Sunday, 29 April 2018

Life in the British Army in 1899 - the Fizzer Man

This article, written by Callum Beg, appeared in the Navy & Army Illsrrated published on the 17th June 1899

The soldier of past ages was content to invest what little surplus money remained to him, after paying for his regimental and other necessaries, in tobacco and ale. Not so the youthful warrior of today. Frequently fresh from school when he takes service under the Union Jack, it is not a matter for surprise that he has no appetite for either the one or the other. From time to time one hears of the prevalence of the “liquor habit” in the ranks and its dire results- crime and disease. Now it can not be denied that an abnormal love for “the flowing bowl” has been the ruin of many a promising soldier. It is equally true that no small proportion of our modern soldiers, although displaying no tendency to indulge in alcoholic liquors, is busy sowing the seeds of future disease connected  for the most part with the digestive organs.

Lest either the Army reformer or the agitator against armament of every description should for one moment suppose that the Government rations are responsible for the cultivation of dyspepsia among the defenders of the Empire, it may be well to clear the character of the “regulation” bread and meat before proceeding further. Let it be understood, then, that the provisions supplied free to the soldier are in no sense calculated to injure his "internal economy". On the contrary, were he to satiate his appetite with the rations provided for him, he would in all likelihood develop into a useful fighting man. Nowadays, however, he too often prefers to fill the "aching void" with a mixture of jam-tarts, cakes, and "fizzers".  A fizzer, as its name implies, is strictly speaking, a drink of an effervescent nature, but the term is in reality applied indifferently to almost every kind of temperance drink.

The demand for this species of liquor has within recent years become so great that it has provided a number of persons in the vicinity of every garrison town with a visible (and sometimes exceedingly lucrative) means of subsistence. Needless to say, the camp followers referred to are made up, like every other trade and calling, of honest men and rogues, although the latter, when discovered, are very quickly deprived of "Tommy’s" patronage. A few years ago, when the Fusilier Brigade - the old 5th (now Northumberland) Fusiliers, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, and the Inniskilling Fusiliers - marched
out of Shorncliffe Camp on its way to Ashdown Forest for manoeuvres, it was closely followed by a veritable host of what those who had "soldiered" in the East were pleased to term "fizzer-wallahs" of varying degrees of respectability. Some, sufficiently well endowed with this world’s goods, carried their wares in carts or wheelbarrows. Others in groups of two or three were, perforce, charged with the conveyance of the ingredients necessary for the carrying on of their trade.

All that is required to manufacture the fizzer proper is aqua pura and a proportionate amount of sherbet. During the first few miles of the first day’s march it may be assumed that the former commodity was to be had in abundance, but the thirsty young soldiers, unaccustomed to self-control, had soon exhausted the water supply of the smaller dealers. The capitalists who had a sufficient supply of Adam’s wine on their carts were overjoyed to see their trade suddenly increased; but those who lacked transport were not wanting in resources. The Hythe Canal lay along the route, and ere long the cans of the "small fry" were again filled - but with what? A greenish stagnant fluid rich in bacilli.

Regardless of this fact, the younger men of the brigade continued to drink; but before "lights out" had sounded in camp that night there was "weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth" not to mention work in plenty for the Army Medical Staff.

"It’s an ill-wind that blows nobody any good." So said the wiser "fizzer-wallahs" the following day; for the mandate went forth that soldiers were to purchase their refreshments from none but those provided with passes. Needless to say, the vendors of bacteria were "unprovided with a pass" and wended their way homewards, sadder and wiser men. In barracks and camps such as Aldershot strict rules obtain regarding hawkers and their wares. None can follow their calling within the hallowed precincts of Government property without the necessary pass, and before permission is granted a strict investigation is made into the character of the applicant.

Generally speaking, the privileged dealers are either pensioners or soldiers’ widows. The discovery of any illegal practice on their part leads to the immediate loss of licence, but unfortunately there is no regulation by which the authorities can control the appetite of growing lads who are accustomed to leave all their pocket-money with these denizens of barracks.

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