I’ve been digging up stuff about the use of tobacco in wartime:
Tobacco is not so much a luxury as an actual necessity to our men at the front – Lieut-Colonel Henry Paul Treeby, Commandant of the East Surrey Depot, 1916
You ask me what we need to win this war. I answer tobacco, as much as bullets – General John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing, Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Force, 1917
Why was it such a necessity?
Soldiers smoked for many reasons. Smoking helped to relieve boredom and pass the time during the long stretches of relative quiet and waiting at the front. The smell of smoke undoubtedly masked the stench of death and the squalor of the trenches. Smoking provided a chance to momentarily escape, to take time out from the daily horrors of the battlefront. It created a sense of camaraderie, boosted morale and helped to relieve stress.
It was also a solace for the wounded:
Cigarettes were also a means of compassion. We have countless images of men with faces covered in bandages or bodies mangled on the battlefield enjoying what one publication described as the “last and only solace of the wounded.”
Soldiers didn’t mind anything much if they had tobacco.
One quote from an officer, published in a volume of The Bystander we have here in the library maintained, ‘If the men can only get a ‘fag’ or a pipe they are content. They pay no heed to discomfort in the trenches, or on the march in the worst weather. Even if they are without their rations they won’t complain if ‘fags’ don’t fail. Some have been reduced to smoking their allowances of tea. Others have smoked brown paper or leaves of trees.’
At the start of WW1 most people smoked pipes or cigars:
At the war’s outbreak, pipe smoking was the most common form of tobacco smoking in the militaries of Europe. Soldiers usually received packets of loose tobacco and matches with their rations. Pipe and cigar smoking were also associated with nineteenth-century ideas about masculinity. Cigarettes, although available, were not nearly as popular as pipes and cigars during this period. The war ushered in nothing short of a revolution in American and European tobacco cultures. It was also a period where modern cigarette advertising began.
The Russian military issued packets of mahorka, a harsh, cheap tobacco that remained in use throughout the twentieth century. Soldiers would either smoke mahorka in pipes or, later in the war, in hand-rolled cigarettes that remained ubiquitous in the Russian military during World War II. The low-quality of mahorka meant that in the post-Stalinist era, smoking it was a sign that one had spent time in the gulag, where it was the only tobacco available. This is a key trait of the main character of Vasily Grossman‘s Everything Flows.
They smoked in their dugouts:
Although cigarette advertising exploded in this era, other, more practical concerns likely led to the eclipse of pipe smoking during this period. Pre-packaged cigarettes are much more convenient than a pipe in trench conditions. A pipe smoker has to keep his loose tobacco dry, which muddy trench conditions in Flanders would have made difficult. Cigarette smoking also takes much less time than a pipe making them more ideal for trench conditions when a soldier may have had to move at a moment’s notice. Pipes also need to be constantly relit throughout the smoking process, which is both inconvenient and potentially dangerous as the light from this repeated activity would attract attention at night…
I used to smoke about half an ounce of Old Holborn a day. British soldiers smoked 4 times that amount:
Soldiers flocked to cigarettes due to their convenience and because British army tobacco (issued for pipes) was of poor quality. British soldiers were issued with 2 oz of this tobacco per day.
Their pipes were almost as important as their rifles:
The trade journal Tobacco, in an editorial of October 1914, claimed that ‘it might almost be said that a man in the firing line first thinks of his cartridges and the very next thing he seems to worry about is ammunition for his pipe.
Smoking cigarettes became fashionable after WW1:
By the 1920s, smoking became a social norm practiced by both men and women. After the Second World War, due to the increasing acceptability of smoking, it was estimated that by 1949 81% of men and 39% of women smoked. Cigarettes were no longer a luxury item and were now a part of everyday life.
From chapter 6 of The A. E. F. With General Pershing and the American Forces
French matches were less popular than French tobacco. The kind they sold in our town and thereabouts were all tipped with sulphur and usually exploded with a blue flame maiming the smoker and amusing the spectators. Political economists and others interested in the law of supply and demand may be interested to know that when the tobacco famine was at its height a package of Bull Durham worth five cents in America was sold by one soldier to another for five francs. This shortage has since been relieved from several sources, but there has never been more than the soldiers could smoke.
In the two World Wars, General Pershing of the us military recognized that tobacco supplies were more vital than those of food — cigarettes aided solidarity, morale and discipline.’ The whole nation made a collective effort to support the great British smokers on the front line. Newspapers and traders ran campaigns to ensure that soldiers received cigarettes and tobacco in addition to the two-ounce weekly ration they received from the War Office. For instance, in the First World War The People called on its readers to send Woodbines — ‘Tommy’s favourite fag’ — in bulk at prices as low as ten for one penny, or else to contribute to their massively subscribed ‘Tobacco Fund’. Cigarettes helped to win the war for the nation and the two World Wars made Britain a nation of smokers. By the end of the 1940s, around four-fifths of adult men and two-fifths of adult women regularly smoked tobacco.
It was this enormous collective smoking consciousness that commentators attempted to mobilize against the health scares linking cigarettes with lung cancer and heart disease in the 1950s and ‘6os. Cancer made smokers more aware of their identity as smokers. Writing in the Daily Express, Chapman Pincher attacked the medical establishment for seeking to destroy what he thought a harmless pleasure. He thought the Government and the Royal College of Physicians guilty of overbearing paternal-ism, their statements representing a major ‘blow to freedom’. He called on smokers to unite in defiance against the Interfering medics’ and was supported by many other commentators who appeared pleased to observe continued high smoking rates: ‘the British don’t scare easily’. one proud journalist announced. J. B. Priestley, too, worried about the implications of the health scare on the smoking community, fearing that it might even affect pipe smokers and lead to the sad cultural demise of the briar pipe, which had become the ‘tribal badge’ of the stoical. solid, common-sensical Englishman.
It appears that the tobacco ration was 2 oz per day, not 2 oz per week.
The standard Army ration pack, containing identical food for every soldier, was not introduced until after the conflict. Men carried emergency “iron rations” in a tin and in 1914 the war department set out its aims for feeding troops.
These allowances, supposedly per person per day, were: 1¼lb fresh or frozen meat, or 1lb salt meat; 4oz bacon; 20oz of bread or 16oz of flour or 4oz of oatmeal; 3oz of cheese; 4oz of butter or margarine; noz of tea, 4oz of jam or 4oz of dried fruit; pinch of pepper; pinch of mustard; 8oz of fresh vegetables or a tenth of a gill lime juice; half a gill of rum or 1pt of porter; maximum of 2oz of tobacco.