Beer, the British Army, and the Mandate
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.
During the First World War, beer is already a feature of army expeditionary life in Palestine. James E. Kitchen’s (2014) The British Imperial Army in the Middle East mentions the soldiery’s use of beer a number of times as as factor to maintain morale.
He states that in addition to beer, various wines were available, notably the red wine of Mulebbis, and whisky. The Jewish settlement at Mulebbis in 1917 was also known, among other names, as Petah Tikvah and probably produced this wine.
The ranks also relaxed with gifts of chocolate and other special foods, and steady use of tobacco, mainly cigarettes. In regard to the ubiquitous alcohol Kitchen quotes a Northhamptonshire sergeant (1917) on soldiers’ tendency to drink to excess. It was probably typical of the colonial troop pattern, especially after a battle or other periods of high stress.
I am not sure how much hard data is available on the Army’s consumption of beer in this period. My earlier posts on the 1903 committee of inquiry into Army canteens suggest a range of possibilities, based on testimonies heard. One officer stated that for many young soldiers plentiful food was more important than beer. For older soldiers, the reverse was said often to be true.
The Israeli journalist Rachel Neiman has included photos and menus of Forces Christmas celebrations in her article “Biscuits, Bully Beef and Beer – Christmas Dinner During the British Mandate”.
These cover the period between 1917 and 1942. The article appeared in the December 2018 issue of the (online publication) Israel 21c. Bottles of beer can be seen in some images.
Some menus state at the foot simply, “Beer”. One, from RAF Station Abu Sueir, reads plaintively, “Beer?”.
Omar D. Foda’s excellent, full-length study Egypt’s Beer: Stella, Identity, and the Modern State (2019) quoted a 1934 Egyptian study that assigned an annual consumption of 17,000 hl, or 220 litres per head, to the 7,500 British soldiers serving in the country.
That gives some indication of the high point army capacity could reach in contemporary Palestine if supply permitted it.
A 1937 story in The American Jewish World stated that in 1936 the British Forces in Palestine had risen to 25,000. The complement had risen to deal with spreading riots and other disturbances in the territory. One result was that brewing expanded at Palestine Brewery. The story explained that with a drop in the complement during 1937, demand for beer would fall accordingly.
There would not have been enough beer for the Army in Palestine if it wanted to reach the Forces’ consumption in Egypt. Total Palestine consumption for 1936 was just 30,000 hl, as we saw earlier.
A website devoted to British Forces in Palestine numbers the strength force as 10,000 in 1939. It then climbed significantly as World War II progressed. Whatever the specifics of troop numbers in a given Mandate year and local brewing capacity, it is evident that British Forces in the territory would continue to demand beer. The channels to address it were domestic production or imported beer.
According to the sources I have reviewed the Forces drank British beer both in the N.A.A.F.I. clubs and in cafes and other public resorts where it was available. The N.A.A.F.I. was the centralized Navy, Army, and Air Force Institutes, the revamped canteen and supply system created shorty after WW I to replace the old canteen system.
At the same time, Palestine-produced beer supplied part of the demand and an increasing part as the war made imports difficult or in some cases impossible.
Barclay, Perkins Squares the Circle
Barclay, Perkins & Co. Ltd. of London was among the British brewers in the Palestine market. Of this legendary London brewery much has been written. This brief overview from the Craft Beer & Brewing site, in turn extracted from the Oxford Companion to Beer, will assist readers not au fait.
Barclay Perkins’ visibility in Palestine is shown from its sizeable box advertisement in the December 25, 1939 Palestine Post. It reads that Nathan Zwy Ltd. in Haifa was Barclay, Perkins’ sole representative. Zwy’s name appears in many similar ads of the period. Into 1947 at least, he appears to have been prominent in alcohol beverage distribution in Palestine and beyond in the region.
Next to the ad noted is one of the same size from the brewer McEwan-Younger Ltd. of Edinburgh. We return to them in a subsequent part of this series.
