WWI Centenary – How Honey Bees Helped Win the War (11 November 2018)

Well, it’s a fairly sombre mood everywhere today.  46101245_329676591143028_3143993309953785856_n (1)How could it not be with the past four years build-up to WWI centenary commemorations reaching their culmination on this, the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.   My own direct connection to WWI (The ‘War to End All Wars’ – yeah, right.) is via my grandfather, William Frederick Wiseman, who I never met (he died three years before I was born) but know enough about to understand the horrors endured as a young soldier, injured and taken POW.  It disappoints me that, in amongst the hype of ‘lest we forget’ and ‘never again’ , very little attention is being given to those who, while they may have survived bodily intact, were utterly blown apart emotionally and mentally; this devastation showing not so much physically but more in behaviour and personality;  shellshock (now more accurately understood as PTSD) being a definite consequence for my grandfather, echoing down through future generations.

Feeling totally overwhelmed and utterly exhausted with it all today, I’ve turned my attentions elsewhere, and was delighted when this little snippet of social history popped up on Facebook. 12189531_925628147491682_1327214555852960287_n OK, so on closer inspection it turns out to be the wrong era; WWII as opposed to WWI; and of American origin, rather than UK.  But I’m fairly certain similar principles apply both sides of ‘the pond, with agricultural practices remaining largely unchanged across the decades.  Turns out honeybees played a vital role in national defence; not only in the production of food and seed but also in the manufacture and maintenance of military equipment – with 350 or more uses for beeswax in the navy and army (including waterproofing canvas tents, belts, cables and pulleys, also the metal casings of bullets) and 150+ applications in the pharmaceutical field.   I love the direct window into the past these old documents offer;  DO NOT OPEN validated by the claim of a hive void of ‘honey for human use’ – stocked only with ‘bee feed’.  With a wartime shortage of sugar and fruit on ration, the prospect of a sneaky sweet treat must’ve been a very real temptation; no doubt leading to surreptitious raids, under cover of darkness.  Also the instruction: ‘Hunters – Please Do Not Shoot’.  Can you imagine; some local poacher or gung-ho toff – even a group of naive local lads – firing bullets into a beehive … ?! The underlying sentiment, however; help win the war – protect bees; is as valid now as it was then; only now on environmental grounds more than military – yet still with that same foundation of fact; that no bees means no pollination … With disastrous consequences for everyone.

 

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