‘When in Doubt Brew Up’: FOOD, DRINK AND THE WRITINGS OF NEW ZEALAND’S WORLD WAR II SOLDIERS By Deborah Montgomerie - New Zealand Journal of History, 48, 2 (2014) LET US START WITH A STORY. It is 1941, or maybe early 1942. Trevor and Red, two infantrymen, are bivouacked in the North African desert waiting for a German attack. The pair keep watch from their slit trench, waiting for dawn and wondering if warm food will be brought into the line. Sure enough, before long some beans appear for breakfast. After that there is nothing to do but smoke and wait for something to happen, listening to the gunfire in the distance. ‘Silver Fern ... Only the best, that’s all. What a godsend that parcel was.’1 But New Zealand tobacco, like New Zealand memories, needs to be carefully husbanded. The war, like the day described in the story, is seemingly endless: ‘Go easy on it boy. We don’t know how long it’s got to last. We’d better roll racehorses.’2 The men’s future is alluded to in their hope that might be worth eking out some cigs to smoke tomorrow. Their past is conjured in a brief fantasy about sitting in a pub back home with a schooner of beer or a rum and raspberry. Eating and drinking are simultaneously expressions of people’s most basic needs and the occasion for some of their most complex cultural interactions. Food, the sociologist Ian Carter reminded us in his essay ‘Eternal Recurrence of the Trivially New’, is a double-coded cultural symbol.3 Food is a biological necessity but it is also an area of our lives where we exercise choice, choice shaped by both our personal likes and dislikes and wider cultural norms. Carter takes part of the title of his essay from Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s phrase ‘eternal recurrence’ was tagged to the essay to capture the individualistic, here- and-now-ness of food’s cultural significations. The second phrase of the title alerts us to the tendency to treat the details of foodways, food experiences and food memories as trivialities – part of the background noise of our lives and our history. This article looks at the way food stories and food imagery were used in the memoirs written by New Zealand soldiers who served overseas in World War II. Like Carter, I am interested in the eternally recurrent aspects of the cultural meanings attached to food culture, arguing that soldiers told food stories as a way of alluding to their bodily needs and those other eternally recurrent aspects of military life, boredom, institutionalization, and the possibility of death. I am also interested in food and food stories as a way in which soldiers could draw attention to relationships, both to other soldiers and to the people they left at home. Self-reliance and choice are other themes of the stories. Their food stories allowed them a means to present themselves as independent and self-governing, like Nietzsche’s Übermensch, ‘standing free, lonely and defiant against the world’. Continued Here (with photographs): http://www.nzjh.auckland.ac.nz/docs/2014/NZJH_48_2_01.pdf There are some 'theory' parts (like the above) which are - frankly - badly written, but there are also some very interesting details and memories later in the essay.