Vintage Saturday: Desperation

Drinking from a Maxim water jacket
Drinking from a Maxim water jacket

Tomorrow is Armistice Day, and we should all take a few quiet moments to reflect on the nature of war. For all its glamorization, war is the tragic and cruel destruction of life and we should make damn sure it is only undertaken when the alternatives are even worse.


  1. ” they shall not grow old,
    As we who are left behind grow old.
    Age shall not weary them,
    nor the years condemn.
    At the going down of the sun.
    and in the morning.
    We will remeber them…..

  2. If I remember correctly, Erich Maria-Remarque, best known as the author of “All Quiet On The Western Front”, which was based directly on his horrific personal experiences as a German front-line soldier in the trenches of Flanders, remarked quite nonchalantly on how he and his surviving fellow soldiers thirstily drank the water out of the cooling jacket of a captured enemy MMG after they had over-run the position in a near-suicidal frontal assault.

    From what I have been able to glean, this practice was more commonplace than most people realize, and was usually brought about by the terrible tribulations of the moment during a typical battlefield situation.

    The same sort of thing happened more than once in the Western Desert campaigns of World War Two, when desperate LRDG, SAS, Autosaharan and Afrika Korps soldiers would drink the stale, rusty radiator fluids from abandoned vehicles.

  3. Ian, you are absolutely right regarding what you have to say about war as being the very last —and ultimately terrible — alternative. I also second the opinions of Aron and other contributors concerning various aspects of this subject.

  4. My dad’s cousin was with the Glosters on the Imjin in 51. When they were overun by the Chinese the coolant in the Vickers guns was liquid but it wasn’t water.

  5. According to the late Peter Kekenon, Aimo Lahti’s version of the Maxim, incorporated a very large filler cap on the jacket, so it could be replenished with hand fulls of snow, whereas the soviet guns required a biological warmer and filtering of their coolant through at least one pair of kidneys during the Finnish winter months.

    When I was a child (I’m still under 50), my mother told us to put our toy guns away before our next door neighbour visited. He’d been on a mule team, hauling supplies to the front line trenches in the first world war, using human remains as fill to get their carts through. My father was perhaps the only one he shared a very few memories with.

    I cleared my Grandmother’s house last year, and found the official art deco bronze memorial given to one of her aunts. Her husband’s death was never confirmed, he was one of the hundreds of thousands who’s remains were never identified.

    It reads “He died for freedom and honour”. I don’t doubt that he died, but there is no way that I’ll believe the other two assertions.

    • I suppose that one thing to be said in favour of drinking MG coolant is; it’s likely to have been well sterilised by boiling.

  6. Keith, I fully understand what you, your family, your neighbour and countless others must have been through. And I am definitely with you on this. It’s bloody awful, isn’t it? Based on what I’ve read in the past, I think most, if not all, of the members of this website are on the same page too. Take care, and keep writing as you always have.

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