From the Supply Reserve Depot
Updated: Aug 22
Success! For some time now, we have been searching for a stoneware jar marked with the letters 'SRD' to complement Tastes Of History’s Great War themed history displays. While many stoneware jars have been found, none had the iconic 'SRD' lettering. Just before Christmas 2019 we visited Victoria Mill Antiques Centre in Congleton, a favourite haunt of ours for seeking out period props and kitchenalia. If we are honest, we went there for lunch as chef Ian Woodhouse serves quite superb food in the Loft Café, but it never hurts to have a nose around. Within minutes, three stoneware jars were spotted at the back of a shelf but, so used to finding such things, we almost ignored them. That is until what looked like black marks on one of the jars facing the wall were spotted. Could it be? The jar pictured (left) is now part of our kit, but why all the fuss and what do those letters mean?
First World War, and later, period British Army stoneware jars were typically marked with the letters 'SRD' which, according to the Imperial War Museum (IWM), stood for 'Supply Reserve Depot'. As usual various internet commentators continue to cast doubt on this meaning, but it is safe to say that the alternatives (see InfoBox right), which are all too often quoted, are simply incorrect.
Other, more ironic, interpretations of the initials including: 'Seldom Reaches Destination', 'Services Rum Diluted' and 'Soon Runs Dry' are simply wonderful examples of soldiers' black humour. If there remains any doubt on the meaning of 'SRD', then consider that the Imperial War Museum was founded in 1917 to record the civil and military war effort and the sacrifice of Britain and its Empire during the First World War. Such a pedigree gives the IWM a certain authority on such matters and thus 'Supply Reserve Depot' it is.
That containers and crates for other foodstuffs and drinks/liquids were marked 'SRD' is completely understandable and consistent with them being distributed to the front through the Army’s logistical supply system. Indeed, the iconic 'SRD' jars, which are usually assumed to have contained only rum, may have held many different liquids or substances. These stoneware jars were simply the common storage container of the day. Variations in the shape and glaze colours of surviving examples is most likely the result of mass production by several different potteries.
The association with rum remains valid, however. Except for Muslim personnel, British and Commonwealth soldiers were given a daily rum ration of 1/16th of a pint, or a quarter-gill, per man per day. Given such a small amount, frontline soldiers would find it difficult to get intoxicated on the standard issue ration alone so stories of troops going into battle in an alcoholic stupor are most likely unfounded. That said, some sources mention the run ration being doled out more frequently, especially when attacks were imminent or if heavy casualties increased the availability of rum. Typically, however, the ration was issued once per morning at the daily 'stand-to' when, just before dawn, soldiers would man their forward trench positions in preparation to counter an enemy attack. Known even to this day as 'gunfire' , a shot of rum would have been a welcome, warming and morale boosting start to any chilly morning.
1. The tradition of 'gunfire', where officers and Warrant Officers serve the other ranks a shot of rum in their early morning cup of tea, is still practiced in the British Army. Gunfire is typically reserved for active duty personnel to celebrate Christmas Day at reveille. Individual regiments may carrying out the ritual on other days. For example, in the Royal Tank Regiment gunfire is served on Cambrai Day; in the Queen's Royal Hussars on Balaclava Day and Saint Patrick's Day. The Royal Dragoon Guards also serve gunfire on St Patrick's Day but it is made with whiskey instead of rum.