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John MacKintosh
Chapter VII - War Days


The paralysing calamity of the Great World War put an end for the time being to normal trade. Manufactures had to give place to munitions, and naturally the confectionery trade was one of the first to suffer. After thirty years' struggle, business seemed to have been firmly and finally established at home and abroad; but the war shook it to the foundations. From the very nature of the business he could expect little consideration in such an emergency as that with which the nation was confronted, when its very life was threatened. The effect was felt immediately after war was declared, for the first commodity to become scarce and to be controlled was sugar, the chief article used in the manufacture of his goods. The war years were in many ways more difficult and trying than any that had preceded them. Mr. Mackintosh's health also was now greatly impaired, and he was the less able to bear the anxieties of that terrible period. But he did his best to carry on and to hold the business together, while his sons and his workmen went into the firing line. The staff was rapidly depleted—men left for the Army or the Navy in quick succession, and generous assistance was rendered to their families by the firm. As sugar became more scarce the ration to manufacturers was reduced ; until only twenty per cent. of prewar supplies was allowed. The business at home was kept together with difficulty by rationing the shops in proportion to their former sales; but the export business, which he had built up with so much care and expense, was for the time entirely lost.

Writing at this period to the author, he says :-

"I have just an interval between one interview and another. I am at my office, a nice cosy place in winter, as I am over the boilers, and although the office floor is concrete the heat comes up. Yes, it is nice now, but in the summer it sends me home.

"It becomes more and more difficult to steer our 'Toffee de Luxe' ship through the troubled seas. We had over one thousand workpeople before the War, and now we have not quite two hundred and fifty. Of course we have only twenty per cent. of the sugar, and our output is down in like proportion; but still we will not grumble if we are just allowed to keep the wheels going round, so as to hold the organisation together until after the War. Inconveniences we expect, considerable sacrifices we would gladly make, but to shut up a concern like this altogether means disaster. One never knows in these days what is coming, but I always hope for the best."

Nearly two-thirds of the men left for active service or for other forms of war work, and hundreds of the girls, who had been accustomed only to the light and cleanly work of wrapping and handling toffee, went to Munition Works and learned to handle deadly explosives or heavy shells. Both Mr. Mackintosh's sons, who were with him in the business, left for the King's Service, the younger for the army and the elder for the navy; and he himself, in his fiftieth year, was called up for medical examination and classed C3!

There was no more patriotic firm than Mackintosh's in the country, and whether the demand of the moment was for men, materials or money, it was always met to the fullest extent, and Mr. Mackintosh was justifiably proud of the record of his firm and his employees. Not only were the wives and families of those who joined the colours treated generously so as to make up in part for the loss of their bread-winners, but especial care was bestowed on the relatives of men who laid down their lives in this great cause. Over thirty of the young men employed by the firm made the supreme sacrifice, which was also the supreme achievement. For much is done for a cause when men are willing to die for $t. Mr. Mackintosh wrote personally, at regular intervals, to the men at the front, and sent out parcels to them; and none of them returned on leave without calling to see the "Boss," who would then put everything aside, no matter how busy he might be, in order to speak a few cheering words to them and express the hope that they might have a speedy and safe return.

Great quantities of Mackintosh's Toffee were despatched to the troops and to the Navy in all parts of the world. Anyone who was at the front, on land or sea, knows that nothing was more welcome to "Tommy" or to "Jack" than the familiar tin. It lasted longer than chocolate and that was an advantage, as it helped along the leaden, weary hours. Before the war the chief ration allowed in the German Army for forced marches was sugar, and our own military authorities soon realised the food value of toffee, and of the war output of the factories a large proportion was taken by Government Departments for the troops.

All men on active service were familiar with the large oval tin from Halifax, for its size and shape made it invaluable for use in a thousand different ways. Millions of these tins were sent across to France and to other and more distant theatres of war, because they made such splendid packages for parcels, and the shops at home were scoured for the empty tins; but long after the boys had disposed of the good things sent from home the tin itself was put to. ingenious uses.

An officer of the Flying Corps wrote, that he was flying behind the German lines when a defect in his machine caused him to make a forced landing. The trouble was found to be in a fractured exhaust-pipe. An emergency repair had to be made on the spot, but what could he use for the purpose? Suddenly he thought of the oval tin which he had with him. Whipping out his cutter and soldering iron, be speedily patched the damaged tube, and was able to gain the air again before he was observed by the enemy. He returned safely to his own lines by the help of a Mackintosh Toffee tin. A photograph of the repaired pipe, showing clearly the familiar design on the tin, accompanied this letter.

A former employee wrote from the trenches, "somewhere in France" :-

"I cannot get away from the old firm. We are in the front line trenches now, and between us and the 'Boche,' right in the middle of 'No- man's-land,' is an empty four-pound 'Toffee de Luxe' tin. Whenever either ourselves or the enemy have nothing particular to do, we spend the time potting at the old tin. It is fast disappearing, but through my periscope I can just make out the old familiar bowl of cream, and it reminds me of home and the good old firm."

An officer, a returned prisoner of war from Austria, brought home with him an improvised kettle which he and his companions had made during their period of enforced idleness. It had been very ingeniously fashioned from two of the oval tins.

A member of the firm, who happened to be visiting Germany on business at the time war was declared, was interned for the whole of the period from 1914 to 1918, in a civilian camp. As he spoke German fluently, he soon gained considerable influence in the camp. After he had been about a year in exile, a letter was received by his friends at home saying that one of the interned prisoners was being exchanged, as he was an elderly man and unfit for military service. The writer also stated that the released prisoner would visit Halifax and bring with him a letter "two feet" long. The man came as stated, but, much to the disappointment of the friends in Halifax, he brought no letter with him, but only a parcel containing a pair of bedroom slippers, which he said he had brought as a present from the prisoner still in Germany. For many days they puzzled over the promised letter and the gift of slippers. Eventually light dawned on this cryptic message. Were the two slippers the "two feet" mentioned, and was the letter concealed somewhere in them? Tearing the soles apart they found hidden between the inner and the outer portions a letter from their friend in one slipper, and in the other several papers closely written in German. These they brought to Mr. Mackintosh and sought his advice. The letter stated briefly that one of the men interned at the camp was a German naturalised as an Englishman, who had lived in England for many years prior to the War, and he was now offering his services to the German Government as a spy in England. The German had been released to go on "special service to England," and the friend from Halifax immediately searched the quarters recently occupied by the spy. He found copies of the letters that had been written to the German authorities, and carefu1y hid them about his person. Shortly afterward the prison officers came down and made a thorough search for the missing documents. The entire camp was turned inside out, but without result. It would not have been safe to tell all this to the messenger who brought the slippers it was better that he should remain in ignorance. Hence the message and the mysterious allusion to the "two feet."

It was clever and ingenious, and Mr. Mackintosh felt proud of the man, who, under such difficult circumstances and at such personal risk, sought to serve his country. The German papers were translated, and as they were evidently of some importance, the whole of the documents were forwarded to the Foreign Office. Nothing further was heard of the matter until after the War, when the authorities acknowledged that these papers supplied them with evidence that enabled them to identify and arrest several dangerous spies in this country. Mr. Mackintosh then approached the Foreign Office urging the propriety of some practical recognition of the valuable services rendered. By his efforts a substantial reward was obtained for the young man, which came as a pleasant surprise to him when the German Internment Camp was disbanded and he. was able to return home.


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