Chocolate Soldiers

‘Der tapfere Soldat’ (El Soldado de Chocolate – Tiralala !) by Oscar Straus, published by Casa Dotesio (sd, Madrid).

Der tapfere Soldat is an operetta composed in 1908 by Oscar Straus. It was an adaptation or parody of George Bernard Shaw’s 1894 play Arms and the Man. In this anti-war comedy the hero, a soldier who mocks war, uses his ammunition pouches to carry chocolates rather than cartridges. Therefore, the heroine of the play calls him her chocolate-cream soldier. This has inspired the pejorative use of the term ‘chocolate soldier’ for someone in the military who does not (want to) fight.

The English version of the operetta, The Chocolate Soldier, went on to international success on Broadway and in London.

‘The Chocolate Soldier’ by Oscar Straus & Stanislaus Stange, published by Feldman & Co (London, sd).

The operetta was adapted for film in 1915 and in 1941. For the 1941 movie only the score by Oscar Straus was kept. The screenplay was based on another comedy because Bernard Shaw did not want to sell the rights, having disapproved of the first version of the operetta which he called “a putrid opéra bouffe in the worst taste of 1860″.

You can hear a medley from Straus’ songs in the fragment hereunder.

The cover for Kwatta soldaten suggests that the Dutch had their own term for chocolate soldiers. In the Netherlands, the first packaged chocolate bar was launched in 1891 under the brand name Kwatta. This bar was so popular among the soldiers that the army became its largest buyer.

Kwatta Soldaten‘ by Louis Noiret & Ferry, published by Hakkert (Rotterdam, sd). Source: Stadsarchief Rotterdam)

The Netherlands had declared themselves neutral during World War I. Nevertheless the Dutch army mobilised its troops. Of course, the men under arms kept in their kitbag the oh-so nutritious and long-lasting Kwatta bars. From then on the bars were also called Manoeuvre Chocolaad.

‘Kwatta’s Manoeuvre Chocolate. The best peacemaker.’ Advertisement from World War I. (source Wikimedia Commons)

The pink wrapper of the chocolate bar carried the pictures of a soldier and a sailor encouraging to collect the coupons which could be traded for a tin soldier or some other premium, like tableware. The bars were for sale in these beautiful carton boxes.

Carton box for Kwatta chocolate bars. Illustrator unknown.

The Kwatta bars were not only popular with Dutch soldiers. Also Belgian soldiers must have loved the candy, as evidenced by this Belgian military booklet from the twenties, sponsored by Kwatta.

Belgian soldier booklet, around 1924 (source: kamp-vogelsang.be)

Godfried Bomans, a popular Dutch author, remembered in the late sixties that his father, a former captain in the Dutch army, filled the case of his binoculars with Kwatta bars during the First World War before returning home for the weekend leave (just like Shaw’s character). On one of these occasions he received an unexpected visit from Queen Wilhelmina. At one point she requested his binoculars and realising that the case had been given an improper destination, she would have said: “Captain Bomans, I hope you realise that the country’s neutrality is not guaranteed by Kwatta soldiers.”

In the fifties Godfried Bomans would himself write a book commissioned by Kwatta. The illustrations with funny moving eyes were made by his friend Harry Prenen.

‘Het ogenboek’ by Godfried Bomans, illustrations by Harry Prenen, published by Kwatta (Breda, 1951).

We end this post with a few politically incorrect covers. They illustrate that the term chocolate soldiers was also regularly used to refer to the soldier’s colour of skin.

Left: March of the Chocolate Soldiers by John Ashton, published by Montgomery (London, 1929). Right: ‘Goodbye my Chocolate Soldier Boy’ by James Whyte & Roger Graham, published by Roger Graham (Chicago, 1918)
‘Choc’late Soldier from the USA’ by Elton Box, Sonny Cox & Lewis Ilda, published by Francis-Day (Paris, 1945).

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