Camp Coffee indeed!
I heard an interesting story on the radio today regarding a product from yesteryear, you may remember Camp Coffee, which was developed in response to a request from the Gordon Highlanders for a quick way to brew coffee. The mixture consists of sugar, water, 4% coffee essence and 26% chicory. If my memory serves me right, it also tastes vile. One of those love it or hate it products like Marmite!
The story that I heard on the radio today relates to the product’s label. The label used to feature, as in the picture below, a highland soldier sat drinking coffee with what looks like a Sikh manservant stood by his side carrying a tray. The label was changed a few years ago amid a flurry of accusations over racism, allegedly from asian shop keepers who refused to stock the 100 year old product unless the label was changed, so now the Sikh gentleman is sat beside the soldier enjoying a cup with his comrade! Political correctness gone mad perhaps, who can say, but that’s not the most interesting part of the story, it relates to the kilted soldier himself.
The story behind the label is intriguing as the Scot is supposed to be Major General Sir Hector Macdonald, scourge of Afghans, Boers and the Dervishes of Sudan. He was the low-born soldier – son of a Scottish crofter – who turned down a Victoria Cross in favour of a commission, telling his superiors he would earn his medal later.
Known to millions as “Fighting Mac” he shot himself in the head in his bedroom in the Hotel Regina in Paris on 25 March 1903, minutes after reading a front-page story in the New York Herald suggesting he faced a “grave charge” – a Victorian euphemism for homosexuality, an offence considered so serious under Victorian military law that those “convicted” were shot.
It was he claimed he had gay affairs with a Boer prisoner of war and another while stationed in Belgium. He was also accused of a “habitual crime of misbehaviour with several schoolboys” in a railway carriage.
Macdonald was born in 1853 in Inverness, to a crofter and a dressmaker. He was an apprentice draper when he persuaded a recruiting sergeant from the Gordon Highlanders to accept him for training in the military at the age of 17. He became known as “Fighting Mac” for his exploits at the Battle of Omdurman, was wounded in the second Boer war. While serving in Afghanistan in 1879 as a regimental sergeant, he distinguished himself in battle to the extent that he was given the choice of a Victoria Cross, the ultimate military accolade, or a rare commission as an officer.
Whatever, the nature of his sexuality it should be noted that he did marry and he had two children.