Back in the day, there was always a base rumour that the SADF put ‘Blue Stone’ into the food and drink to repress the sexual urges of young National Servicemen. It was always declared as proof positive by some or other young recruit whenever the coffee urn came out and the ‘strange salty taste’ was attributed to this drug.
However the idea of drugging soldiers with a suppressant to ‘calm’ them down – especially sexually – is not an old one, and it has been a rumour in military forces the world over. The myth of ‘Blue Stone’ originated to a degree in the British Army during World War 2.
Regular army soldiers in the British Army attested that ‘someone’ (whoever that ‘someone’ was nobody knows) put bromide in their food to keep their sexual libido well suppressed. The myth that the new recruits are so virile that they need to be tamed and contained by drugs is in an odd way a backhanded compliment to young soldiers and their sexual prowess.
It was not just the British who came up with this myth, military recruits around the world have the same story. In Poland it is that the coffee has been treated, while in France, the legend is that the French soldiers are given adulterated wine. The South African recruits also called this mysterious substance ‘blue stone’ and claimed it was added to their coffee to keep them sexually calm, while in Germany, the tale is that German recruits are kept in line with a double dose — the addition of iodine into the coffee as well as soda in the meat.
Bromine is one of the 92 elements that belong to the halogen family. These halogens include fluorine, chlorine, bromine and iodine. Discovered by the French chemist Antoine-Jérôme Balard in 1826 from the residues left over after sea salt had been taken out of sea water, and in small doses it has been used in medicine, mainly because of its sedative effect — and this is where the myth comes from.
Bromide as a sedative in the UK dates back to 19th century Victorian Britain. Children of the upper classes were surreptitiously fed salts of bromine to sedate them, and calm down the natural vigour and exuberance of youth (delivered to them via their own personal salt shaker at the table).
So if bromide salts made you sleepy, the logic was extended to include the effects of reducing sexual libido as a side effect. But the simple fact is that in the military, recruits undergoing basic training (and even combat deployment) are stretched to the limit in terms of physical exhaustion and lack of sleep. It is simply the rigours of soldering that led to tiredness and subsequently any sort of suppressed sexual libido.
There are no recorded cases of South African national servicemen been universally drugged with a sexual suppressant. It’s a myth lads, Simply put – the coffee tasted bad because it was low-grade crap coffee.
As to the myth of bromide, the comedian Spike Milligan, who served with the British Army in World War II, summed the myth up very well in his book Rommel? Gunner Who?
“I don’t think that bromide had any lasting effect, the only way to stop a British soldier feeling randy is to load bromide into a 300lb shell and fire it at him from the waist down.”
Written by Peter Dickens. Reference Dr Karl’s Great Moments in Science. Feature photo copyright Peter Marlow