On the cold, dark mornings before the war during World War I, young soldiers drank lots of rum for warmth and courage.
The ritual of drinking dark rum, known as gunfire, was first described in the British book Soldier and Sailor’s Words and Phrases.
The 1925 text states, “Recruits in training were always supplied with ‘gun fire’, the pre-breakfast task being particularly trying.”
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They have become a gunshot breakfast in the grueling early mornings, a tradition that fosters camaraderie among veterans at Anzac Day services around Australia.
Michael Tugwell, from the Albany RSL sub-branch in Western Australia, says breakfast gives pre-service men and women a chance to catch up.
“Often you’ll hear ‘Hey you old bastard, I haven’t seen you in a year’,” said Mr. Tugwell.
Veterans and their families enjoy meat patties in hot rolls and a hot breakfast with tea and coffee.
“And we still give them rum,” he said.
Dr. Samantha Owen, a senior lecturer in the humanities and social sciences at Curtin University, says the modern Anzac Day gunfire breakfast became popular in the 1930s.
The incident may also have damaged the British military tradition of gun tea, when soldiers drank rum in hot black tea on Christmas Day or when they were injured in hospital.
“The officer served it to ordinary soldiers in recognition of their efforts, so the tea of bullets became part of Anzac Day,” Owen said.
Now, a gunfire breakfast is an uplifting gathering between the solemn morning service and the mid-morning march, says Port Augusta RSL president Arno Schwarz.
“We always have a little hustle and bustle, that’s part of it, just a little bit of fun.”
The South Australian branch serves rum with milk.
“It tastes awful but a lot of us drink it.”
Mr. Schwarz says the event is a way to include and recognize everyone, like the indigenous and Indian giants.
Teenagers are welcome to share a meal at Myrtleford, in north-eastern Victoria.
John Twyford, secretary of the RSL branch, said, “I hope we will find some young people who are interested in understanding our history and tradition.”
In Hilston, in western NSW, the number of RSL members has dropped to eight and most are no longer enough to drink rum.
But the marches are on the rise, says Wayne McLachlan of the Hilston-Ivanhoe RSL.
“Patriotism is coming back with the demise of the grandparents of the youth. They can wear their medals and have a sense of pride.
“My son marches with my father’s medallion and I march with him.”