Last Day of the Rum Ration
The 31st of July 1970 AD
It was lovingly known as Nelson’s Blood, a tradition dating back to 1655, the year when not coincidentally Cromwell’s navy captured Jamaica : the rum ration.
Before rum the navy provided its men with a gallon of beer a day, which makes you wonder how they managed to fit in broadsides between peeing, beer keeping in casks far better than water. As the Empire grew and voyages became longer, it was easier to provide alcohol (solace and calories in one) in the lower volume offered by rum, at first half a pint a day (no wonder Nelson couldn’t see those ships), then reduced to a quarter of a pint, by regulation with water added 4:1.
In the nuclear age it was deemed inappropriate for sailors to drink so much on duty, and at 11am on July 31 1970 the pipe-signal Up Spirits was sounded for the last time, a sad day commemorated in the navy’s home of Portsmouth by the issuing of a special stamp, and on board ship by the wearing of black armbands.
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