Hummel: 79 years ago, tea was 'more valuable than ammunition'

Lynn Hummel column mug
Lynn Hummel

All across the land, millions of citizens are locked into their homes by self-isolation and stay-at-home guidelines. Those unable to work their usual jobs and those without kids at home have a problem (although those with kids have another problem). In conversations among themselves and interviews with the press, they discuss what they are doing to pass the time.

In my case, the answer is long walks, calling my cousins and reading. Others list doing jigsaw puzzles, walking the dog, frequent drives to the gas station to top off the tank with cheap fuel, baking bread and cookies, creating exotic soups, organizing the house, planting flowers and vegetables outside, painting and art projects, playing the guitar, sewing and crafts, sorting through family photos, watching movies and generally watching the TV drone all day.

The history of England suggests that the English people came up with another solution in 1940 and 1941 while they were being bombed by the Nazis before the USA entered World War II in December 1941. When the Nazis came flying over England, and especially London, thousands were forced into bomb shelters where they waited for hours for an all-clear while the bombs burst outside and the sirens wailed.

It was observed that “the one universal balm for the trauma of war was tea.” That’s right, tea. In the history of England’s defense of the Nazi challenge during “the Blitz,” as put forth in "The Splendid and the Vile," just written by Erik Larson, the record shows the comfort of tea.

It was said that people made tea during air raids, after air raids and on breaks between retrieving bodies from shattered buildings. Observers in observation posts drank tea as they watched for German aircraft. The posts were stocked with tea and kettles. Mobile canteens dispensed tea by the gallon. In propaganda films, making tea was symbolic of “carrying on.” It was agreed that a cup of tea actually did seem to cheer people during a crisis. Tea was English and it was comfort.


As long as there was tea, there was England. They could hang in there. Originally, tea was rationed with a limit of 2 ounces per week. But Prime Minister Winston Churchill, recognizing the comfort of tea during periods of crisis, was reported as saying that tea was “more important than ammunition.” As a result, the ration was increased to 3 ounces per week. But the people were still forced to dry their tea leaves so they could steep them again.

But Churchill himself did not drink tea. He preferred whiskey and water − observing no rationing limits – and a cigar. Without them, Churchill could not function and without Churchill England would have buckled.

This is not to suggest that England was saved by tea. England was saved by the spirit of the English people, the leadership of Churchill and the eventual assistance and entrance into the war by America.

But the point is made that during periods of crisis when there is no dog to walk, puzzles to assemble, tomatoes to plant or guitars to play, a cup or two of English tea (no rationing) may provide comfort when it is needed most.

And if you are led by a giant like Churchill, which we are not, a little whiskey and water with a cigar in the command post might be helpful.

What To Read Next
Get Local