Better Days
A Series on Pipes Smoking's Nostalgic Past

By Ernie Whitenack

"Germany, Cigs and Ration Cards"

With the end of WWII came a burst of prosperity fed mostly by technical advances coming out of the war effort. Profits from many companies producing war goods (and who wasn't) supplied the money to convert back to peacetime products and production.

Along with the boom came a myriad of new cigarette brands, most long forgotten by me but some are still around. I think the cork tip, a forerunner to the filter, appeared on Viceroy and Raleigh about the same time. Many old brands, like Wings and Marvels, that appeared during the war simply faded away along with old class B standards like Twenty Grand. I think the beginning of the pipe boom started with returning veterans. Some returned to high school and I noticed several smoked pipes. I was told they picked them up in France or Holland.

New cars, the first since 1941, started showing up late in 1946 and early 1947. Of course many auto companies, who had been making army trucks, simply pulled out their stored dies and continued producing the '41 models. Some new innovations were added to most models for sales appeal. Nash added a drop-down passenger seat that converted to a bed. My buddy Al, a consummate ladies man, got all excited about this feature when his older sister bought a new Nash for the family. Guess she new him too well as he never was allowed the car for dates.

Well, I was still burning Lucky Strike and Chesterfield with ever increasing frequency on the ten minute breaks given hourly at the watch factory. Dad insisted I enter the school at the factory immediately after graduation. The men's room was the designated smoking area and became a respiratory danger zone as men crowded in to light up.

The Waltham Watch Co. closed shortly and I entered Woolworth's management training program and was trained in several New England stores. It was in Keene NH store that I was introduced to cigars. The Manager was an avid cigar smoker and cigar evangelist, always trying to get me to switch to those fat Dutch Masters. Often when we worked late on paper work the manager would offer me a cigar that I occasionally accepted. After several tries I decided cigars were OK but not as a steady smoke and bought a five pack once in a while. When I came across rum soaked crooks, a twisted bent small cigar, I started smoking them more often.

That letter from the President requesting my services came in 1950. I was at the Manchester store for my final stage of training. The manager was causing me training problems. He spent most of the working day at the Elks Club drinking and very little time at my training. I was seriously contemplating a change in jobs so the call to arms was not bothersome but rather a welcome change and a new adventure.

After induction and indoctrination I, and many others from the area, ended up as filler for the newly activated 43rd Infantry Division, a New England National Guard Division, and found myself in Regimental Headquarters Co. of the Connecticut 169th Infantry Regiment. I drastically cut back smoking in an effort to get some wind back for the rigorous life I was leading. You quickly realize how out of shape you are.

After basic training, six months at radio repair school and a month long maneuver at Fort Brag the announcement came that we would be shipping out the end of September for (to the relief of all) occupation duty in Germany. All the deadwood and screw-ups had already been pipelined and sent to Korea. We later had company sized educational meetings. Among other information about Germany, we were told the division emptied enough beer cans the day maneuvers ended to reach some forgotten ridiculous distance. We were warned about the higher alcohol content of German beer and admonished not to guzzle in the manner to which we had become accustomed.

The subject of packing for debarkation came down in a 5 page memo in typical "by the numbers" army style. The things still strong in my memory were instructions to carry only a small amount of money, like twenty dollars, on the ship and send any surplus home. The exchange to military script was to be done on the ship. And, to only pack enough cigarettes for the 10 day voyage. Well, the voyage lasted fifteen days due to a turbulent North Sea and a rescue search for a freighter in trouble. All the while hoping the old WWII liberty ship would hold together.

Needless to say cigarettes were in very short supply by the time we reached Camp Y-79, a staging area outside Heidelberg; a mud hole containing a sea of battered squad tents. Finding a PX and a new supply of cigs was top priority. However, we had not been issued ration cards and found we could not purchase cigarettes without one.

Enter the pipe. A large display of Dr. Graybow and Medico pipes were prominent along with many none rationed brands of tobacco and Zig Zag papers. I bought a Dr Grabow full bent egg, two pouched of Barking Dog and two of Velvet for RYO. I soon discovered the education of many had been grossly neglected as I was soon giving lessons in the manly art of hand rolling cigarettes. Later when settled in Bavaria my pipe was not well accepted in the four man room where I was housed so, I saved it for times in the field training or on combat alerts. The pipe desire eventually faded and my pipe spent most of the time in my foot locker.

As it turned out we were allowed a carton and a half a week and a pound of coffee or tea per week – all at extremely low prices. Wondering what one would do with that many cigarettes a week and coffee. We soon learned that cigarettes and coffee were a medium of exchange in Germany. Non smokers were selling rights to their ration cards or stocking up for a large purchase. My platoon leader occasionally would swap whisky from his officer's ration for cigarettes within the platoon; a great guy. Many a Lieca or Roleiflex cameras were purchased with cigarettes. The Germans had a passion for Pall Mall king size cigarettes. The package design and color closely resembled a popular German brand called Zuben which came ten to a package.

The year in Germany protecting Western Europe from the "Red" hoards behind the wall went quickly. I made good friends, some of whom I am in contact with to this day. Oddly, I was ready to go home but somewhat reluctant to leave the army.

Copyright© 2010 Ernest Whitenack

Other Better Days Articles
Grandpa Baloney
Granpa Newt
Rememberances
The Glamour and Lure of Smoking
Smoking the War Away
Germany, Cigs and Ration Cards
The Final Chapter - Part 1



Ernie Whitenack was born in 1928 in Springfield, Illinois and moved to Massachusetts in the mid 1930's. He is a Korean War veteran, worked as a photographic illustrator for 43 years and is now retired.


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