Christmas Tea Event Poster

Having organised a well attended ‘War Walk’ around the neighbourhood in October, visiting the former homes of WW1 servicemen, and with a trip to the wartime graves in Isleworth Cemetery yet to arrange for next spring, the North St Margarets Residents’ Association, (the NSMRA), is now concentrating upon its next remembrance of the Great War.

At 2.30pm on Sunday 14th December ‘All Souls Church’ in Haliburton Road will open its doors for an afternoon of popular songs, poetry and news accounts drawn from the four wartime Christmases. It will tell of how a local community faced the trials and hardships of mechanised warfare, from the brief cheeriness of the 1914 Christmas Truce, through the slaughter of the Somme to the growing optimism of Christmas 1918 - when it actually seemed that the end might be in sight. The production features a choir, a band and a cast of professional actors and singers aided by a graphic slideshow and hi-tech sound system. Admission is free although there will be a retiring collection.

soldiers with tea

After the show, at about 4.00pm, and inspired by what our grandparents, great grandparents and maybe even great, great grandparents were sitting down to 100 years ago, an Edwardian Tea will be served with genuine Edwardian Cucumber sandwiches plus many choices of cake and tea. More adventurous souls can also sample a taste of what the Tommies called “Trench Tea” - made strong with Condensed Milk. Yummy!

making tea in trench


There was a limited choice in what you could drink in the trenches of the Great War. Cocoa, Camp Coffee and Bovril if you were lucky enough to be sent some from home, water if you didn’t mind it tasting of petrol, vegetables, chloride of lime or whatever else the bucket had been used for previously and perhaps more mortifying than fortifying , a slug of rum before going ‘over the top’. And then there was tea…

There were a number of difficulties when it came to making tea in the trenches. Unless you could afford a 2/6d ‘Tommy’s Cooker’ stove, water had to be heated over a coke brazier or wood fire. Smoke had to be kept to an absolute minimum to avoid drawing mortar fire. The water tasted awful. If there was any milk it was inevitably ‘off’, and any sugar congealed into a solid lump. The answer came with tinned Condensed Milk.

Condensed milk tin

Condensed Milk was easily transported, remained fresh until opened and unlike evaporated milk contained sugar. One splash into a soldier’s mug satisfied all his beverage needs - whiteness for appearance, sweetness for taste and the possible easing of any suspicious under-taste. For all its unique qualities many ex servicemen developed a taste for the brew. Many of us will remember grandfathers and great grandfathers who drank the stuff by the gallon. Surprisingly there are some people today who still do.

“This was to be our first trip into the frontline trench. It was only ten o’clock in the morning, but tea - strong and sweet, with condensed milk - is instantly forthcoming. Refreshed by this and a slice of cake, we proceed upon our excursion.”

IAN HAY “The First Hundred Thousand” - pub 1915

The NSMRA invite you to proceed on their musical and poetical excursion from 2.30pm on Sunday, 14 December 2014 at All Souls Church in Haliburton Road with an Edwardian Tea from 4.00pm. Admission is free with a retiring collection.

– from Martyn Day