets to make tea. However, this involved going on the outside of the tank and many were killed in the ‘mission’. So it led to a special request for new tanks to have a kettle inside the cabin, a feature which remains included to this day.
Did tea help Britain win the war? I’d like to think it played a part.
Until next time,