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This talk will explore the phenomenon of comforts funds, which emerged during the First World War to provide warm clothing, food and tobacco to British and colonial troops. These schemes relied upon the cooperation of the state, voluntary organisations and tobacco firms to make the effective provision of cigarettes and other tobacco products possible. In particular, the talk will focus on contemporary notions of soldierly welfare and the incorporation of tobacco, and the social-cultural activity of smoking, in stressful and dangerous battle situations, as well as in periods of pre-battle anxiety and post-violence relief. As the Berwickshire News tobacco fund stated in 1917, tobacco was the ‘only comfort’ to soldiers in the trenches, its mild narcotic properties seen as vital in encouraging resilience, combatting ‘nerves’ and preventing boredom. It was simultaneously a luxury and a necessity, leading to its inclusion in comforts funds organised by humanitarian relief organisations, such as the British Red Cross, as well as in funds established by local working-class community groups and war charities. Making use of historical sources from a number of newspapers, alongside government papers and the 1916 War Charities Register, the central contention of this talk is that smoking, and the provision of tobacco, was deemed central to soldierly welfare by many wartime voluntary workers, commentators and politicians, combining military, charitable, voluntary and commercial interests in an effort to ensure the smooth and uninterrupted flow of tobacco to fighting men stationed around the globe.

Dr Michael Reeve was Lecturer in History at Bishop Grosseteste University Lincoln, 2019-2022, Lincoln. In December 2022, he takes up the role of Lecturer in Modern British History at the Open University.

All welcome- this session is free to attend, but booking in advance is required.