The humble cup of tea played a vital role in World War II keeping up the morale of the British troops fighting across the world. From the deep jungle of the Far East, to the cold Atlantic Ocean and the sun scorched North African desert, to the ravaged countryside of Europe, ‘stopping for a brew’ was an integral part of soldiers, sailors & airmans lives and understandably so. If you are going to take a break why not have a cup of tea even if you are crashing around on the open sea; waiting to take to the skies; sheltering under your tank from the desert sun or hiding in a bombed out house. If it does nothing else, a cup of tea always makes things seem better even if only briefly!
What is probably less well known is the role that teapots played in helping to raise funds and support for Britain’s fight against Fascism in World War II. I must admit that until a friend recently showed me a picture of the teapot he has inherited from his Great Aunt, I too was unaware of the role teapots had in helping to win the war.
The teapot in question (pictured) started out life in one of the Staffordshire potteries, once the heartland of the English pottery industry. We can tell this by the presence of the ‘Stafford Knot‘ emblem on the base of the teapot shown in the picture. From Staffordshire the teapot was transported to one of the coastal ports and loaded onto a Merchant Navy ship before setting sail across the North Atlantic as part of one of the Atlantic convoys. On arrival in America the ships full of teapots and other goods would be unloaded before the contents were distributed and sold as a way of helping pay for the convoy costs.
The teapot was chosen for this special task it is said by Winston Churchill himself as it was an iconically British symbol. ‘For England and Democracy’ was written on the lid as this was the shared value of both countries and ultimately what the Allied armies were fighting for. The overall aim was that as well as helping to raise capital the teapots would help to earn the support of the wider USA public, who were at that time, pre-Pearl Harbour, very much on the fence as to whether it was worth so much American treasure and so many lives to help.
Back at the docks the now empty ships were re-loaded with everything from vital armaments, oil, food stuffs and other goods integral for the survival of Britain and its embattled people both at home and fighting overseas. Once they were ready and refueled they would begin the perilous journey back across the Atlantic to Britain. More than a million tonnes of goods were being imported into Britain each week during the war to help Britain fight on and so these ships would have played their part in this.
I have been unable to find out how much the teapots cost; how they were sold; how many were made and finally and most sobering of all, how many never made it across the Atlantic and instead lie beneath the waves amongst the graves of the thousands of sailors and ships, the brave victims of the German U-boat ‘Wolf Packs’. If you can help cast more light on the background of these teapots then please contact us using the comments box underneath the blog as we would love to know more.
Our teapot however not only made it safely across the Atlantic but then continued it’s journey up and across Canada where it was purchased before ending up in California at the home of my friend’s Great Aunt. Getting on for 70 years later and the teapot now lives in my friend’s flat in North London after making the return trip across America and the Atlantic. I imagine that whilst there are other similar teapots still in private and public collections in America I wouldn’t have thought that many have come back home to England making this one even more special than it already was.
Historical objects have an indisputably powerful way of providing a tangible link with the past and this teapot seems to do that particularly well. It sums up how desperate the need for imported goods and support from our American cousins to fight the war must have been whilst also conjuring up images of the rolling Atlantic waves and rain battered ships huddled together nervously in the convoys. Anyone that doubts an object as simple as an old teapot doesn’t have a story to tell needs to take a look at this one, to see through the window it offers us into a war ravaged world and the fight against the evils of Fascism 70 years ago.