John Wilhelm Rowntree’s racism and the Banderlogs

Describing a mix of chocolate business and sightseeing, John Wilhelm’s Mexico diaries are fascinating, if not, at times, somewhat disturbing: the ‘copper coloured’ coolies were ‘comely women to look at, small and graceful, and with such a carriage … [with]strikingly refined faces in sharp contrast to chattering wooly-pated niggers with their coarse features, obtrusive manners, and overflowing conceit. The nigger is to the white what the Banderlog were to the jungle … they are hopelessly incompetent, incorrigibly idle, overpowering in their conceit and more effervescent than the Parisians … They are however very picturesque and the women … carry themselves magnificently and walk like Greek Goddesses.’ Copies of this were sent to Frank Rowntree ‘with instructions for it to be read to Acomb Adult School on the Sunday following receipt’.

John Wilhelm’s use of the word ‘nigger’ may possibly not have been quite as offensive then as it is to modern ears. The word was being used generally in a pejorative sense from around 1900 although advertisers, for example, continued to use it for some time after. There is no mitigation, however, for the comparison with Banderlogs. Bandarlogs, monkey people, is used by Kipling in The Jungle Book where they are regarded as pariahs by the rest of the jungle. Their trade mark song goes: We are great. We are free. We are wonderful. We are the most wonderful people in all the jungle! We all say so, and so it must be true.

In Chicago racial discrimination was there for all to see; John Wilhelm’s reaction on seeing race-segregated waiting rooms is tinged with irony and to some extent inconsistent with his racist pronouncements above:

‘I suppose coloured people are never ladies and gentlemen. It is strange that, an Englishman, from a benighted country which still supports such a medieval institution as a monarchy, should find my first sentiment on the Republican and free soil of the States to be one of indignation at the insulting inequality and injustice to a coloured race who are yet, on paper, free and equal citizens with the whites’.


County Industries – the secret Rowntrees company

As with other companies, normal output and service was suspended at Rowntrees during the course of World War II to aid the war effort.   A prodigious amount of impromptu management and reorganisation went into converting Haxby Road into what was virtually a munitions factory housed in the Smarties Block.  The definitive record of this fascinating chapter in the wartime lives of the staff , board and management at Rowntrees can be found in The Cocoa Works in War-time published by the company soon after the end of hostilities; here are some of the details recorded there: 13,000 square feet of floor space in the new office block was put at the disposal of 300 clerks of the Royal Army Pay Corps.  The Fruit Gum Department, at the request of the Ministry Of Food, manufactured jams and marmalade for Frank Cooper Ltd of Oxford.  Part of the Almond Block extension was used by York firm Cooke, Troughton & Simms for the manufacture of military optical instruments.   From the Cream Department came ersatz products such as National Milk Cocoa, Ryvita, Household Milk and Dried Egg.

The Card Box Mill replaced its production of fancy boxes to become a main supply depot for the RASC. Northern Command.   The rest centre in the Dining Block was a refuge for blitzed families mainly in the aftermath of the 1942 Baedecker raid after which it was requisitioned for five nights ; a VAD hospital with 100 or so beds occupied the rest of the building. The nursery was also in there; this allowed mothers of children aged six months to five years of age to come to work. At any one time sixty children were looked after; cots and other furniture was made by the work’s joiners and the orchard behind the Dining Block became the playground.

The target for CIL set by the Ministry Of Supply was 100,000 fuses per week, made mainly for shells used in twenty-five pounder guns; this was exceeded. By the end of the war CIL had also turned out four million anti-tank mine fuses. Workers in contact with explosive powder had to protect their skin and so ‘make up’ rooms were set up where special face powder and topical creams were made available. Girls and women were advised to drink milk rather than tea or coffee at their mid-shift break.   The sixty men and 850 women here worked alternate day and night shifts and were under the management of the aptly named Mr NG Sparkes; most of them had been transferred from production work in the Cocoa Works.

ARP work included the construction of three underground tunnel shelters in the orchard, rose garden and near the Wigginton Road entrance. The fire brigade comprised twenty-three full time and eighty part time staff, complemented by 145 fire guards. The air raid siren was on the top of the Elect Cocoa Block – throughout the war it sounded 140 times in blasts that lasted for 209 hours in total. The Estates Department was busy digging for victory: between 1939 and 1945 eight tons each of tomatoes, cabbage and onions, three tons of leeks and two tons of Brussel sprouts and 13,000 heads of lettuce along with smaller quantities of other vegetables were produced.

One of the most productive departments in the factory was the Chocolate Moulding Department which was engaged in the production of various types of war-time chocolate. Vitaminised plain chocolate was made for army rations and for distribution by UNRRA for the relief of starving children in Europe.   Blended chocolate and vitaminised Plain York Chocolate was manufactured for prisoner-of-war parcels; at Christmas these were sent out with special wrappers.

Special chocolate ‘Naps’ in sealed tins were supplied to the  Ministry of War Transport  as emergency rations for use on ships, lifeboats and rafts. Pacific and Jungle Chocolate was specially produced to withstand high temperatures for troops and sailors in tropical climates. A similar type of ‘unmeltable’ chocolate is still produced in Australian chocolate factories today. Oatmeal Block and Fruit Bar was made for the servicemen in the Far East.   US Army Field Ration Vitaminised chocolate, known as Ration D,   was specially packed for the American forces. An Army Emergency Ration Special Chocolate that was hermetically sealed in tins was also manufactured along with special chocolate rations for use by air crew to eat after baling out.


© 2015 Paul Chrystal