The Barclay’s ad wished members of H.M. Forces in all branches, the Palestine Police, and all “Christian friends” a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Pictured was a “cone-top” can reading “sparkling beer”.
On June 21, 1939 the Palestine Post reported in a short item:
J.L. Loughnan, former military governor at Jaffa, arrived by Imperial Airways flying boat on behalf of Messrs. Barclay, Perkins and Co. Ltd.
It thus appears the brewery had hired an ex-senior Army officer familiar with the territory to further its marketing efforts. We will return to Mr. Loughnan later in the series.
On February 17, 1939 the same newspaper states:
A new British ale in tins, lager style, has been put on the market by Mr. Nathan Zwy, sole representative for Palestine and Trans-Jordan of Messrs. Barclay, Perkins & Co. Ltd…”.
This phraseology sounds at sea but it’s not, as will become clear.
Barclay Perkins’ beer was also available in a Jerusalem restaurant operated by F. Nothbaum. It appears he was connected to the German Templars judging by his various press ads of the 1930s. Here is one example, from April 1939, in same newspaper, advertising an Easter Dinner. Draught beer from Barclay’s (type not stated) is touted in this ad together with Lowenbrau beer, presumably from Munich, and Rhine and Mosel wines.
The year seems late for German beer to be available in Palestine but evidently some was still imported before the war actually started.
Sparkling beer or ale, meant to be served cold, had been a growing factor in British and international brewing since about 1900, as I discussed in earlier posts. The type was particularly appealing for hot climates. In 1940 a canned Sunbright Sparkling Beer is advertised in the Palestine Post by another agent in Haifa, J. Ezra. His source stated in the ad was Machen & Hudson in Liverpool.
Labels of Machen & Hudson, a well-known export beer dealer, may be viewed in David Hughes’ “A Bottle of Guinness Please“. Note its Beaver Lager, one of the brands Machen & Hudson supplied to J. Ezra in Haifa.
The ultimate source of this beer was likely the Hope Brewery in Sheffield. See an example of its Sunbright, cone-top pale ale in this interesting label collection from the Netherlands.
The increasing popularity of light ale and lager in the Near East in this period is shown as well by an almost wordless 1939 print ad for Palestine Brewery’s Eagle “Light Lager” (Palestine Post).
A few years ago in a blog post, the beer historian Ron Pattinson discussed Barclay’s Sparkling Beer as it was in 1939. By reference to brewing records he showed the beer was, in fact, a lager, an idiosyncratic one given its amber tint and sizeable component of crystal malt. The oddness of the recipe is emphasized by readers’ comments appended to the post.
Given the context I have discussed, the odd make-up becomes, by reasonable inference, clear: Barclay’s designed a beer for the Middle East that resembled ale to a degree – the traditional type Britons knew at home, but which drank cold and fizzy, like a lager.
Crystal malt was certainly known in British top-fermentation brewing by then, hence the “ale” part. The Saaz hopping and all-malt construction bowed to Continental tradition, as did of course the bottom fermentation. The latter traits would impart the desired lager character, which would resonate as well with residents in Palestine of European origin, mainly the Jews.
The term beer on Barclay’s can in lieu of “pilsner” or “lager”, terms unfamiliar to most Britons, or “ale” – which the beer wasn’t – helped to square the circle.
Below, from the Miniature Bottle Library, is a later design for Barclay’s Sparkling Beer. Although beer can design in 2020 has reached a high pitch of excellence, it would take some doing to match the smart look of this can.
For a Barclay’s Sparkling Beer cone-top that is actually from 1939, found in India, see at the auction site WorthPoint, this item. It pictures usefully as well every part of the label.
Note re image: Image above was sourced from the site identified and linked in the text. All intellectual property therein belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. Used for educational and historical purposes. All feedback welcomed.
Note: our series continues with Part IV.