In 1917, at the height of the First World War, an expedition of British soldiers fought their way into Ottoman-controlled Palestine. The British sought to take the region from the Ottomans, an ally of Germany, and had set their sights on capturing Jerusalem. For nine months, the troops waited for orders to advance into the Holy City, setting up camp near the city of Ramla. A new archaeological find suggests that while biding their time there, the soldiers drank. A lot.
As Raf Sanchez reports for the Telegraph, archaeologists digging near Ramla recently discovered a trash pit filled with hundreds of bottles of booze. They found gin bottles, wine bottles, beer bottles, whiskey bottles—all of which seem to have been consumed by British soldiers while they camped in the area.
The excavation of the trash pit unearthed other items, like toothbrushes, uniform buttons and shaving kits. Amidst the refuse, archaeologists found a medallion stamped with the face of King Fuad of Egypt, who ruled the country from 1917 until 1922. They also discovered the silver tip of a swagger stick, the likes of which were carried by senior officers as a symbol of authority. As Ilan Ben Zion writes in The Times of Israel, the stick was marked with the letters RFC, an acronym for “Royal Flying Corps.” In 1918, the RFC merged with the Royal Naval Air Service to become the Royal Air Force, leading researchers to conclude that the site dates to the 1917 expedition.
For the most part, however, the trash pit consisted of empty bottles of alcohol. “[A]bout 70 percent of the waste that was discarded in the refuse pit were liquor bottles,” Ron Tueg, excavation director of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), said in a statement. “It seems that the soldiers took advantage of the respite given them to release the tension by frequently drinking alcohol.”
The liquor stash was found adjacent to the remnants of an agricultural structure, which was appropriated by the British and turned into a barracks. The building later caught fire and collapsed. In an interview with Sanchez at the Telegraph, Tueg noted that the sheer variety of alcohol found suggests that the building served as an officers’ club.
The booze-guzzling troops were known as the Egypt Expeditionary Force, and they had been sent to the Middle East to protect the Suez Canal from Ottoman attacks. Later, the force advanced into Palestine under the leadership of Field Marshal Edmund Allenby, who re-invigorated Britain’s flailing Middle Eastern campaign.
With Allenby at its helm, the Egypt Expeditionary Force waged a number of successful battles in Palestine. The troops won a decisive victory against the Ottomans at the Battle of Megiddo. Allenby captured Jerusalem in December 1917—and famously collaborated with the charismatic officer T.E. Lawrence, better known as “Lawrence of Arabia,” during the process.
The discovery of the trash pit offers insight into a different side of the troops’ time in the Middle East. “It’s a fascinating testimony of the everyday life of the British military camp a century ago,” Brigitte Ouahnouna, a researcher at the glass department of the IAA, says in a statement. Their “everyday life,” it seems, was pretty boozy.