Imported Beer in Mandate Palestine, Part IX

The Australians 

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.

Rather than hyperlink continuously in the text, most sources are listed at the end by U.R.L. These are early 1940s press accounts, sites with images of Australian forces, and a jaunty Pathé clip showing the A.I.F.‘s arrival in Palestine.

The news accounts are mostly Australian, with a couple from the Palestine Post, published in Jerusalem.

General background was obtained from a variety of sources, especially the excellent ANZACS in the Middle East (2013, Cambridge University Press) by Mark Johnston.

The first battalions arrived in February 1940 after a long trip over the Indian Ocean with stops on the way, e.g. in India, and South Africa. Some forces were directed to Egypt (Sinai, Gaza).

In Palestine, tented camps were built in fenceless agricultural areas, with British help.

The forces trained to enter desert and other engagements, e.g. the Battle of Crete (May 1941) and earlier fighting in Greece which were debacles for the Allies.

Canteens in camp were administered by Australian Canteen Services, which reported to the Australian Canteens Control Board. Australia supplied its own troops, in time with beer, but also food, soap, toothpaste and other necessaries.

Initially, British beer of “well-known” brands was used, due evidently to availability in the country. Australian troops disliked this beer, which was felt “heavy”. The troops wanted the light lager that even then was the national Australian type, not top-fermented ale like Whitbread Pale Ale or McEwan’s Scotch Ale.

Canteen Services therefore ensured that Australian beer was available. Some beer from Sydney had been sent even ahead of the troops’ arrival, but much more was needed. Three or four breweries supplied the demand, among them, Tooth’s and Toohey’s (both Sydney), and Carlton & United in Melbourne.

Carlton & United even published in the Palestine Gazette trademark applications for Foster’s Lager and Melbourne Bitter. Melbourne Bitter is pictured in a Palestine warehouse in one of the sources below.

Flag Ale flew the flag for Toohey’s in many canteens.

The image following shows A.I.F. soldiers enjoying downtime in a Palestine restaurant, here drinking Carmel wine.


(Acknowledgement: State Library of South Australia – SRG+435/2/600).*

Over a two-year period in the early 40s, 12,000,000 bottles had to be recycled, an impressive consumption. They were stored in warehouses in Egypt, Palestine, and Syria, so I suspect consumption was by forces in all these areas, not just Palestine.

This bottle stock was Australian. Palestine brewers used a smaller bottle type so could not refill them.

Some empties were repurposed for mugs, always short in the camps. A small plant was set up to remove the necks and smooth the edges, employing a half-dozen workers. A chemical engineer in Palestine was engaged to develop the design and run the plant (1941).

The Australian supply was never enough, and some shiploads were lost to enemy action. Palestine Brewery Ltd. was engaged to make a lager for the A.I.F., called Crown. Worthpoint has the label for sale, see here.

In time this was found too sweet, and a more-hopped version, called Eagle, was substituted. This image at State Library of South Australia appears to picture the brand. Palestine Brewery’s inaugural brand (1936) was Eagle lager, so it is not clear if these were the same, or different brews.

The Canteen Services Board received complaints that some Australian beer in Palestine was deficient, either in taste or by cases not containing the stated number of bottles. Some beer from Toohey’s was cloudy, flat, and a little sour.

Evidently the long trip and challenging logistics in wartime did the beer no favours. Canteen Services decided finally to stop importing Toohey’s due to quality issues. Toohey’s felt this unfair, and a Canteens Inquiry was held in Australia to examine the situation. The inquiry also reviewed alleged irregularities in the procurement for other goods.

I can’t recall another instance where beer quality in wartime was challenged to anything like this degree. Beer was generally so appreciated that the discriminations practiced by some in peacetime were gladly dispensed with.

The usual complaint elsewhere was, the beer was too weak; but this case is very different, raising issues many would consider trivial in the context. Still, it was felt important enough to warrant investigation and a full hearing with benefit of legal counsel.

The report found the ban on Toohey’s arbitrary and unjustified, and exonerated the firm. See the conclusions in the Advocate of Tasmania, September 10, 1942. A similar news item (clearer scan) appeared in Canberra’s The Age on the same day.

Beer was consumed by the A.I.F. not just in camp, but on leave in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. One soldier noted with surprise the “beer gardens” and cafes of the former. Clearly, open-air drinking was unknown in Australian hotels in that period.

The Australian Soldiers Club was established in the Hotel Fast at Jaffa Gate, as I mentioned earlier. At least initially the club was under aegis of a Charities Services, and had a bar service.

Both in Palestine and Australia, some expressed disquiet at beer being exported over dangerous seas to Palestine. It was said the space taken by the beer could be better used for food or tanks.

Still, the shipments did not stop. We can infer I think that its morale function tipped the balance in favour of keeping the flow going.

The episode of A.I.F. and beer in Palestine is, to my mind, of a piece with my earlier examinations of beer in Australia. Beer had an outsize importance to the country, as represented almost from the beginning in its lore and myth.

For a long time the international image of Australia was coloured by a beer-bibbing reputation.

The special position of beer may now be altered due to globalization and the success of the Antipodes wine industry. A topic for another day, though.

Note: our posts in beer in Mandate Palestine continues with a post on the Levant Brewery.


*From the State Library of South Australia’s images collection at this page. Used for educational and research purposes. All intellectual property in the image belongs solely to the lawful owner, as applicable. All feedback welcomed.



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