The Sobering History of Temperance Medals

PUBLISHED: 8 June 2018


Early military campaigns were seriously impacted by uncontrolled heavy drinking and the associated social impact that it had on both the officer corps and the rank and file. The Tempera

nce Movement began informally in the United States in the early 1800s and spread to the British Isles and beyond.

The Army Temperance Association was created in Britain to address the culture of heavy drinking in the Army and Navy.  It was commonplace for sailors to be given rations of rum and until 1830 British soldiers were issued with spirits. Enlisted men often turned to drinking due to military life conditions, isolation from family, access to alcohol and the opportunities it created for letting off steam with mates.

Lieutenant Henry Havelock introduced a temperance society to the 13th Light Infantry in Rangoon, India. Within just two more years at least thirty such groups were formed. Some of these societies even established savings banks, coffee shops and religious groups. Drunkenness gradually became less acceptable and more of an offence itself.

Official reforms began from 1830 and the National Temperance League was founded in 1834. By 1840 temperance societies were formalised by the garrison and regimental institutes and some were founded within barracks. At its peak, there were more than 200 branches in India and the King became a patron of the movement. Authorities began to actively encourage them and in 1868 a Naval temperance society was formed, which grew to 25,000 members by 1911.

A wide range of temperance badges and medals were created throughout the world, resulting in many intricate varieties and designs. They were typically worn on the right side of the chest and were collected with the most recent medal worn with pride. Generally, participants began to decline after collecting their five-year medal, although many remained lifelong teetotallers.

Maroochy RSL’s museum’s impressive collection of memorabilia includes a number of temperance medals with differing design features and made of varying materials. We invite you to stop and take a look, even if you’ve had a beer or two.

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