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Nicotine Angel: 1918

Nicotine Angel: 1918

Washington, D.C., circa 1918. "Red Cross activities at Walter Reed Hospital." Cigarettes for the wounded back from the trenches of Europe. Harris & Ewing Collection glass negative. View full size.


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Walkless smokes

They were lucky! Everyone else had to walk a MILE for those cigarettes!

Seriously, though, I sure hope they didn't give those to soldiers who had been gassed.

General Pershing, Walter Reed, Tobacco

In the early l970s I bought a house from a WW11 vet, near-fatally wounded by an artillery airburst in Sicily. He told me this story:

Still recovering in Walter Reed in 1946, but now ambulatory, he was put on light duty and told he had to follow General Pershing, whose daily habit it was to roam the hallways on two floors of the building. The general was an avid user of chewing tobacco.

When he complained to the doctor in charge of the rehab center about having to follow an old man around with a mop and bucket (while also suggesting that Pershing's ration of plug tobacco be cut off), the doctor replied: "Corporal Ferraro, there's two authorities around here I have to answer to. One is the chief of the medical corps. The other is God. He's in Room 312. Go down there and tell him no more tobacco. I'll alert the morgue."

Speaking of electric fans

In 1982 my wife and I flew from Puerto Rico to the Bahamas in an ancient DC-3. The ventilation system consisted of rows of those black cast-iron fans arrayed down the fuselage. The plane must have been older than we were.

It was kinda neat, all Bogey-and-Bacallish, except for the "will this old thing suddenly drop out of the sky?" feeling.

Electric fans

They certainly needed a lot of electric fans, the DC area was (and still is) known for miserably hot and humid summers- fans not only mitigated the heat somewhat but they discouraged flies. The downside was that you could hardly hear yourself think with all those motors running- I've got a couple early fans and they are LOUD.

Army Rum

The British Army (and by extension the Canadian and ANZAC Corps) offered rum rations for soldiers, at least during the First World War. A number of Canadian officers who entered the war as advocates of Prohibition came to acknowledge that it was frequently the rum ration that was needed to motivate soldiers to go over the top.

Fan fan

There certainly are a lot of electric fans (both wall-mounted and table sitters) in many shorpy photos, like the two on the far right. I once rescued one from the same era from a junk pile, it didn't look like much and it weighed a ton with its solid cast iron base. When I got it home I was shocked to find that it still worked. If you look at the one closest to you in this photo you can just make out behind the tag hanging off the back the pulley and belt which provides the oscillating action of the fan, and this feature was still working on the one I found. Guess they knew how to make them back then.

Trade 'em

As late as 1980, when I left the military, cigarettes were included in C-rations which we ate in the field. I think they came in a pack of 3 cigarettes, in the popular brands. Not being a cigarette smoker I traded them for the desserts. It is difficult to imagine GIs not smoking.

Re: Rum etc.etc.

A common tattoo on British sailors (mostly pre WWII) was "Rum, Bum and Baccy."

You'll Live Longer.....

without cigarettes or at least it will seem longer. I smoked three packs a day for 47 years and always enjoyed it too. I am glad I don't smoke anymore but I'm glad I did smoke also.

How times have changed...

I quit smoking 21 years ago because they would not let me smoke in the hospital when I spent 11 days there. I figured it was time to quit!!

Cough it up

The Army let the YMCA sell donated tobacco to soldiers overseas and in the States. The money built all those nice old YMCA buildings in big American cities.

Rum etc. etc.

It was actually the sailors of the Royal Navy who (until 1970) used to receive a "tot of rum" daily, leading in part to the following remark often attributed to Churchill; "Don't talk to me about naval tradition. It's all rum, sodomy, and the lash."

According to General Pershing:

"You ask me what we need to win this war. I answer tobacco as much as bullets. Tobacco is as indispensable as the daily ration; we must have thousands of tons without delay."


I have been reading some of the online diaries of WWI soldiers. More than once, I have seen entries saying that tobacco was the only thing that made trench life bearable. Of course, the British soldiers also had their rum ration.

Just what they needed

to speed up their recovery! But hindsight is 20/20, and the intentions of those nurses or volunteers were good.

Camel continued its policy of providing free smokes to patients at military and VA hospitals into the 1980s or so. As a kid listening to the radio in the late 1940s, I often heard the announcements at the end of Camel-sponsored shows about Camel sending free cigarettes to "the boys" in whatever hospital.

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