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A First World War Soldier

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A common inquiry put to doctors is, "What do you think of the alcohol question in a tropical campaign?" Do we not think that it is a good thing that our army is, by force of circumstances, a teetotal one? Much as we regret to depart from an attitude that is on the whole hostile to alcohol, I must say that it is our conviction that in the tropics a certain amount of diffusible stimulant is very beneficial and quite free from harm. And the cheapest and most reliable stimulant of that nature one can obtain commercially is, of course, whiskey. This whole campaign has been almost entirely a teetotal one for reasons of transport and inability to get drink. Not for any other reason, I can assure you. But where the absence of alcohol has been no doubt responsible for a wonderful degree of excellent behaviour among our troops, I yet know that the few who were able to get a drink at night felt all the better for it. At the end of the day here, when the sun has set and darkness, swiftly falling, sends us to our tents and bivouacs, there comes a feeling of intense exhaustion, especially if any exercise has been taken. And exercise in some form, as you have heard, is absolutely essential to health after the sun has descended toward the west about four o'clock in the afternoon. For men and officers go sick in standing camp more than on trek, and, often, the more and the longer the men are left in camp to rest, with the intention of recuperation, the more they go down with malaria and dysentery.

It is no sudden conclusion we have come to as to the value of alcohol, but we certainly feel that a drink or two at night does no one any harm. But the drink for tropics must not be fermented liquor: beer and wine are headachy and livery things. Whisky and particularly vermouth are far the best. And vermouth is really such a pleasant wholesome drink too. The idea of vermouth alone is attractive. For it is made from the dried flowers of camomile to which the later pressings of the grape have been added. One has only to smell dried camomile flowers to find that their fragrance is that of hay meadows in an English June! Camomile preparations, too, are now so largely used in medicine and still keep their reputation for wholesome and soothing qualities that it has enjoyed for generations. How could one think that harm could lurk in the tincture of such fragrant things as the flowers of English meadows? No little reputation as a cure and preventive for blackwater fever does vermouth enjoy! We know that we must always, if we would be wise, be guided by local experience and local custom, and it is told of the Anglo-German boundary Commission in East Africa, that the frontier between the two protectorates can still be traced by the empty vermouth bottles! But there were no cases of blackwater. I am told, on that very long and trying expedition.

In the survey of the whole question of Prohibition in the future, the essential difference of the requirements of humanity in tropical countries must be taken into consideration. There is no doubt, and in this all medical men of long tropical experience will agree, that some stimulant is needed by blond humanity living out of his geographical environment and debilitated by the adverse influence of his lack of pigment, the vertical sun and a tropical heat. It is more than probable that a proviso will have to be added to any world-wide scheme of prohibition. The cocktail, the universal "sherry and bitters" and "sundowner" will have to be retained. To expect a man, so exhausted that the very idea of food is distasteful, to digest his dinner, is to ask too much of one's digestive apparatus. And this we must all admit, that if a man in the tropics does not eat, then certainty he may not live.

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