The Last and Only Solace

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.

From Smoke: A Global History of Smoking:

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.

British Army rations:

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.

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14 Responses to The Last and Only Solace

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Reblogged this on Life on an alien planet and commented:
    Smashing post Frank! Thank you. Melancholy overtakes me…..

  2. Rose says:

    Brilliant research, Frank.

  3. Sackerson says:

    Spitfire pilot Geoffrey Wellum’s book “First Light” relates how when his squadron flew to Malta, the Spitfires’ ammunition was removed because of the need to carry extra fuel for the long flight, and replaced with rations of cigarettes – good for the defenders’ morale!

  4. Vlad says:

    Very interesting post.

  5. Marion Burt says:

    I have at home a tin that was presented to all British soldiers in the trenches at Christmas 1914. It originally contained a present from Princess Mary (whose silhouette appears on the tin) of several cigarettes.

  6. Dmitry Kosyrev says:

    Great, Frank!
    You’ll be surprised to leann that “mahorka” can still be bought, in places far away from Moscow. It’s essentilally scraps from cigarette production, containing both tobacco dust and stems, etc. And if you sprinkle your attic floor with that thing, you may forget about insects and other troubles up there.
    That stuff was in army rations at WW2, also. And after that.

  7. Rose says:


    Came across something interesting the other day when I was looking for pre-Nazi views on tobacco in America.

    Benjamin Rush, M.D. and professor of the institutes of medicine and clinical practice in the University of Pennsylvania.
    Rush, Benjamin, 1746-1813.


    1. It impairs the appetite. Where it does not pro|duce this effect,

    2. It prevents the early and complete digestion of the food, and thereby induces distressing, and incu|rable diseases not only of the stomach, but of the whole body. This effect of Tobacco is the result of the waste of the saliva in chewing, and smoking, or of the Tobacco insinuating itself into the stomach, when used in chewing, or snuffing.—I once lost a young man of 17 years of age, of a pulmonary consumption,whose disorder was brought on by the intempe|rate use of segars.

    3. It produces many of those diseases which are supposed to be seated in the nerves. The late Sir John Pringle was subject in the evening of his life to tremors in his hands. In his last visit to France, a few years before he died, in company with Dr. Franklin, he was requested by the Doctor to observe, that the same disorder was very common among those people of fashion who were great snuffers. Sir John was led by this remark to suspect that his tremors were occasioned by snuff which he took in large quantities. He immediately left off taking it, and soon afterwards recovered the perfect use of his hands. I have seen head-ache, vertigo, and epilepsy produced by the use of Tobacco. A Physician in Connecticut has remarked that it has in several instances produced palsy and apoplexy, and Dr. Tissot ascribes sudden death in one instance, to the excessive use of it in smoking.

    4. A citizen of Philadelphia lost all his teeth by drawing the hot smoke of Tobacco into his mouth by means of short pipe, and I have been informed of a cancer on the lip which terminated fatally from the same cause, in a farmer in Northumberland county in this state. The acrid nature of the matter which is mixed with the smoke of the Tobacco may easily be discovered by the taste or smell of a pipe stem that has been in use for two or three weeks.”

    “We proceed next to mention the influence of the habitual use of Tobacco upon morals.

    1. One of the usual effects of smoking and chewing is thirst. This thirst cannot be allayed by water, for no sedative or even insipid liquor will be relished after the mouth and throat have been exposed to the stimulus of the smoke, or juice of Tobacco. A desire of course is excited for strong drinks, and these when taken between meals soon lead to intemperance and drunkenness. One of the greatest sots I ever knew, acquired a love for ardent spirits by swallowing cuds of Tobacco, which he did, to escape detection in the use of it, for he had contracted the habit of chewing, contrary to the advice and commands of his father. He died of a Dropsy under my care in the year 1780.

    2. The use of Tobacco, more especially in smoking disposes to idleness, and idleness has been considered as the root of all evil.”

    “I shall conclude these observations by relating an Anecdote of the late Dr. Franklin. A few months before his death, he declared to one of his friends that he had never used Tobacco in any way in the course of his long life, and that he was disposed to believe there was not much advantage to be derived from it, for that he had never met with a man who used it, who advised him to follow his example.”;c=evans;idno=N25938.0001.001;node=N25938.0001.001%3A7.14;rgn=div2;view=text

    “Benjamin Rush (January 4,1746 – April 19, 1813) was a signer of the Declaration of Independence (U.S.) and a civic leader in Philadelphia, where he was a physician, politician, social reformer, humanitarian, and educator as well as the founder of Dickinson College. Rush attended the Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence. His later self-description there was: “He aimed right.” He served as Surgeon General of the Continental Army and became a professor of chemistry, medical theory, and clinical practice at the University of Pennsylvania.”

    Benjamin Rush, MD: assassin or beloved healer?

