“A pleasing welcome after a day’s work. When a day’s work is done we feel really tired and fatigued. Just having a single cup of Bovril will bring back a person’s energy and strength for certain.”

Bovril is a salty meat extract which can be mixed with warm water to make a drink. It was developed by a Scotsman in the 1870s as a “war food” to feed French troops fighting the Prussians.

The “power” of Bovril was represented in its name. The “bo” came from a Latin term for “cow,” whereas the “vril” comes from the name of a superior race of people, the Vril-ya, from an 1870s science fiction novel, The Coming Race.

Given these militaristic and eugenic connotations, it is all the more appropriate to find this product advertised in 1930s Siam, because those were two important elements of the society at the time. Like Japan, Republican China, Germany and Italy, Siam participated at that time in a form of modernity which promoted the development of strong and disciplined citizens, and there were definitely militaristic and eugenic attributes to that project.

The text at the bottom right states that “You should try Bovril for your health (sombuun สมบูรณ์)”

“Health” is not a complete translation for “sombuun.” It has connotations of being “nutritionally enriched” and “complete.” This was an important term at that time. Someone more capable than me should examine the discourse from the 1930s and 1940s in Siam/Thailand, but my sense is that “sombuun” is a term which brought together the interests of the newly modernizing bourgeoisie and the national security interests of the government.

To be “sombuun” was to enjoy the health and happiness of a modern lifestyle. At the same time, one needed to be “sombuun” to make the citizenry strong and to be able to defend the nation.

Regardless of the reason, Bovril was there to help.