Right back at the start of this blog we looked at a number of British and South African Army cigarette tins, tonight we are looking at another little army issue tin. This example was issued to individual troops to give them somewhere safe to put their cigarettes when issued their share with rations and would have held around twenty cigarettes. The tin itself is a small pressed metal container, painted dark green, with ‘CIGARETTES’ printed across the front:As can be seen it is very badly faded, the base of the tin reveals its original colour:The difference in colour is striking! Note also the corrugations impressed in the base of the tin. This is a popular feature of tobacco tins of the first half of the twentieth century and acted as a striker for the matches of the period. The lid of the tin is hinged, with a simple length of wire:The importance of cigarettes to the armed forces in the Second World War is illustrated by a story from 1940 in the wake of Dunkirk, told by L R Childs, a child at the time:
There must have been a signal since the driver applied the brakes and in a flurry of dust and steam the train squealed to a halt. The engine now well over the bridge began panting and puffing as it paused in the sunshine reflecting the exertion of pulling a large number of carriages.
The housewives came out from under the bridge and with us lads and a few more passers by together we looked up at the stationary train.
The carriage windows were down obviously the passengers needed the cooler air, and to our surprise a soldier appeared. A head of unkempt hair, a grimy face and a scruffy army tunic. Eyes blinking from the sunshine he looked down on our silent group.
The youngest of the housewives called up to him, “Are you all right?”
The soldier looked at us, at the houses and shops as if in a dream. He struggled to reply, then said, “I’m gasping for a fag.”
“Cigarette? Yes I’ve got one.” The young lady opened her handbag and extracted a packet.
She lifted her arm as if to throw the packet up to the soldier but realised that it would be futile, the bridge perhaps 30-feet up, a lightweight packet couldn’t be thrown that far. Thinking quickly she called, “I’ll bring these up to you,” and she walked over to the side of the bridge and tried to climb the steep embankment. A daunting task.
She looked at us boys. “You lads, come over here and help me up.” It was a command. We moved quickly but then I paused since nailed to the wall of the embankment was a notice.
TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED
“Don’t just stand there. Come on.” She was very determined and I obeyed.
But others had also moved over to the young lady. They were offering packets of cigarettes.
“Take these.” A packet of Players thrust into her bag.
“And these.” Woodbines, Craven A, Park Drive, a dozen packets for the soldiers. So we heaved, pulled and tugged and to the cheers and encouragement of many soldiers now leaning from windows we got up onto the track.
That lady didn’t stop, she moved onto the bridge with us lads in close pursuit, to where our first soldier was leaning from the carriage window. Taking a packet from her bag she reached up, he opened the carriage door and gratefully took the cigarettes.
The remaining packets were distributed in a flash.