Burma Star Association
Burma Star Association

Memories of Alcohol Consumption and the Great Beer Heist

By Air Gunner Bob Ustick


As soon as you were off duty, you went back to your charpoy and flopped down or went into the mess and read or sat down and drank. One of the two, mostly drank.


Drinking was very hard because of the rations. The only democratic thing that the bars had was in an RAF squadron in India. Almost any and all beer that came in went to the Other Ranks. After that, it was proportioned out to sergeants, who had so much, because neither of those other ranks besides us had liquor in their mess. And we had liquor. All the liquor. Wasn't very good, but we had all the liquor we could drink. And more, maybe.


And depending on how much beer came in, it depended upon how much we got, and our ration usually ran three quarts a month. But we had all the Indian gin and brandy. There was a brandy that we had in great quantities, made in India. And the trademark wasn't Seagrims, it was something else called Dreadnought Brandy. And don't you believe it. You should dread that but good. And particularly we had warm water and no ice. But at least the airmen got a break on whatever beer.


I want to stop a second and recall something of the great heist that 159 did.


This is, in our memories, in nostalgia, just terrific. I may or may not have mentioned that the station at Digri was on a main railroad line. Being a heavy bomber squadron, there was a siding. Beer was made up in the mountains, in the highlands. There were no breweries down on the hot plains. Just didn't do right and couldn't bottle it.


Calcutta was the head of the 10th Strategic Air Force [Americans], and not far from us. And one day on a siding some equipment came in, and somebody opened a car, and in it were 10,000 quart bottles of beer. There were no cans then. Beer was sent in a busty container and in burlap bags.


Whoever opened it immediately went to the C.O., who was Wing Commander John Hopkins, and said what do we do about this? This is like all the beer in the world.


And Hoppy said don't do anything until we get organized. And what ended up was this. He had a two-day standown, and those of us on the squadron had 10,000 quarts of beer.


And it was a court martial offense if you broke a bottle! Well, the bottles were then put back in the little busty containers, put back in the burlap bags, sealed, and we sent the car, the railroad car, on to Calcutta. And only by rumor we heard the hell that broke loose at 10th Strategic Command when they opened this, and opened all their empty bottles of beer. And thank God nobody ever knew, or Hoppy, all of us, would have been placed on charge.


We drank all of it in two days. Once you opened a bottle, it wouldn't have lasted. This is hot beer, and when you open it, you really only had about 2/3rds of it; put the beer in the shade and open it so, so very carefully, and it fizzed out about a third. And you had what was left.


But this was one of the great things our squadron ever accomplished, really!


And nobody ever let the cat out of the bag. Not a soul! And to this day they may never know.


This was maybe late '43, up to mid-'44. Great time!


Sadly Bob died in 1997 at his home in Springfield, Ohio, USA

When you go home

tell them of us and say,

For your tomorrow,

we gave our today

Lt Gen Slim at Fort Dufferin, Mandalay, in March 1945 Lt Gen Slim at Fort Dufferin, Mandalay, in March 1945
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