By MICK ROBERTS ©
WALKING the mine-field of the various names of beer glass-sizes in Australia can be tricky – especially when you’re from inter-state.
There’s the butcher, the handle, a pot, middy, and, of course, the schooner.
While many would have heard of all these types of beer vessels, and would have mastered their origins, and where they’re served, there’s one beer glass size that’s a little less heard of – ‘the Lady Blamey.
Thankfully for those who have problems remembering their beer glass sizes and where they’re served, the Lady Blamey has long disappeared from Australian pubs.
The Lady Blamey was an improvised beer glass, made by slicing the top off a beer bottle during World War II, and for a few years after the conflict ended.
Beer glasses became scarce during the war years due to breakages and theft, and the difficulties manufacturers had keeping up demand. Also, imports, due to the war, were almost impossible. The Adelaide News reported on May 9 1947:
Beer but no glasses next
BEER glass shortage is looming for Adelaide. Adelaide publicans today said they were unable to get shipments from Sydney.
One Adelaide hotel which normally has 12 dozen schooners in its saloon bar is now hard-pressed to maintain six dozen.
“We placed orders for 500 dozen schooners in January, and so far all we have received is 48 dozen,” said the hotel manager.
“There is a real likelihood that they will be particularly short soon because of the heavy daily wastage.”
The pre-war “handle” was almost “extinct” nowadays, he said. The president of the Licensed Victuallers’ Association (Mr. A. J. Lee) said each of the 260 metropolitan area hotels lost approximately 60 glasses a week. This represented 65,000 glasses monthly, at a cost of about £2,200.
Supplies from Sydney
Losses were mainly from breakage and theft. Adelaide hotels drew all supplies from Sydney manufacturers, who were now far behind with orders. An official of an Adelaide glassware importing firm said supplies coming from Sydney were not enough even to cover wastage, let alone enable hotels to build up stocks. His firm’s orders frequently were for 1,500 dozen glasses, but shipments comprised small parcels of as low as 100 dozen glasses.
“It seems as if there may be a reversion to Army days, when soldiers took their own containers to the canteen-jam tins or the Lady Blameys – cut-down beer bottles,” he said.
The shortages eventual led to the unthinkable – Lady Blameys served over the bar of some pubs. The Daily Telegraph reported on June 12, 1944:
AUSTERITY BEER MUGS
BEER AT Hides Hotel, Cairns, is served in sawn-off beer bottles, coffee jars, enamel mugs, and honey jars. The manager says all the hotel’s drinking glasses have been “souvenired.” Prices for drinks range from 9d to 3/6, according to size.
An early reference to the origins of how the drinking vessel earned the name ‘Lady Blamey’ was published in Sydney newspaper, Smith’s Weekly on Saturday September 13 1941:
Mine’s a Lady Blamey
Diggers New Beer Pot
UNLESS somebody tells General Sir Thomas Blarney to stop making the troops drink out of cut-down beer bottles, an article, satirically called after Lady Blarney, is going to eclipse the famous chair. Returning troops say that “a Lady Blarney” is already known throughout the length and breadth of Palestine. Troops say that an order was issued by General Blarney to the effect that, as Australian troops wore able to buy too much beer in their canteens, he directed that the beer bottles be cut in halves, and the lower half used as a measurement and a glass.
Deposit On Glass
Digger gets one of these filled with beer for 10½d after depositing 4½d on the “glass”! Returned men say they gave these rough beer pots the name “Lady Blarney” because the Australian Government didn’t authorise their presence in the Middle East any more than it did Lady Blarney’s. While on the job “Smith’s” suggests that there should be a thousand ways of economising In the A.I.F. without making troops drink out of cut-down beer bottles.
Olga Ora Blamey or ‘Lady Blamey’ was the wife of Thomas Blamey, who was an Australian army officer. Blamey commanded troops based in the Mediterranean and Middle East Theatre, where he was appointed deputy commander-in-chief during 1941. Lady Blamey, who was the Commandant of the Australian Red Cross Society, visited wounded troupes in the Middle East during the conflict.
Beside the theory that General Blamey directed that the beer bottles to be cut in halves, and the lower half used as a measurement and a drinking glass, another reference indicates that the name came directly from Lady Blamey herself.
The following story, ‘Colorful drama in the pageantry of Melbourne, our military capital‘, by Alice Jackson, was published in The Australian Women’s Weekly on Saturday 23rd May 1942:
One friend of mine, an A.I.F. officer who’d been through the campaigns in Libya, Greece, and Crete, and had a long spell in hospital, told me: Lady Blamey was a perfect godsend to the sick soldiers. She used to visit us regularly, bring comforts, and write letters for those too sick to write their own. You can’t imagine what a joy it was for the men to have a talk with her. “She was practical, too,” he said, “with a true Australian flair for improvisation. They were always short of glasses in the canteens, and she hit on the idea of cutting down empty beer-bottles. They always use them now, and the boys have christened them ‘Lady Blameys.’
© Copyright Mick Roberts 2023
Also read the Time Gents’ story: Evolution of the Australian beer glass
More on war time beer shortages at the Time Gents story: War time beer rationing and a thirsty Australia.
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