I recently read Oh What a Lovely War! A Soldier’s Memoir, by Stanley Swift. Swift served in the Fifth Royal Horse Artillery and crewed 25-pounder field guns. He fought in North Africa, Italy and finally France and Germany. The following excerpt struck me as quite amusing.
We had to do guard duty, and there’s nothing more soul destroying than having to do a twenty-four-hour guard, with all the ritualistic hooha. We were given the afternoon free from other duties in order to clean ourselves up, polish our brass, make sure our rifle was clean, put on our best uniform. At the prescribed time we’d line up, a bombardier [RA equivalent of corporal] or sergeant in charge, and go through the drill ritual, slope arms, present arms, all that nonsense. The bore of our rifle was examined to ensure its cleanliness, then off we marched to the guard we were about to relieve where we were inspected by the orderly officer. We were not allowed to speak to the officer unless spoken to…
First order of the day was to make tea. Hot, strong, and sweet, it was made in a bucket. This handy utensil was stainless steel, holding about three gallons, and the procedure was to throw in the tea, pour on boiling water, and then add Libby’s condensed milk. For speed a hole was punched in a couple of Libby’s cans and then cans and all tossed into the brew. In time the labels would detach, float to the surface, and be scooped out. When the tea was finished, empty cans were fished from the bottom of the bucket. Most efficient.
The man in charge of the guard had a book in which he was supposed to record anything unusual that happened. There was nothing in it because nothing ever happened. But one day an entry did appear: 3:00 A.M. Accidentally kicked over tea bucket. Straightened tea bucket. Saluted tea bucket.
Personally, I’ll stick to my own method of brewing tea and adding the condensed milk; the unglued labels are a tad off-putting.
I plan to do a complete review of this book, but I wanted to share this portion. Oh What a Lovely War! appears to be out-of-print, but Amazon does have it available through their third-party vendors.
Update: After originally posting this, I became intrigued by the idea of brewing tea in a bucket and wanted to find other examples. I have not yet found any more written descriptions, but I did find a couple of photos.
The photo on the left shows troops returning to England after the Dunkirk evacuation in 1940. The photo on the right shows Airborne troops in 1944 prior to emplaning for an operation. I would like to find more photos and narratives about brewing tea in a bucket; it appears to have been a standard procedure when making large quantities. I would also like to get my hands on a similar bucket – although I suspect the old ones may no longer be considered food-safe.