    “There can be no question that Rush’s mercury purges and copious bloodletting were profoundly erroneous and sometimes fatal. How many hundreds of deaths Rush watched during the epidemic is not known, but in each case he found some way to exonerate his “remedies” as a cause. Many people that Rush should have respected, including most of his professional colleagues, pointed to their own observations that Rush’s treatment was often worse than the disease and murderous in its consequences. As the controversy became more public and strident, Rush’s defense of his treatment, always vitriolic, took on increasingly paranoid overtones. He truly believed that he had been chosen by God to save the people of Philadelphia and that opposition to his views was heretical and sacrilegious.”

    At least Benjamin Rush did grudgingly admit that were some benefits to tobacco.

  8. Smoking Lamp says:

    Now they are trying to take the solace of smoking from people’s homes. “Smoking ban for housing association, council and private tenants proposed” There is a poll.

  9. Joe L. says:

    Coincidentally (or not), just two days before the 20th anniversary of the Master Settlement Agreement, it was announced today that cigarette packs sold in the U.S. will soon be adorned with new warning labels. What’s strange at this stage in the current Antismoking game, however, is that this appears to merely be a temporary propaganda campaign. Tobacco companies will not even be required to print the label on the packs. Instead, they will be required to glue an “onsert” onto every pack sold. Also, they will only be required to affix these “onserts” to their products intermittently for a total of 12 weeks spread out over the next two years:

    In a statement Monday, R.J. Reynolds confirmed that these cigarette package onserts are the next phase of the court-ordered corrective statements and will be on all brands of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company cigarettes during six two-week periods over a two-year span.

    Also, the labels appear to be crammed full of verbose text set in a small font. This seems like an odd decision to me. I was expecting big, bold, terse warnings with gruesome pathology-porn images like our European counterparts’ so-called “plain” packs. This strategy seems utterly ineffective. Is Tobacco Control (hopefully) running out of ideas or funding, or is this some small piece of a bigger plan that I just can’t seem to piece together?

    Full article here with images of the proposed “onsets” (and also a great slideshow of vintage cigarette ads!): Court-ordered ‘corrective statements’ to appear on cigarette boxes

  10. Smoking Scot says:

    We had our pedophile complain about smoking in jail, and in one state in the US it’s a double murderer who got a smoking ban in their prisons because it upset his asthma.

    Now prison officers are cashing in on this, by selling packs of cigarettes to inmates at $100 a pack. Meaning only the super-rich drug kingpins can cough up that kind of money every day.

  11. Rose says:

    More OT stuff, but I didn’t expect to see this on the Scotsman.

    Smokers at lower risk of Parkinson’s
    21 November 2018

    “Smokers and those who breathe in “second-hand” tobacco smoke are at significantly lower risk of developing Parkinson’s disease than non-smokers, according to a new study.
    Researchers led by a team at Queen Mary University of London found existing smokers are up to 50 per cent less likely to develop the degenerative illness, which now affects some 145,000 people in the UK – around one in every 350 adults.

    The study, the biggest of its kind and based on data from more than 220,000 medical cases across eight countries, also found for the first time a relationship between passive smoking and a lower incidence of Parkinson’s. Those exposed to the cigarette smoke of others were 30 per cent less likely to develop the disease.”

    “Many scientists believe the most likely chemical preventing or slowing the onset of the condition is nicotine, which stimulates production of dopamine, responsible for the brain’s pleasure response.”

    And many scientists clearly haven’t heard of the many other useful plant chemicals in a tobacco leaf so great is their obsession with nicotine.

    Parkinson’s Inhibitor Fingered in Tobacco

    “Researchers suspect smokers have a decreased risk of Parkinson’s because something in tobacco keeps dopamine levels near normal, even if a smoker does start losing dopamine-producing cells. Most likely, this mysterious bodyguard protects dopamine by inhibiting a brain enzyme called monoamine oxidase (MAO) that breaks down the neurotransmitter. Indeed, doctors have long used other MAO inhibitors to treat Parkinson’s. And in 1996, brain scans by a team from Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, revealed that smokers had as much as 40% less of the MAO enzyme in their brains than nonsmokers.

    Kay and Neal Castagnoli, a husband and wife team of chemists at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, set out to find the MAO-blocking compounds among thousands of other components in tobacco and tobacco smoke. They ground up tobacco leaves and tested representative samples in a test tube to see if they inhibited MAO. From the fraction containing the most potent MAO inhibitor, they isolated a chemical known as 2,3,6-trimethyl-1,4-naphthoquinone.”

    • Those exposed to the cigarette smoke of others were 30 per cent less likely to develop the disease.

      Studies of smoking’s effect on Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s risk later in life usually show a dose-response curve (e.g. heavy-smokers with at least 70% less risk of dementia, light smokers with less-than-average protection). Unfortunately here, passive smokers are credited with more that half the level of protection enjoyed by active smokers. Considering ETS is diluted hundreds of times (up to a thousand-fold, I’d venture to say) as compared to 1st-hand smoke, it means that major confounders have been overlooked. This fatal flaw, similar to the one found in all the other bogus 2nd-hand smoking studies, makes their active smoking claim dubious.

  12. Pingback: Vaping In The News – November 24th, 2018 | Vaping Links And More

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