Wartime Beer Stories

Soldiers with Bass crate "Christmas on the Rhine" color postcard
Soldiers with Bass crate “Christmas on the Rhine” (Ref no: 86.2652.00)

“Beer is the innocent pleasure of many millions, especially among those who bear the brunt today”

Quintin Hogg

Here’s a small selection of wartime beer stories from the breweries, their people and their war efforts, many of them extracted from the archive and the museum collection.

Colonel James Eadie

Colonel James Eadie commanded the Yeomanry during the Second World War. He was a Bass director and successfully introduced the Bass red triangle as part of the Staffordshire Yeomanry officers’ beret badge

“Colonel J. Alister Eadie, a vice-president of the Brewer’s Society who died on 14 January, aged 60, was a chairman of the Society 1956-57. He was chairman of Wilson’s Brewery Ltd, and of Wilson and Walker Breweries Ltd., and director of Cornbrook Brewery Co. Ltd.

He entered the family firm of James Eadie Ltd, Burton-on-Trent, in 1920, joining the board on the death of his father a few years later. He was chairman at the time of the amalgamation of the company in 1933 with Bass Ratcliff and Gretton Ltd. and Worthington and Co. Ltd., of which group he was a director until 1947. In 1946 he joined the board of Wilson’s Brewery Ltd., Manchester.

During the greater part of WW2, he served overseas with his regiment, the Staffordshire Yeomanry which he commanded from September 1942, shortly after it had joined the desert campaign until the fighting in North Africa ended with the Allied victory at Tunis. He remained in command of his regiment, which he took to Normandy on D-Day until he was posted home in 1944 as chief instructor at Sandhurst. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Bar.“

Colonel James Eadie Beret
This beret bears the motto:
Evil be to him who evil thinks
For our altars and our homes

The world’s only floating brewery

During the Second World War, the Government regarded beer as essential for maintaining morale and sustaining the war effort.

Supplying beer to the troops was regarded as an essential part of the rest and recuperation, which for breweries meant that production rose.

But, shelf-life and conservation were very different at this time. Beer from home could find its way to a soldier in the Pacific ocean, but it certainly didn’t taste like home.

Any attempts to import beer to the troops produced pretty poor results. Furthermore, at this time, the beer industry was undeveloped in Asia and unable to meet the British soldiers’ needs. Therefore, the Menestheus was fully kitted out to be a floating brewery ready to make house calls across the Pacific.

George Brown from the famous Truman’s Brewery (active from the 17th century until its demise in the 1980s) of London was made head brewer. He produced the ship’s first batch of beer on New Year’s Eve 1945. Needing only eight days to ferment and settle, the second batch was on the go by January 7th, 1946. Though the ship wasn’t fitted out to be working while in motion, when it was stationary the HMS Menestheus was able to pump out 250 British-sized barrels per week.

Using the heat that came from the ship’s boilers themselves, distilled seawater, and malt extract, Brown further defied the odds of brewing in such an unusual location by using a closed-fermentation system which was developed to make up for the lack of a mash tun.

Menestheus the world's only floating brewery poster

A black and white photograph of the HMS Menestheus can be seen at the Imperial War Museum archives FL 15180

Eric Arthur Morris-Remembered by his friend

My name is Fred Harling-I first met Eric one Christmas Day lunchtime in the early 1950s. Eric was looking for a Bass House, me any pub! We became good friends until his death 30 years later.

He was born in Wyggeston St. in Burton where he lived with his mother, a farmer’s daughter, and father a Cooper at Bass Brewery. His grandfather had also worked as a Cooper for Bass. Eric was apprenticed at Bass aged 14yrs. In his teenage years, Eric was a member of local rugby & rowing clubs, winning many medals.

At 17 he joined the Local Defense Volunteers (later Home Guard) before joining the Navy in the early 1940s.

Eric served in all theatres of war with the exception of the Far East. His two ships were destroyers. HMS Puckeridge went down after being torpedoed off Gibraltar. His second ship was HMS Caprice on which he ended his service in 1945.

After demob, he stayed in London as a brewery apprentice before coming to the Manchester area. He married Lily, a local girl, and settled to civilian life working as a Cooper and growing vegetables in his allotment and making homemade wines. He won many First & Best in show prizes at local fetes.

My friend lived a full & happy life. He was no angel, had a wicked sense of humour and attended church at Easter & Christmas.

He and Lily had no children so it is fitting that his medals return to his native Burton on Trent and Bass Brewery where it all started!

Fred Harling




Royal Navy portrait of Aric Arthur Morris
Royal Navy portrait of Eric Arthur Morris
Members of the Cape Hill Brewery Local Defense Volunteers Group, the organisation which become the Home Guard, which Morris belonged to.
Members of the Cape Hill Brewery Local Defense Volunteers Group, the organisation which become the Home Guard, which Morris belonged to.
Suitcase belonging to Morris with the places he went during his Royal Navy service
A suitcase belonging to Eric Arthur Morris with the places he went during his Royal Navy service
Morris' war medals
Eric Arthur Morris’ war medals

Bass 1945 Strong Ale

‘The Official Beer of Her Majesty’s Government to commemorate the 50th anniversaries of VE & VJ Day’

Bass 1945 Strong Ale was brewed to a traditional pale ale recipe using 1940s yeast. It was a 5.1% ABV beer, brewed and packed at Cape Hill, Birmingham. A 3.6% ABV cask version was also available.

The momentous event of VE Day was also celebrated by nine other breweries – special beers included Joules Victory Ale (1946) and the Tadcaster Tower Brewery’s Victory Ale, produced in 1945 to celebrate the first Christmas of peace since 1938.

With Bass 1945 Strong Ale, Bass donated for every bottle sold 20p to the ‘Tribute & Promise’ appeal for distribution to over 100 veteran and wartime generation charities.

Spitfire ‘Toby’

With a cost of £4,250, it was presented to the Nation by Charrington & Co Ltd in 1941. Its cost was £4,250. It was placed as an order in 1939 and manufactured in the Southampton area. Its first flight was probably from Eastleigh Airport in March 1941. Taken on by the Air Force to 24 Maintenance Unit and issued to 411 Squadron on June 22nd. After a couple of accidents, Toby was declared Category E (Struck off charge) on August 11th 1944. Probably out of date and with a fatigued airframe!

‘Toby’ (Mark 1; Serial Number R 7162) b&w postcard
‘Toby’ (Mark 1; Serial Number R 7162) (Ref no: 95.2355)

Peace & Legacy, Burton recovers

To commemorate Armistice Day, the National Brewery Centre hosted a programme of guided walks on the 10th November 2018. Participants visited the town’s war memorials honouring those who gave their lives during World War One and learnt about the world-famous brewing industry, visiting a route of iconic landmarks.

A digitised HLF-funded project that can be visited at burton.placeandtrails.com to rememorate the stories of war

The town's magnificent memorial to the all those who gave their lives in World War One.
The town’s magnificent memorial to all those who gave their lives in World War One.
Was memorial at Bass House, the main, and most important, office for the Bass, Ratcliffe and Gretton Brewery
Was memorial at Bass House, the main, and most important, office for the Bass, Ratcliffe and Gretton Brewery

Join the story as a detective

These are some of the many more stories you can find on the archive. If you want to take part in revealing fascinating stories hidden in the thousands of records, head over to Tales from the Breweries, where you can help us to locate those records that help us to illustrate even more stories.