Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The triumph of HP sauce; or, whatever came of Baird's Pickle?

There is nothing quite like HP Sauce. Shipped out to stock the Expeditionary Force Canteens (EFC), and undoubtedly available behind the lines in YMCA and Church Army Huts, HP must have worked wonders in tackling the unyieldingly earthy taste of 'Bully beef', that tinned staple of the British soldier for at least a century. HP must have spiced up the heavy, fatty beef; it must also have added flavour to the concoction that was Maconochie's stew, another tinned ration. HP and OXO were, so we are are assured by the newspaper adverts, favourites with the 'boys at the front'. There is physical evidence to back this up - the bottles that have survived countless bombardments to lie undisturbed below the duckboards, or within the dugouts that still mark out the frontline in Flanders. Familiar to us now as it was to the soldiers then; whatever did become of another object commonly unearthed from the soil of Flanders - the reassuringly solid bottle of Baird's Pickles. Large, green-glass, and octagonal, these bottles are proudly emblazoned with the words 'Baird's Pickles Glasgow'. But what kind of pickles; a species of chutney, a concoction of pickled vegetables?  The bottles appear so regularly, yet it is impossible for me to conjure up a picture of what they contained. Popular with Tommy, whatever happened to this brand? Can anyone help me in my quest?

Peter Doyle's book Tommy's War explores the material culture of the British Soldier of the Great War. It can be obtained here: Peter Doyle's Amazon Page


  1. H P sauce is traditionally known as an extremely good copper and brass cleaner, gentle but powerful. Is there any documentation of it being used to polish buttons etc for parade?

  2. Makes sense to me. Most soldiers used brands such as 'Soldier's Friend', which was a particularly messy paste that required the 'button stick' or 'button brass' to protect the uniform. 'Up the line' it was more common for buttons to remain uncleaned - and I guess HP stains joined those of Flanders mud in the trenches.

  3. Also, I seem to remember somebody calling it 'ha'penny polisher' sauce; may have been a great uncle, or even a great-uncle.

  4. Thanks very much Julian - oddly enough, though HP is my sauce of choice, it was only recently that I realised that HP stood for 'Houses of Parliament' - despite the fact that its label illustrated the Palace of Westminster. I wonder if I would have twigged it if the label bore a polishing cloth...