The British Tommy has enjoyed an alcoholic drink since the dawn of time, however in the early twentieth century, as before and since, it was recognised that heavy drinking was a major problem for the army as a whole. Temperance movements had become popular in civilian life throughout the Victorian era and it is perhaps unsurprising that they also sprang up in the army. India was a particular area where they were felt to be needeed as men had lots of spare time and relatively high spending power which saw them turn to drink. Army temperance movements sprang up across the sub-continent to offer an alternative to alcohol and to those who took ‘the pledge’ to abstain from alcohol, small medals were awarded for sobriety at regular intervals.
This Army Temperance Association medal takes the form of a crowned Maltese cross in white metal:
On the reverse is a small ring to allow the medal to be worn:
Private Frank Richards recalls the temperance movement in India before the First World War:
To be a member of the Army Temperance Association a man had to sign the pledge and contribute four annas a month to the funds, which gave him the use of the A.T.A. room, where there were a number of newspapers and magazines not to be found in the Library. Members who kept their pledge were entitled to A.T.A. medals. One was awarded after six months, and I believe that they continued to be dealt out at yearly intervals, but a man would have to be back in civil life before he could appear in public wearing these certificates of unnatural behaviour.
Every six months the members elected a new barman and secretary, who were each paid £2 a month out of the funds. These were coveted posts, because if an additional £20 or £30 a month could not be made between the two of them, and a handsome profit still shown, this meant either perfect incompetence or, what was less likely, perfect honesty.
A percentage of the profit shown was sent to the Headquarters of the A.T.A., the remainder was spent on card-tournaments, dances and concerts. I knew about the money side of the business from one barman who, during the time he was on the job, often held cheerful card-parties in his bunk after eleven o’clock at night: they were made cheerful by the whiskey and soda which he provided for the party. He was very fond of a whiskey and soda, though the staunchest of teetotallers in other respects.
Tea, which we called “char”, mineral waters, cake, and bread and butter were sold at the A.T.A. The main profit was made out of the char, which was sold at two annas a pint. Genuine bun-punchers or char-wallahs, as they were called, would drink char all day: summer and winter they drank it. The Prayer-wallah often said that if the bodies of all the A.T.A. men who had died in India from causes known or unknown were to be assembled in one grave, the finest tea-garden in the world would soon sprout up from between their bones.