She saw him as Siegfried Sassoon, an infantry subaltern in a mud-bogged trench, standing-to at dawn, his eyes on his wrist watch, waiting for zero hour...
Evelyn Waugh, Put Out More Flags, 1942.
I’ve been reading quite a bit about The First World War recently, especially John Lewis-Stempel’s Six Weeks, a magnificent- and moving- account of the 'short and gallant life of the British Officer in the First World War'. One of the trench duties of any young subaltern was to dole out the daily rum ration:
After ‘stand to’ in the hour before dawn, when the entire company was armed and alert against a German attack, the subaltern waited for the NCO in charge of the platoon’s sections to report his men as present and their rifles clean. At this good news, the officer dished out the rum ration of a quarter-gill (one sixteenth of a pint) per man. This was sent up by battalion quartermasters in brown earthenware jars marked ‘SRD’, the abbreviation for ‘Special Rations Department’, but universally and jokingly assumed to stand for ‘Seldom Reaches Destination’, ‘Service Rum Diluted’ or ‘Soon Runs Dry’. The rum ration- it was Navy Rum- was dispensed by the platoon commanders into hot tea and was intended as medicine; the ration was ordered by the divisional commander on the advice from his principal medical officer that conditions were sufficiently debilitating to require it. Most commanders sensibly granted the ration every day, no matter what the weather.
It seems that ‘Gunfire’ (tea laced with rum) was a popular drink in the British army as early as the 1890’s, and (according to that simple sword of truth, Wikipedia) in some regiments is still served by the officers to their men at Christmas.
Adding a tot of rum to your tin mug of tea might, indeed, be a good plan- especially with the chill of the London autumn soon to be upon us. The various internet cocktail sites just talk about black tea and rum, but being English, I’m not sure this is completely right. Bet you anything the British Army added milk and the whole mess was stewed up in those awful battered enamel canteens with taps at the bottom- ‘one with sugar, and one without’- just like we had at Dotheboy’s Hall in the very late 70’s. For that appealing ‘Trench Tea’ taste, I would suggest a brand such as Yorkshire, P G Tips or Typhoo. Don’t you think?
And the most appropriate rum for the job is probably going to be Pusser’s Gunpowder Proof British Navy Rum. As the blurb on the label says: Pusser’s is a classic Royal Navy style rum, ‘inspired by the recipe used to produce the tot given to the sailors as their daily ration until Black Tot Day, 31 July 1970.’
Pusser’s is considered to be one of the best rums in the world and shares some of the characteristics of Scotch Whisky. The company itself was actually founded in 1979, when the founder, Charles Tobias, decided to recreate the original Admiralty recipe which was based on a blend of five West Indian rums.