“Admiral Gunther Lutjens, Flottenchef, Ritterkreutz (RK) of the Kriegsmarine, looked around the table. Rarely had such power and influence been concentrated in one room. Outside the panoramic window, the shipyards stretched away almost as far as the human eye could see. The clang of riveting hammers came to the ears of the assembled officers. There had been a sudden change of plan. The order had come direct from the Fuhrer himself. Where are my umlauts when I need them? thought Lutjens. The smoke curled up, in a graceful arabesque, from his silver-tipped Balkan Sobranie cigarette.
‘It appears, that our secret agents in The Imperial Tobacco Company in Nottingham, have sent word that Players are about to issue a set of cigarette cards showing the entire fleet of the Royal Navy.’
He waited, enjoying the shock of surprise.
Even Goering raised his eyes from the magnifying glass with which he had been closely studying a complete set of risque bathing beauties, courtesy of W.D. and H. O. Wills. He looked at Lutjens, the lens transforming him into a magnificently attired, Cyclops.
‘Dumkopf Englanders!’ he exclaimed. ‘If only they would issue a set detailing the Royal Air Force as well. Then we would have England at our mercy. My Luftwafffe would study their strength and send them down in flames. Ha ha! But not even the Englanders could be so stupid.’ He returned to his anatomical studies.
‘But wait, Herr Reichsmarschall, Obersturmbahnfuhrer, Feldwebel, Kapitan, Achtung Scweinhund, Goering,’ (Goering liked to pull rank) ‘there is more. They will shortly issue a set depicting the railways of Britain.’
Goering smiled in delighted anticipation. Fire from the skies.
‘Military motors, infantry training., The Territorial Army.’
Rommel reached for the handsome cigarette case. His flicked his lighter. There was no shortage of petrol for cigarette lighters. His eyes narrowed. Soon the oilfields of Ploesti would be in German hands. And then Persia.
Lutjens was not finished.’The Fuhrer has ordered that we must all make sacrifices’. He took a last, long pull on the Sobranie, looked at it with regret then crushed it out. ‘From now on all ranks of the Wehrmacht, the Luftwaffe and the Kriegsmarine, must smoke John Player, until all these vital cards are in our hands.’
Himmler winced at the notion. He coughed. Langsdorff wished himself elsewhere, a place where he could get a decent South American cigar.
Lutjens caught his eye. ‘And the Gestapo, my friend and the SS.’ Lutjens waited for a reaction. As a naval man, he liked the metaphor. The deck was loaded in Germany’s favour. Nobody spoke. They sat in silent shock.
‘And by the way,’ concluded the admiral, ‘I bags HMS Hood.‘ ”
Monsieur Nicot, of Paris, made tobacco popular in Europe. I saw a poster in Paris, Anatomy of a Killer. It showed a dissection of a cigarette, detailing the many toxins contained in the lethal cylinder. Nicotine is first cousin to strychnine, used for killing rats. Walter Raleigh smoked his head off, to coin a phrase, in the Tower of London. His tobacco box bears the inscription, ‘My companion during that most miserable time.’ It did his health no good.
The bearded hero on the Players packet, is reputed to be Charles Stewart Parnell. The tribute was paid by the Imperial Tobacco Company in recognition of his advocacy in Parliament, for the abolition of flogging in the navy. Players Navy Cut. The Imperial Tobacco Company made it the patriotic duty of sailors and soldiers to ‘smoke for victory’ during two world wars. ‘So long as you’ve a lucifer to light your fag, smile boys, that’s the style.’ Perhaps, of course, the Fenians or other Irish incendiaries, had infiltrated the factory in Nottingham to further their cause. Or Lucifer? No smoke without fire.
During and after Hitler’s war, young lads in Skerries gathered dandelion roots along the sand dunes and sold them to a local entrepreneur. The roots were used to make an ersatz coffee, Coffo Eire, of unhappy memory. Other roots found their way into the bags; rocket lettuce, dock leaves, monks’ bane. Sure why not? ‘The Pony’ Daly, a noted local character, denounced it as undrinkable. He used to smoke it in his clay pipe. Perhaps ‘The Pony’ was ahead of the curve. He kept a lid on his pipe.
The tobacco industry expanded its interests. Racing cars raced in the livery of the major brands. The Marlboro Man, epitome of masculine cool, died, not in a pile up at Monza or Monaco. He died of lung cancer. So did millions of others, as many or more than died in the wars. An old friend told me how the doctor advised him to lose weight. ‘I gave up the pints and went back on the fags.’ It worked, but he died anyway, of lung cancer.
The growth markets for tobacco are in the Third World countries. There are fewer lawyers there. Representatives in brightly coloured tee shirts distribute free cigarettes to children. The lobbyists in Brussels and Strasbourg, buttonhole the MEPs, showing how more graphic information on packets would be counter productive. It’s a delicate balance. Cigarette taxes earn revenue. Finance ministers must calculate how much the smoker can cough up (metaphorically) before he croaks (literally).
” The Fuhrer sighed. He stood facing the fireplace, with his hands behind his back. He tried hard to control the trembling. The news was grim. He turned to the eminent scientist who waited in dread of his anger. He pounded the table. His voice was harsh.
‘ The Americans are developing an atom bomb. An atom bomb!’ His voice shook. ‘Vee too must have a doomsday veapon.’ ( He was of course, speaking German.) ‘ Vat do you say, Von Braun?’ He brushed his slick of hair from his sweating forehead. ‘ Vhy am I alvays surrounded by dolts?’
Von Braun shuffled awkwardly. He turned his ersatz cigarette furtively between finger and thumb. It consisted of shredded and withered lettuce leaves. It left an acrid taste. He wished that he had taken that offer of a job in America.’
The Fuhrer dismissed him with a snarl.
Von Braun hurried down the stairs. He fumbled to light the vile cigarette. The Fuhrer’s words echoed in his ears. ‘Vee too must have a doomsday veapon. Vee too..” He looked at the shreds of lettuce. It can’t be rocket science, can it? A spark ignited in his brain.”
As for distributing cigarettes to children in Africa and elsewhere…. Bring back flogging, I say.