After battling their way up through Ottoman Palestine 100 years ago, British soldiers garrisoned in Ramle took a break from the fighting and tossed back a few drinks.
Many drinks, at that.
Excavations carried out last week during the construction of a new highway east of Ramle in central Israel turned up the remains of a building used by British soldiers in General Edmund Allenby’s army who were stationed there between November 1917 and September 1918. Outside the ruined building, archaeologists with the IAA found the soldiers’ garbage pit, in which were plates and cutlery, uniform buttons, belt buckles, and hundreds of liquor bottles.
Ron Toueg, an archaeologist with the IAA who headed the salvage operation, told The Times of Israel that the trove included three intact bottles of Gordon’s Dry Gin, a bottle of Dewar’s whisky, beer bottles, wine bottles, and bottles of mineral water, including one from Johannesburg, South Africa.
The dig also turned up several items that helped narrow down the time the building was in use: the silver tip of a British officer’s swagger stick marked with the letters RFC — Royal Flying Corps — which became the Royal Air Force in April 1918; and a medallion with the face of King Fuad of Egypt, who ruled from October 1917 until March 1922, with the words in French “Long live Fuad, king of Egypt”; and the bottom of pocket watch with an inscription for a one-year warranty by its manufacturer in New York.
He speculated that the building may have served as a British military canteen or officer’s club. One of the bottles bore the words Garrison Institute, Cairo, the name of a canteen service provided for troops on the front line that operated in Palestine after the British conquered it.
“We can see in various aerial photographs taken at the beginning of 1918 from January onwards that fewer and fewer [military] camps were there,” Toueg said. Afterwards the camps were struck and the army pressed north toward Damascus.
“This is the first time in the history of archeology in Israel in which an assemblage of hundreds of glass bottles from a British army camp from World War I was uncovered,” Brigitte Ouahnouna, a researcher in the IAA’s glass department, said in a statement. “Interestingly, the glass bottles, which contained mainly wine, beer, soda and alcoholic beverages such as gin, liquor and whiskey, came from Europe to supply soldiers and officers in the camp.”
Unfortunately, as far as the IAA has disclosed, all the bottles they found were empty.