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Dumbarton's Tobacco Gifts To Troops

12 December 2007

There’s a long tradition of sending festive treats to our troops overseas but ideas on the ideal gift have undergone a radical change. This is clearly demonstrated by a little painted tin bearing the cheerful message ‘Frae Scots tae Scots’ which is on display at Dumbarton Castle.

Inside are four gnarled brown oblongs marked ‘F & J Smith’s Yankee Plug’. These are plugs of tobacco manufactured by a Glasgow firm and sent, on behalf of the people of Scotland, to soldiers risking life and limb in the Boer War in 1900.

Richard Welander, Historic Scotland’s head of collections, said: “It’s a fascinating testimony to changing ideas and times.

“Nowadays we are trying to improve the Scotland’s health by banning smoking in public places, but a century ago we were merrily sending tobacco to young men on the front line who needed to be as fit as possible.

“They offer a real glimpse of the past and make you think about what it must have been like for young lads, who may never have ventured beyond their nearest town, to suddenly end up in South Africa.

“Getting one of these tins of tobacco at Hogmanay might have really lifted their spirits.

“The tins were originally produced in their thousands but are becoming increasingly rare, so we are pleased to have one on display at Dumbarton with its long military history.”

This year, our service men and women deployed on operations on 25 December will receive a Christmas box – commonly known as the Square Stocking. They are full of little luxuries, and practical items, like sweets, socks and books to make life a bit more pleasant.

Thought also goes into the values of the countries hosting our forces, so special care is taken with boxes for Afghanistan and Iraq to avoid anything with alcohol or that could be considered pornographic.

Martine McNee, Army spokesman, “It is the least we can do to let our dedicated and professional service personnel know that the country is thinking of them while they are in some uncomfortable and dangerous places on Christmas day.

“We hope that the contents of their boxes might help make their tour a little more comfortable and let them enjoy Christmas day a bit more.”

Notes for editors

·Dumbarton Castle is on the A82 in Dumbarton. Telephone 01389 732167. Admission is £4 for adults, £2 for children and £3 for concessions.
·In addition to the tobacco there is a larger tin, also dating from Victorian times, which once contained chocolate and was also a morale-boosting gift.
·Dumbarton was the centre of the ancient kingdom of Strathclyde from the 5th century until 1018.
·The castle was later used as a refuge by both King David II and Mary, Queen of Scots.
·Built on an impressive volcanic plug, it offers magnificent views of the firth of Clyde, which is an important area for wildfowl and waders.

For further information

Matthew Shelley
Historic Scotland
Marketing and Media
0131 668 8734