Remembered Today:

Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
Clive Temple

The use of drugs in WW1

60 posts in this topic

Many of us will be familiar with stories of drug 'use' or the implementation of drugs to front line soldiers ('go pills' with pilots, 'magic' mushrooms with the zulus and the experimentation with LSD 'drops' during Vietnam) but is there any evidence of the use of drugs during WW1?

Amphetamine had been discovered some 30 years before WW1, surely some consideration had been made towards it's use?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Many of us will be familiar with stories of drug 'use' or the implementation of drugs to front line soldiers ('go pills' with pilots, 'magic' mushrooms with the zulus and the experimentation with LSD 'drops' during Vietnam) but is there any evidence of the use of drugs during WW1?

Amphetamine had been discovered some 30 years before WW1, surely some consideration had been made towards it's use?

It's an interesting question. In late Victorian times you could still buy cocaine and opium over the counter at chemists. I wonder when that stopped?

Gunner Bailey

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
It's an interesting question. In late Victorian times you could still buy cocaine and opium over the counter at chemists. I wonder when that stopped?

Gunner Bailey

Late 1920's I think.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

They used a rum ration to give soldiers a lift before going over the top, but even this had to be given under medical advice.

The problem with most drugs (not ordinary medications) is that their effects are largely unpredictable. That is the last thing the Army wanted in its soldiers - they needed control and coordination. Perhaps that was how we beat the Zulus.

Ron

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As far as working class were concerned, alcohol was the drug of choice. Plentiful and cheap. This was to remain true until well after WW2. There was a drug problem in large seaports e.g. London, Liverpool and Glasgow with opium smoking but this was mainly confined to Asian immigrants with a few seamen. Low grade addiction to tincture of opium, laudunum, was a long standing problem. I have never seen references to it being a problem in anything like the level that abuse of alcohol was. Of course quite drastic steps were taken to control the availability of alcohol. Hard to see how serving soldiers in F&F would get access to any great amount of drugs.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Interesting to read about the rum. How was it managed - i.e. how could it be given under medical advice?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Absinthe, of course, was still legal during the war. Absinthe in it's original Edwardian form contained cocaine. The artist van Gough was a serious absinthe drinker and look what happened to his ear!

Geraint

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Interesting to read about the rum. How was it managed - i.e. how could it be given under medical advice?

It was supposed to be issued in very cold weather to warm the men up, when "considered advisable" by the unit's medical officer. Most MOs took a fairly broad view of when it was cold!

It was supplied in jars and doled out to the men under the supervision of an officer, much as it was done in the Royal Navy until more recent times. The officer was supposed to ensure that the men drank it there and then, and did not save it up so they could have a larger drink some days later.

There is another thread on the Forum about the rum jars, which were marked SRD for Supply Reserve Depot. This was often rendered by the men as Service Rum Diluted, or Seldom Reaches Destination!

Incidentally I understand that Mariani wine, which I believe is a form of laudanum, was a favourite tipple of Queen Victoria.

The other drug of choice for soldiers was of course nicotine.

Ron

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There was, of course, the Herlock Shomes stories in the Wipers Times where frequent, illicit use was made of a vermoreal sprayer :wacko: by the lead character in a parody of the drug habit of Conan-Doyle's famous sleuth . It's very easy to read too much into the dark humour of the Wipers Times, but I wonder if this might also have been an allusion to WWI drug abuse by those that had the ways and means to do so? As with Tommys' use of brothels, this is a matter - unlike today - that would not have been plastered over the front pages of the popular press as it would most likely be "society" members (having the means) involved and kept hidden from view.

Morphine, which is highly addictive, must have been used for pain relief (possibly also for the clinical treatment of shellshock?) and its not to hard to imagine somebody who had been treated with it (dependant on their being able to access a supply) acquiring a "habit"; Pure speculation, but It's not improbable that supplies, of which there must have been large quantities for the treatment of the wounded, could have been mis-appropriated at some stage in the supply chain.

NigelS

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Laudenum, a mixture of alcohol and opium, was widely available too. There was certainly a great deal of drug traffiking going on behind the lines with Le Havre, Boulougne and Calais being major ports of entry as well as Marseilles. With the arrival of the Chinese Labour Corps in France and Belgium, the Triads establihsed themselves and conducted the drug trade as well as prostitution. Opium use was fairly common amongst the Chinese whereas cocaine was very popular with whites and the evidence I have seen indicates that there was a thriving trade in Paris. I doubt that the average Tommy would be able to afford, or even be interested in taking the stuff, preferring his beer or Dubonnet.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
They used a rum ration to give soldiers a lift before going over the top, but even this had to be given under medical advice.

Ron

Ron

I thought the only restriction was that the senior officer had to declare the weather to be 'inclement' (which it always was). I've never heard of the medical people preventing the issue of rum.

