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Published May 27th 2020
An Army May March on its Stomach, But it Needs Tea
Most people visiting Britain, either for the first time or on a regular basis, will know one thing - the British love a cup of tea! It has been a vital part of UK culture for hundreds of years, and even played a role in Britain's victory in the Second World War. And such is the nation's unavoidable obsession, and some might say reliance, with the traditional 'cuppa' that an online exhibition has been running in England for people to enjoy and also learn some interesting facts about. Tea For II has been put together by the National Memorial Arboretum, which is the country's year-round centre of remembrance. Although the 150-acre Arboretum, situated at Alrewas in Staffordshire, has been forced to close due to the coronavirus pandemic, it was inspired by the recent 75th anniversary of VE Day at the beginning of May to launch the special Tea for ll online exhibition.
Fascinating Tea for ll exhibition created by the National Memorial Arboretum
The exhibition summarises a cup of tea as being 'quintessentially British' and symbolic of home, a comfort of family life, a shared rest from work and a warming treat. Although it has been a feature of live in the UK since the 1700s, the exhibition focuses on the important role the drink played in maintaining morale during the Second World War. With the help of a series of photographs from the wartime period, the display looks at the role of tea both at home and on the front-line, both in Europe and around the world. And, not surprisingly, it concludes with the best-tasting cuppa that most British people would have enjoyed for more than five years - on the VE Day celebrations that saw a huge outpouring of joy on 8 May 1945.
Visitors to the exhibition, on the NMA website, will quickly discover that tea, like many other things, was rationed in Britain throughout the 1939-1945 war and, in fact, continued up until 1952. Despite this, British people still received enough tea rations to enable them to make three cups a day. This was achieved because the government had the foresight, just two days after Britain declared war in September 1939, to protect all its tea reserves in warehouses around the country. And, in 1942, at the height of the conflict, Britain bought all the available tea from every tea-producing country in the world, with the obvious exception of Japan.
As well as looking at the home situation, the online exhibition also looks at the role tea played in keeping spirits up among soldiers, sailors and airmen on the front-line. Britain's war-time leader Winston Churchill reportedly said that tea was more important than ammunition, and who am I to disagree! In fact, throughout the war, the Red Cross sent 20 million packages to British prisoners of war, each one of which contained a quarter pound of tea. There was another interesting, but more disturbing fact contained within the exhibition which surprised me. Apparently, more than a third of tank casualties during the Second World War were attributed to soldiers leaving their vehicle to make a cup of tea. As a result, since 1945, all British tanks were fitted with a boiling vessel so soldiers can cook rations and make tea in the safety of their vehicle.