A War of Nerves
Is anyone even old enough to remember Bourn Vita? How about Ovaltine?
I have in my hand, courtesy of a delightful gift from an old friend, a copy of (the British mag) PUNCH, from 1940.
The topmost banner on the front page, praises the goodness of a drink called ‘Bourn Vita’.
Inside the cover is a similar advertisement singing the praises of ‘Ovaltine’.
These were drinks, consisting of a sort of chocolate-y malt powder to be mixed with milk, “for sleep, nerves and energy” and “adequate reserves of nerve strength”.
Guaranteed to give you a “good night’s sleep” with “nerve building elements”.
Apparently, in 1940, everyone was having trouble getting “a good night’s sleep”.
(Don’t mention the war).
There are also ads for cigarettes and tobacco, one cigarette, “made specially to prevent sore throats” (True!)
And reminders to “save all wastepaper”. Frugality messages were clear!
Of course, in the magazines there are also short stories and poems – some serious, others humorous, mostly quaint, (as seen from a distance of 80 years) plus a few supposedly pointed, political excerpts gleaned from newspapers.
But the first fascination for me was the advertisements.
It seems that the populace in 1940 had many problems connected with health and the inability to sleep.
There were suggestions of a great need of nerve tonics and sleep aids.
The amazing thing is that the lack of sleep and the “nerve” worries is never directly – well, not in print, anyway – associated with the fact that people were stressed out and terrified due to being in the midst of the Second World War!
Perhaps some years later, Bourn Vita and Ovaltine could have been recommended to be consumed by the brave soldiers, sailors, and airmen when (if) they eventually returned from battle.
The promise of any help for “sleep, nerves and energy” must have had some appeal.
However, from what I gather, any courageous returned personnel mostly preferred beer – and possibly something stronger - than a milky chocolate drink, to dull the awful memories of war.
Nowadays we recognise post-traumatic stress as a likely condition in our returning military men and women.
Perhaps a mug of warm Bourn Vita would help them?
I think not.
Incidentally, I was also given a 1948 copy of PUNCH and you will be pleased to know that attitudes had changed to a more positive approach to life and, although smoking was still in evidence, the need for copious amounts of Bourn Vita and Ovaltine and other ‘nerve aids’ seem to be missing; Replaced by ads for clothes, cars and chocolate.
I choose to comment on social issues and write creatively on a variety of subjects - for a variety of audiences.