Of Arms and Ormolu



The international resort of Nice, France, which I visited recently, was host to the American armed forces in 1945, serving as an official rest and recreation centre. The French termed the newly-arrived guests les restées.

Hotels, restaurants, and terraces filled up with sunglassed personnel in khaki, both men and women, seeking R&R after the Normandy invasion and push east.

A brewery in Nice was enlisted to make American-type beer for the restées. A Coca-Cola bottling plant was set up as well. Information is sparse on the brewery aspect, but it was part of a network of breweries the U.S. Army established in liberated areas as it moved east.

Presumably the plant was leased temporarily from the French owner, one of the numerous French breweries active in the South before the war.*

The story of America’s “invasion” of balmy Nice was colourfully set out in Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald in late 1945. A trademark humour threads the piece, perhaps reflecting both Aussie and American insouciance although the title, “Americans Play at Luxury”, hints at some envy.

A sample passage:

Hotel proprietors, maîtres d’hotel, and waiters, some of whom crossed the Mediterranean during the occupation, are coming back, too, and serving, with not so much grace as before the war, meals made from American Army rations to men and women. Dining is olive drab beneath high ormolu and gilt ceilings. It is significant that the president of all the chefs of Nice (M. Sauvan) is cooking for enlisted women. He isn’t even in supreme control. He is working under the direction of a woman sergeant …

There is no substitute for reading the full account, so by all means do so. I’ll add simply that the term ormolu was completely new to me, but no longer due to this fascinating explanation.



*[Subsequent note]. I later did a series on U.S. Army breweries in North Africa, Italy, and elsewhere in Western Europe, but never found the one in Nice. I think it is possible a brewery in Italy supplied American troops on R & R in the French Riviera.

3 thoughts on “Of Arms and Ormolu”

  1. Gary,
    This is a really interesting account of some post-war fun in France. The passage suggesting that a “pedalo” (pedaled lake boat?) could be used to escape to Africa can’t be serious, so some of the other observations might be exaggerations for entertainment, too. Along with the elevated status bestowed on the US military came the Marshall Plan.
    Off the immediate subject, my wife was born in 1946 in Freiburg, (Germany French Zone), to an East European refugee family. The family felt they were fairly well treated there. They were settled into a home still occupied by a surviving German family member. They regarded the house as relatively luxurious, and life included school for my wife’s brother and fishing trips into the Black Forest. My wife’s father was college educated and had experience working in a Co-op before the war. He was employed in a relief supply house managed by the French.

    • Thanks Arnold, that’s all very interesting especially your wife’s background being born in post-war Germany. 1946 was tough times in many parts of the country but it depended where, certain farming or other rural areas were less impacted.

      You might be right about the pedalo not being able to cross the sea, it must be a trip of at least 500 miles from Nice. And the sea can be rough as I saw on my recent visit one day. It might have been some light humour although the description of the amenities struck me as accurate in the main.

      I’ve done some further research and it turns out the Quartermaster Corps sent representatives from American breweries to newly occupied countries (France, Germany mainly) to set up breweries for the Army. They weren’t satisfied with European malt and hops – counterintuitive but probably related to war conditions – so American inputs were shipped to Europe to be mashed and brewed onsite. Haven’t figured out yet if they actually built breweries, seems unlikely but it’s possible, vs. taking over local ones for this purpose (more likely I think).

      With demobilization all this would have ended surely by 1946. I’m trying to find further information. The beer situation for American troops during WW II, and liquor with it, is very interesting. It would make a great short study. Maybe some of the brewers’ journals around 1945 dealt with it, I think it’s likely.

      There is a parallel story to tell viz British troops and beer. We’ve all seen the images of barrels of beer slung under the wings of aircraft flying to liberated France but there has to be a lot more to it than that (a PR stunt anyway surely) and the full story remains to be told.


    • Just to add, this book just came to my attention, by Brian Glover. I haven’t had the chance to read it, but it looks as if he deals with many aspects of British beer and pubs during World War II, hence perhaps in regard to supplying troops in canteens and the field.


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