The M&S Wimereux French Biscuits Tin and the Great War


I am rather partial to a good tin. I collect the things, hoard them, they are all over the house. Tins full of sixpenny pieces, tins of threepenny bits, half-crowns, buttons, old stamps, Large tins full of old photographs and letters, Big tins with small tins inside them. Tins of snuff, tins of tablets I’m a sort of tinalholic. I even have some old army tins including my rifle cleaning kit tin and an olive green oblong tin given to me by an army Chaplin which he used to use to carry communion wafers into the front line. A sort of Holy Grail of tins.  And I keep my barrister’s wig in a black oval tin bought from a car boot sale and marked “Handle with care, Sceintific Instrument”, which seems quite appropriate.
Scotland is an especially good place for tin collectors.  It’s all that shortbread. I have bought countless tins in the Edinburgh Charity shops for they know a good tin do those Edinburghers. And as it happens there are more charity shops in Edinburgh than there are in any other UK city , – hence more tins. Of course a lot of them are tartan/highland kitsch but you can still find outstanding quality tins tucked away on top shelves of the charity shops. More than once it has crossed my mind that while searching the Edinburgh world of tins that if Cornwall had ever invented shortbread thy would probably still have a tin mining industry.
Marks and Spencer’s, dear old Marks and Spencer’s are true connoisseurs of the tin. They constantly market their shortbread, their biscuits, their boiled sweets and their teas in the most wonderful range of tins of all shapes and sizes, often nicely embosses with fine art images. I have a bassets liquorice allsorts tin from M&S, and a harry potter tin with a small model of harry potter mounted on the lid, and a very fine earl grey tea tin. I am surprised they don’t market other goods in tins and stick only to food products. They could easily sell their knickers in a tin. What could be nicer than buying your wife or girlfriend or partner, or even your mother, a tin of Marks and Spencer’s knickers? But I digress, and am distracted by thinking what embossed image they would put on a tin of M&S knickers.
20150531_123258This month they have on sale a really wonderful tin box of French butter biscuits marketed under the name of Wimereux. It features a pretty French girl, pre 1914 I would think, on the Wimereux sands with a bright red umbrella to shade her from the sunshine. If I am an anorak of tins, a tinaholic, then the other great interest I follow is the history of the Great War. Wimereux is a somewhat sacred place in the history of World War 1
Wimereux is a small French seaside resort, a sort of French Brighton but with very good restaurants. It is sited about four miles north of Boulogne, or as it says on the tin, 9 minutes from Boulogne. In 1914 it was chosen as the site for a major Australian voluntary base hospital to receive seriously wounded soldiers form the trenches across Northern France.
Initially the hospital was located in a series of specially built huts, with wards, operating theatres and all the kit and equipment of a major hospital. wimereux_archStaff were under canvas. It was staffed by Australian Nurses and Doctors including a number of very distinguished women doctors. Eventually the hospital would lose its exclusively Australian identity, becoming a major British army hospital and taking over most of the hotels and villas  along the seafront, including the hotel pictured on the Wimereux Tin, which is, I think, the Hotel (Chateau) Mauricien, a hotel with a splendid sunken Roman baths that was converted by the military into an operating theatre.
The Hospital would receive the wounded being fed back to the base hospital through the causality clearing stations immediately behind the front lines. They would be operated on in the Wimereux theatres and if they were fit enough sent back to the network of hospitals and rehabilitation centres in England from the Wimereux docks. They might spend a little time in the seaside town resting and regaining their strength, strolling along the sea-front or sitting quietly on the beach. At a later stage in the war Wimereux became the headquarters of the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps and was used to treat and rehabilitate many of the nurses serving closer to the front lines and who suffered considerable trauma and illness from their experiences of war.,
The Hospital took casualties from all nations, including enemy casualties. Perhaps its most notable patient was not a war causality at all, Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, was a Canadian physician in the Canadian Royal Army Medical Corps and commander of No: 3 Canadian General Hospital in nearby Bologne, He died of pneumonia with extensive pneumococcus meningitis. It was he who wrote the most famous poem of the war “In Flanders Fields” and gave to us the powerful symbol of the poppy by which we remember still, the fallen.Mccrae
Another, less well known casualty was Frederick Norway Hamilton. I have written of him before and you may read his story here. It is particularly nice to know that in his dying days he was cared for by Australian nurses and doctors, for although he, and all his family, were English, they hailed from Cornwall, his younger brother Neville Shute, subsequently emigrated to Australia and became one of the great Australian literary figures writing “On the Beach” and “A Town like Alice”
So for me, and I expect for many others the M & S Wimereux tin is set to become a classic of tin collectors. Rush out and buy a tin before they sell out altogether. I shall use mine to keep within it my grandfather’s Medal Index Card, he was killed in the great war, my father’s medals, he fought in North Africa and Italy, my own medals from my fierce service in Borneo and in Northern Ireland, together with those enamel poppies I bought last year and of course, a copy of McCrae’s poem. But my first duty, having now bought three of the Wimereux tins, is to eat the contents. Someone has to do it.

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2 thoughts on “The M&S Wimereux French Biscuits Tin and the Great War

  1. Bonjour
    I live in Wimereux where I am a member of a Society. We’d like to buy a bulk quantity of these tins of biscuits…You’ll find our web site by searching for le charme de Wimereux.
    Merci

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