How do you take your coffee?

It’s International Coffee Day so naturally I’m thinking about coffee! A little more than usual, anyway. I have coffee everyday, and I drink it black — a habit I picked up while drinking strong Turkish coffee in Serbia.

Last week I realised — horror of horrors — that we were out of coffee and placed an emergency Ocado order. It was not so easy for Brits on the Balkan front who were also fond of coffee. The nectar of gods was not so widely available, and it often came in a format that many of them never learned to appreciate. L G Moore, for instance, recorded in his diary:

“Secured tin of coffee out of canteen stores. No milk or sugar so we shall have to wait.”

Moore couldn’t fathom drinking his coffee black! He must have given up, because he later wrote: “Sold coffee.”

(L G Moore, “Papers,” IWM, 21 Apr 1917)

L Creighton, on the other hand, complained:

“It is impossible to go near a Serb without being given a cup of Turkish coffee.”

(L Creighton, “Papers,” IWM 92/22/1, 6 May 1917)

As though that is a problem!

British officers drinking Turkish coffee in Macedonia, 1916. © IWM (Q 32354)

When you’re off to a hostile environment, such as the wilds of wartime Macedonia, or the Frankfurt Book Fair, it’s good to be prepared with a stock of your own provisions from home and a travel kettle/ small paraffin stove. Milk and sugar might be difficult to come by, but if you’re away from the comforts of home, you want you coffee how you like your coffee, whether that’s black, milk two sugars, or not Turkish.


A “disgrace to the British nation!” Celebrating St Patrick’s Day with the 10th Irish in Salonika

I’m sitting at home finishing up an upcoming presentation and social media reminds me that it is St Patrick’s Day.

I recalled a passage I read recently in Patrick McGill’s The Red Horizon:

St Patrick’s day was an event. We had a half holiday, and at night, with the aid of beer, we made merry as men can on St Patrick’s Day. …for to all St. Patrick was an admirable excuse for having a good and rousing time. (page 36)

An important excuse for many the world over to drink to excess, but not, tonight, for me. Instead I’ll celebrate by remembering some St Patrick’s Day celebrations (or lack thereof) in Salonika during the First World War.

St. Patrick's Flag Day
St. Patrick’s Flag Day© IWM (Art.IWM PST 10882)

For many soldiers, particularly among the Irish divisions, St Patrick’s day was a day for celebration with concerts, sporting matches, and yes, drinking.  In 1917, while recuperating from malaria at St Patrick’s hospital in Malta, Private Brooks celebrated with a “St Patrick’s Day concert in Y.M.C.A.”

William Knott, a stretcher bearer with a field Ambulance in the 10th (Irish) Division, noted that the entire division was given a holiday for St Patrick’s Day in 1916, and he marked the holiday by attending a football match. The following year, Knott (a member of the Salvation army and a strong disapprover of strong drink) was visiting a friend.

We recalled the happy time we spent by the Shannon two year ago and proposed the writing of a book ‘From the Shannon to Struma’, it is true many and varied experiences we have had in the time in between these two St Patrick’s days. Unfortunately the night was a time of drinking for the majority and before 8 o’clock I do not think there was a dozen sober men in the camp. It is events like this that prolong this terrible war; it is a disgrace to the British nation!

On that note, I think I’ll have a glass of wine…