CHOCOLATEER

by The Chocolate Dictionary

A chocolateer is a soldier proffering chocolates for peace, a chocolate soldier. One of the best known examples is the Swiss mercenary Bluntschli in Bernard Shaw’s play Arms and the Man, who is famous for carrying chocolates in his cartridge pouch instead of ammunition. There’s even speculation that Bluntschli’s distinctly unmilitary habit inspired Queen Victoria, in 1900, to dispatch 100,000 tins of chocolate to her troops fighting in the Boer War.

Boer War chocolate tin, a gift from Queen Victoria. (image from: collections.tepapa.govt.nz)

Since then, chocolateers have been present in almost every major conflict. In 1914 they appeared during the unofficial Christmas truce on the Western Front, when British, French and German troops exchanged gifts of chocolate in the fond hope that hostilities would not be resumed the following day. During August 1944, in the Allies’ sweep through northern France following D-Day, American soldiers handed out chocolate to the newly liberated citizens of Paris – chocolate which, according to one grateful female recipient, was so good its taste has never been forgotten. Indeed, whenever American soldiers interacted with civilians, as they advanced through Europe, chocolate was used as a token of peace and reconciliation.

In their book A History of Chocolate in York (2012), authors Paul Christal and Joe Dickinson make reference to the official acknowledgement of British troops being issued with chocolate not only for its nutritional and energy benefits, but also for its uses as “civilizing gifts and peace offerings to liberated populations and as romantic gestures to local girls and women”.

Just two or three years later, during Operation Little Vittles (part of the Berlin Airlift), the Americans had their “chocolate flyers” – pilots who parachuted bars of chocolate to the beleaguered children below. This magnanimous action ensured the chocolate flyers became the best goodwill ambassadors the US Air Force ever had.

American aircraft dropping parcels of chocolate to the children of Berlin during Operation Little Vittels, 1947. (image from: thereifixedit.com)

Strange to think then that in 2003, nearly sixty years later, the US government should dismiss the countries proposing a separate military command to NATO as mere “chocolate makers”. Was the US military afraid that France, Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg were creating a new precedent for European peace – an army of chocolate soldiers? If so, then why did it develop its own beige, brown and tan camouflage for desert warfare – or should that be dessert warfare? – known as “chocolate-chip camouflage”?

Another kind of chocolate soldier is the one who is not a member of any military force, but who uses chocolate in the battle against poverty and deprivation. In France there is a group of charity workers who help to rescue prostitutes from the streets with the aid of prayer and chocolate. They greet each woman, offer her a bar of chocolate, and tell her that God thinks she is special. The women call these charity workers by the make of chocolate they hand out – Lindt, Villars, Côte d’Or and Poulain, etc. – as much as by their own names. Perhaps the idea came from the 2003 Italian TV advert for Ferrero Rocher in which Juliette Binoche, star of the film Chocolat, was seen handing out chocolates to people on the streets of Paris? Or is this a chocolate interpretation too far?

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