Archaeologists uncork 100-year-old liquor stash left by British troops
search

Archaeologists uncork 100-year-old liquor stash left by British troops

Aside from bottles of gin and whiskey knocked back by World War I soldiers, excavation near Ramle also turns up silver tip of swagger stick, medallion with face of Egypt's King Fuad

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

A bottle of Gordon’s Dry Gin found at a World War I British camp near Ramle in March 2017 (Assaf Peretz, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority)
A bottle of Gordon’s Dry Gin found at a World War I British camp near Ramle in March 2017 (Assaf Peretz, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority)

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.

Officers sitting around a table in an olive grove in Ramleh, Palestine, 1918. Headquarters 40TH (Army) Wing RAF. (Australian War Memorial, public domain)
Officers sitting around a table in an olive grove in Ramleh, Palestine, 1918. Headquarters 40TH (Army) Wing RAF. (Australian War Memorial, public domain)

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.

The silver tip of the swagger stick stamped with the symbol of the corps and the initials RFC found at a World War I British camp near Ramle in March 2017 (Ron Toueg, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority)
The silver tip of the swagger stick stamped with the symbol of the corps and the initials RFC found at a World War I British camp near Ramle in March 2017 (Ron Toueg, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority)

 

A bottle of Dewar's whisky with the label found at a World War I British camp near Ramle in March 2017 (Assaf Peretz, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority)
A bottle of Dewar’s whisky with the label found at a World War I British camp near Ramle in March 2017 (Assaf Peretz, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority)

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.

A bottle of Gordon’s Dry Gin found at a World War I British camp near Ramle in March 2017 (Assaf Peretz, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority)
A bottle of Gordon’s Dry Gin found at a World War I British camp near Ramle in March 2017 (Assaf Peretz, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority)

“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.”

The assemblage of bottles found in the remnants of a World War I British camp near Ramle in March 2017 (Clara Amit, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority)
The assemblage of bottles found in the remnants of a World War I British camp near Ramle in March 2017 (Clara Amit, courtesy of Israel Antiquities Authority)

Unfortunately, as far as the IAA has disclosed, all the bottles they found were empty.

————————

Follow Ilan Ben Zion on Twitter and Facebook.

read more:
comments