The time of year has come to don the poppy and bow our heads in silence as we remember the incredible sacrifice made by those who have fought for our freedom during the bitter wars of recent history. We remember our ancestors and the heroes of our time alike for their courage, strength, and resilience. But as we reflect and learn about the great conflicts of our world, let us take a moment’s break to look at the role confectionary has had to play during the two World Wars.
Indeed, confectioners of the homeland have ever been on hand to provide our troops with a much desired sugar fix. At the beginning of World War One, a soldier’s daily ration consisted of a pound of meat, a pound of bread and eight ounces of vegetables. As the war progressed this ration was even smaller as fresh meat became increasingly harder to come by. However, it became common for families to send parcels to their fathers and husbands on the front line presents of chocolate, cake and tobacco. With such a bland daily diet, surrounded by death and devastation, it would be no surprise to learn that the boys of the military would be very glad of some candy.
Our friends over the pond also understood this, and the U.S. was quick to answer the call for candy. In August 1917, a Brooklyn based company known as Wallace and Co. came up with a ‘service package’. This box of sugary delights contained a package each of lemon drops, cherry drops, and broken candy, two packages of chewing gum, plus two rations of eating chocolate, all wrapped up in a nice box with inspirational images of the great American spirit. This package would be paid for by families, distributed via retailers and delivered by Uncle Sam. When you think about it, it’s kind of a twisted take on making hay while the sun is shining. Nonetheless, in 1916 confectioners were viewing the impending war as a huge marketing opportunity. As the then president of the National Confectioners Association, R. F. Mackenzie, addressed at the annual convention:
The world must have its sweets. As the wise man has said, ’Candy’s fair in love and war.’ The lover demands his package of bon-bons with which to propitiate his sweetheart; and the veteran of the trenches requests his strength-renewing tablet of chocolate.
Consequently, the roaring 1920s saw a boom in the candy trade. Eating candy was no longer limited to children – all the big strong soldiers also had to get their candy fix. The prominence of the candy industry as we know it today might just be the legacy of sugar-fuelled war heroes.
World War Two meant another military demand of candy. In fact, some brands were considered so beneficial to the war effort that they were reserved for military use only. M&M’s hit the consumer market early in 1941 thanks to a man named Forrest Mars (son of Frank Mars). Months later, however, the U.S. entered World War Two, and M&M’s would be no longer available to the general public. The hard sugar-coated shells prevented the chocolates from melting in warm climates such as the Pacific, and so they were a valuable part of a soldier’s rations. The company’s main factory was producing 200,000 pounds of M&M’s per week, the majority of which was going to the military. M&M’s were, as the advertisements at the time claimed, ‘100% at war’.
Luckily for us, M&M’s returned to the general public when the war ended, and in 1948 the packaging was changed from tubes to the bags we know today.
There’s a taste of what war meant for confectionary. Ultimately, it was probably a very small comfort during times of unimaginable suffering. But their sacrifice will never be forgotten, nor will we forget the warm comfort of chocolate on the coldest of days.