The great beer caper

December 13, 2016 by Legion Magazine

Seventy-three years ago, veteran Bud Hannam, who would hit the D-Day beaches with the 23rd Canadian Field Ambulance, helped snitch a barrel in England. Its contents made a very Merry Christmas for some troops preparing for the invasion.

My buddy Jack Staples and I were stationed outside Southampton. The camp was dry so we got a 24-hour pass to go get ourselves a bottle of beer for Christmas. In town we booked into a service club for the night and went to find a pub. It had two sections, separated by army blankets used for blackout curtains. We picked up our pints and walked through the curtains.

Jack looked around and saw a 45-gallon barrel of light ale, propped up sitting on a stand, getting ready for a party the next dayand a side entrance. Jack looked at me and says, “I’m going to steal that keg of beer. Are you with me?”

He went round the individual tables, leaned over and looked at the chaps sitting there. Jack had done quite a bit of boxing. He had a pug face, looked real mean, and he was a big fellow. He said, “I’m going to steal that keg. Are you going to say anything?”  They took one look at that face and said, “No, Canada, we won’t say anything.”

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Illustration by Janice Kun/i2iart.com

So he went over, up comes the barrel, and out the side door. We rolled that barrel and pushed it and shoved it and he carried it on his shoulders. Bobbies were patrolling on their bikes, so every once in a while we’d have to hide behind the hedgerows. We pushed that thing back to a churchyard near an ATS (Army Territorial Service, the women’s army branch) hostel. Jack heaves it up on a gravestone and out comes the cork and up come some glasses I had taken.

Just beside the graveyard, there was a lane and ATS women were coming back from parties with their boyfriends. So Jack invited the men to drink. Those two glasses got passed around, people drinking that brew. Some of them were sick and some passed out. Finally, when nobody wanted any more, we corked it and hid the barrel in a ditch, covered with leaves, branches and snow.

The next day when we got back to camp, everybody was complaining about how dry it was. So Jack says, “I know where there’s some beer. I’ve got half a barrel hidden.” So the transport sergeant went to his officer and explained the problem. The officer said, “I’ll go with you.”

They loaded up a bunch of guys and off they went. Some guys created a diversion outside the hostel while the barrel was loaded.

We finished off the beer—there were 30 or 40 of us—and the officer said, “We’ve got to get rid of the evidence.” So they chopped up the barrel and burned it in the stove.

I thought after that about the party at the pub and that there was no beer. But it sure made a lot of soldiers happy on Christmas Day. And that’s how I came to be part of The Great Beer Caper.

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