Gunner Bailey

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

My father, after the war (early 1920's) had a friend, a young rich fellow who owned a pharmacudical company, and Pop worked for him for a while as a combination ligitimate drug salesman/driver/bodyguard, and they went on larks all over Europe; my father told me an extremely funny story about a lark in rural Hungary. He told me several stories about illicit use of cocaine and morphine. One customer was a doctor and his wife (a nurse); the two consumed as much morphine as a small city. The doctor had a specialty in $4 abortions; one day he was performing one, and he passed out from excessive morphine and actually fell across the patient; his wife rolled him off onto the floor and completed the procedure. I doubt if the patient was pleased. (Wondering about this, how he heard, most likely from a complaint from the wife. Pop's oral history has over the years proved to be surprisingly accurate.) Also told me a story about illicit trade in cocaine.

I would imagine that the vices were spread over Europe, although 1920's Germany, especially Berlin, was a wild and whacky place.

Bob

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I think we've covered some of this in an earlier thread. At the begining of the war some high class stores would sell you a heroin and cocaine kit to send to your loved one at the front! Pictures of some of the adverts were posted in evidence. There were aparently some cases of excesses due to drugs and some of the press ran scare stories about large numbers of drug (crazed?) troops. The government then becan placing controls of the sale of drugs.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Absinthe, of course, was still legal during the war.

The manufacture of Absinthe was made illegal in 1914 (though not in the UK where not much (if any?) was made anyway) and the sale of it by 1915. This is why the famous Absinthe manufacturer Pernod stopped putting wormwood oil (the source of the thujone which gave it it's (apparently) psychoactive effects) in it and managed to continue in production.

As for other drugs - a good article on the various "nerve soothers" available at the time (plus amphetamine abuse in the German Army) along with heroine addiction, associated crime, etc, can be found in some of the earlier editions of "Gunfire" magazine (it started with one article, then became a series).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The manufacture of Absinthe was made illegal in 1914

In France - you could still pop across the border into Switzerland and glug yourself into insensibility on it. I believe that a small plant still produces some to this day. I suspect that bottles of the stuff would make their way into France from time to time.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
In France - you could still pop across the border into Switzerland and glug yourself into insensibility on it. I believe that a small plant still produces some to this day. I suspect that bottles of the stuff would make their way into France from time to time.

I've seen bottles of absinthe for sale in a bottle shop in York but I assume that wormwood is no longer used in its manufacture.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It was reintroduced in this country - with a little fanfare - a few years back, Des. Must admit, I've never tried it. B)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The brother of Nigel Bruce the actor Sir Michael Bruce of Stenhouse (I think) speaks in his memoirs of being used to infiltrate the party scene in London to catch drug traffickers. He claimed that the Germans used drug traders to collect information from addicts.

Greg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I thought the only restriction was that the senior officer had to declare the weather to be 'inclement' (which it always was). I've never heard of the medical people preventing the issue of rum.

Gunner Bailey

"Inclement" was the word I was grasping for!

FS Pocket Book says "at the discretion of the general officer commanding, on the recommendation of the medical officer." It does seem that this was interpreted fairly liberally in the trenches, but I believe some Div GOCs got a poor reputation for being parsimonious in this respect.

And there is a story that 2/Lt P, the only officer shot for murder during the war, was at least suspected of being involved in drug trafficking in some way. He shot the MP who was trying to arrest him.

Ron

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I remember watching an educational programme on drugs in high school (so we're talking this current decade, 2000 at the very earliest) which mentioned in WW1, something was put in British soldiers tea to make them more cheerful, but was stopped as it made them unwilling to fight the enemy - is this true?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

You are thinking of bromide, which soldiers of both WW1 and WW2 (and later) suspected was being put in their tea. It was supposed to suppress their "manly urges".

Ron

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
You are thinking of bromide, which soldiers of both WW1 and WW2 (and later) suspected was being put in their tea. It was supposed to suppress their "manly urges".

Ron

Oh yes! That little tale was circulating during my basic training in the RAF in the seventies.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I Have a plaque to a chap buried in Haidar Pasha Cemetery, Istanbul in 1920. I'd always presumed he was the victim of the flu. However, his papers were recently made available via Ancestry. They made interesting reading. His death was obviously unexpected, so an autopsy was ordered which could find no reason for his death. However, it did note,

Four small puncture marks on the outer aspect of the upper left arm such as left by the insertion of a hypodermic needle.

After various other tests it was concluded that the deceased probably succumbed to narcotic poisoning

Interesting and for me surprising.

Regards,

Spud

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
They used a rum ration to give soldiers a lift before going over the top, but even this had to be given under medical advice.

The problem with most drugs (not ordinary medications) is that their effects are largely unpredictable. That is the last thing the Army wanted in its soldiers - they needed control and coordination. Perhaps that was how we beat the Zulus.

Ron

Why is rum always the choice of the armed forces? Odd.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0