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Voices in the Smoke

Cigarettes and tobacco were as ubiquitous as bullets on the battlefield. They touched virtually all who participated in the conflict, from French Poilus, British Tommies, and American doughboys, to canteen and relief workers, generals, and the crowned heads of Europe. This gallery features images and anecdotes from letters, magazines, and newspapers of the period.

“Every Man Smoking a Cigar”

Quote by Lieutenant Alex Wilkinson
From: The Imperial War Museum Book of 1918: Year of Victory by Malcolm Brown
Read by David Tucker, Wales

“We were right on top of the Hun before he could get his MGs [machine guns] to work and we got a nice few prisoners and an MG straight away and a nice few Huns were killed there too. I just wanted to shoot the first one I saw but I could not bring myself to it, I’m a sentimental ass. Having sent the prisoners back, on we went at a tremendous pace. The men were perfectly splendid and showed amazing skill in the use of their Lewis guns and rifles. It was amusing to see practically every man smoking a cigar after we passed the first objective.”

“The Inevitable Cigarettes”

Quote by Annah Peck
From: The Imperial War Museum Book of 1918: Year of Victory by Malcolm Brown
Read by Mary Clare Johnson, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

“…on the morning of our arrival, we were told what our duties were to be, they made such a delightful program, that it was hard to believe that it was work, especially after the monotony of a big canteen which we had all experienced. It consisted of one person opening a small canteen in the village, morning and evening, and during the busy time in the afternoon, when we served hot chocolate, cold lemonade and the inevitable cigarettes.

With the help of a piano, and a gramophone, some picture papers and games, this proved a great success, and before the opening hours the street outside was thronged with soldiers waiting for it to open.”

“In Their Pain and Suffering They Asked for Cigarettes.”

Quote by George V.Z. Long
From: Association Men, a publication of the Young Men’s Christian Associations of North America, International Committee, November 11, 1918
Read by Alan Blum, MD, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

“One of our fine secretaries (a preacher) who felt the smoking of a cigarette to be almost an unpardonable sin, found himself in the trenches with the men wounded and dying about him. In their pain and suffering they asked for cigarettes. There were no matches to be had. This man who had never smoked obtained a light, lighted a cigarette, put it in his mouth and for hours went about among the men placing cigarettes in their mouths and lighting them from the one kept burning between his lips.”

“Thus Does Tobacco Gauge the Progress of Civilization.”

Quote by E. Alexander Powell, 1919
From: The Army Behind the Army  (New York: Charles Scribner & Sons, pg. 159)
Read by Kevin Bailey, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

“The difference between the old army and the new was strikingly illustrated by the difference in their choice of tobacco. The soldier of the old army was most strongly addicted to the use of that unlovely article known as ‘plug’ – thereby giving steady employment to the spittoon makers. The men of our new armies, however, expressed an overwhelming preference for the cigarette. Thus does tobacco gauge the progress of civilization.”

“What It Would Cost to Place a Ban on Tobacco”

From: Current Opinion, vol. 67, no. 62 (1919)
Read by Alan Blum, MD, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

“As for poor fellows lying mangled in shell holes or in field and evacuation hospitals, with life slowly ebbing away from a body soon to become dreamless dust – who would be heartless enough to ‘prohibit’ this last and only solace.”

© Copyright - The Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society