39. Joffre and Kitchener cocktails

30 Oct

Let’s drink to Victory!       buVÕ—a—la—vik—TWAR!       Buvons à la Victoire!

— François Denoeu and Robert A. Hall, Jr., Spoken French, vol. 1 (New York: Holt, 1946), p. 155.

These cocktails were invented by Louis N. Senor of New York during the early months of the Great War in tribute to two of the most prominent representatives of the Entente Cordiale and two men who enjoyed contrasting reputations before the outbreak of hostilities on 28 July 1914.

Joseph Joffre first saw active service during the Siege of Paris in 1870, but spent much of his career overseas as a military engineer, serving in Indochina, West Africa and Madagascar. After returning to France, and despite having never commanded an army, he was eventually made Chief of the General Staff in 1911, a position he acquired by default, since more obvious candidates had ruled themselves out on grounds of age and health. It was thanks to his victory in the First Battle of the Marne in September 1914 that he became a national hero. During August German armies had won a series of devastating victories and were now advancing on Paris. After suffering heavy losses, the Entente powers were in retreat and their field commanders at loggerheads. After intervening with Kitchener to prevent the withdrawal of the British Expeditionary Force from the frontline, Joffre took advantage of a tactical error by the Germans and counterattacked. A German breakthrough was halted, famously, by the arrival of 6000 French reservists in Parisian taxicabs—a moment of solidarity that came to be seen as a manifestation of the union sacrée of the French military and civilian population, reminiscent of the citizen soldiers who had defended the young republic against the forces of reaction in 1795. Facing encirclement, the Germans retreated 40 miles, dug in, gave up their hopes of a swift conclusion to the war—and so began 4 years of stalemate. Meanwhile, in the aftermath of the “Miracle of the Marne”, “Papa” Joffre  was celebrated as the saviour of France.

If Joffre had previously been an obscure, if quietly impressive, military figure, then Horatio Herbert Kitchener, whose glittering career saw him progress relentlessly through the higher ranks of both the army and nobility, was an icon of Empire. Kitchener first won fame, and a title, in 1898 for his victory in the Battle of Omdurman, which re-established Anglo-Egyptian control of the Sudan and made him Baron Kitchener of Khartoum. He led British forces during the guerrilla campaign of the Second Boer War and was rewarded with a viscounty; he then spent an extended term as Commander-in-Chief in India and, frustrated in his ambition for the Viceroyalty, returned to Egypt as British Agent and Consul-General. At the start of the First World War, Kitchener, now styled Field Marshal The Right Honourable The Earl Kitchener, was appointed Secretary of State for War by his fellow Herbert, the Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. One of the few to foresee a long war and huge casualties, Kitchener organised the largest volunteer army that Britain had ever seen, as well as a significant expansion of materials production to fight Germany on the Western Front. His imposing likeness on recruiting posters, coupled with the words “WANTS YOU”, remains one of the most instantly recognisable and imitated images of the twentieth century (designed by Alfred Leete, it first appeared on the cover of the magazine London Opinion on 5 September 1914, in the middle of the Battle of the Marne).

Kitchener’s and Joffre’s reputations suffered during the War. Kitchener shared some of the blame for the Gallipoli disaster, was held responsible for a shortage of shells in the spring of 1915, and stripped of his control over munitions and strategy.  “He is not a great man. He is a great poster,” Asquith is supposed to have said. Kitchener died in 1916, when a ship transporting him to Russia was sunk by a German submarine. After Verdun and the Somme, Joffre was replaced as commander-in-chief and appointed Marshal of France, but his role was largely ceremonial. For a time, though, both Kitchener and Joffre were potent symbols of Allied resistance to the Hunnish onslaught.

And that’s why, in faraway, still-neutral America, the tautologous Mr Senor created these two cocktails. The Joffre is sweet and the Kitchener dry, the former definitely more successful than the latter: sherry and dry vermouth is not working for me. (For another Kitchener-themed mixed drink, try the Khartoum.)

The Gen. Joffre: 1/3 Bacardi, 1/3 Dubonnet, 1/3 Italian vermouth, orange peel

Kitchener: 1/3 Bacardi, 1/3 Sherry, 1/3 French vermouth

— “New Drinks”, New York Hotel Record, vol. 13: 8 (5 January 1915), p. 13.

These cocktails were not the only ones inspired by the First World War or Anglo-French partnership. Perhaps the most famous is the French 75, invented by Harry MacElhone and named after the French field gun, which played a key role in slowing down German progress at the Battle of the Marne . (More on that another time, perhaps.) Then there’s the Entente Cordiale, whose ingredients, more obviously than those of the Joffre or Kitchener, have a symbolic value: One part French vermouth, one part dry gin, one part Dubonnet (G. Selmer Fougner, Along the Wine Trail [Boston: Stratford, 1935], p. 188).


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