When Britain declared war in August 1914, Canada met the conflict with support, enthusiasm and celebration as ideas of glory and adventure filled the heads of many young Canadian men. But once overseas, soldiers were faced with a reality far from what they dreamed of on the Western Front, where they shared overcrowded trenches full of thigh-deep mud with rats, lice and corpses. With dreams of heroism and adventure fading fast, glorious sentiments were replaced with the need to endure both physically and mentally. Morale boosting on the personal and group level was needed on a constant basis.


Photo from http://bytesdaily.blogspot.ca/

Soldiers in trenches during the war write letters home. Life in the trenches was summed up by the phrase which later became well-known: "Months of boredom punctuated by moments of extreme terror."  


While it is not clear exactly when it began, by 1914 consumption of rum and other spirits had already become an established routine for British and Canadian soldiers and was provided at certain times of day to help with motivation, as a medicine (to ease aches and pains, aid sleep and combat depression) in the horrid living conditions or as a reward for a job well done. It was also provided at the dawn stand-to attention and the dusk stand-down, as these were common times for the enemy to attack. If no attack came, the commanding officers would give the soldiers each 60 ml (2 oz) of overproof rum.

Whatever the reason, it has been said that some hard fought battles were won because of “more than ordinary daily issues of rum.” Several soldiers are quoted as saying “if we had not had the rum we would have certainly died.” Even operational orders for the attack on Vimy Ridge coming from generals far from the front included orders stating that  “the comfort, efficiency and fighting value of the troops are greatly fortified by the use of alcohol.” Additionally, when soldiers were injured, they were administered a shot of rum, port or morphine to kill the pain before tending to their wounds through a medical operation.


Photo from http://bytesdaily.blogspot.ca/


British soldiers on Vimy Ridge, 1917. British and Canadian forces pushed through German defenses at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April of 1917, advancing as far as six miles in three days, retaking high ground and the town of Thelus, at the cost of nearly 4,000 dead.


A true soldier’s tool, rum helped make fighters out of the clerks, farmers, bakers and bankers who put down the tools of their trades to fight, and motivated many where they would have collapsed under the pressure and stress of trench warfare.


Canadian soldiers returning from Vimy Ridge, April 1917. Image from the CanadianEncyclopedia.ca


For those of us who are lucky enough to live in present-day Canada, trench warfare is far removed from reality, but it can still get pretty cold, wet and miserable here during the winter months, especially when you are outside exploring the backroads, snowmobiling, backcountry skiing or just generally being Canadian.

So, if you are looking for something to warm you up from the inside out and want to experience a true soldier’s drink on Remembrance Day, put your poppy on, make some hot rum and toast to the Canadian Veterans young and old who sacrificed their lives and wellbeing to make this amazing country what it is today.


We will remember.


Make your own Hot Buttered Rum

(recipe by the Food Network)



2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/4 cup honey

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Pinch salt

3/4 cup spiced rum

2 cups boiling water

4 sticks cinnamon, for garnish


Using an electric mixer, beat the brown sugar, butter, honey, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt in a medium bowl until blended and smooth. Transfer the mixture to a 4-cup (or larger) measuring cup. Add the rum and then 2 cups of boiling water. Stir until the butter mixture dissolves. Divide the buttered rum among 4 mugs. Garnish with the cinnamon sticks (optional) and serve.