This continues our series on beer in the British Mandate of Palestine. It began with this post, a correspondent’s tour of Palestine Brewery Ltd. in 1944.
The association of Great Britain and its beer internationally is a vast subject that awaits full-length study. An important sub-set is the relationship of beer to H.M. Forces, especially the British Army.
The bond of Army and beer, into the mid-20th century, is probably unique in the world. Where else but Britain would a government committee have investigated (1903) how beer was supplied in Army canteens?
This was no mere financial/budgetary excercise, as it examined styles of beer (e.g. lager vs. ale and the rest), brands, strengths, and cellaring methods for draught beer.
What is the reason for this almost mystical tie of Tommy and tipple? Having studied and written on certain aspects of this vast field, I think it comes down to Britain and beer itself. The association is age-old, emphasized by the pub tradition, but not limited to it.
Beer was never just a momentary diversion at the pub, a subject with its own near-sacral history and complexities. Beer went into the fields to succour harvest-workers. It was carried on H.M. ships until rum was found more stable and convenient for the purpose.
It was used by nursing mothers, and as a tonic and reviver in hospitals, civilian or military. Beer was supplied to denizens of prisons in Victorian Britain, and in the poorhouse.
In colonial America and Canada work gangs required beer or another alcoholic stimulant to clear land, build barns, and erect homes.
Soldiers’ use of beer was, in our view, an extension of this broader tradition, even as rationales were advanced at the height of its influence such as supplementing nutrition, aiding digestion, and maintaining health. See e.g. in Sam Goodman’s Unpalatable Truths: Food and Drink as Medicine in Colonial British India, 2018.
Another paper by Sam Goodman, Spaces of Intemperance & the British Raj, 1860-1920 (2020) emphasizes usefully the unique, “spatial” effects of shipboard and garrison life for use of beer by Army and naval personnel.
In the language of the Abstract, the “act of drinking [has] as much to do with social performance as … with personal taste, with space in each instance a governing influence on choice of beverage, intent, behaviour, and the perceived identity of the drinker themselves”.
Clearly, such contexts intensified a reliance on beer and drinking, but the phenomenon as such has we think broader springs in the British social pattern.
Hence, in Mandate Palestine in the ’20s and ’30s Britannia and beer were a twain, just as they were in other parts of the Near East, and the Far East. Of the 40% (see my Part I) of the imported beer market in 1935 not represented by Syrian beer, a percentage was British beer, judging by newspaper advertising and period accounts of Army life.
Part of the military and administrative demand was supplied by the Palestine Brewery which started operations in 1936, but British-made beer continued to be available as I will show in Part III, at least until WW II.
Note: our series continues with Part III.