The rectangular nesting mess tins in use with the British Army have seen service since 1944, making them one of the longest serving items of equipment in the British Army, 72 years and counting! The aluminium mess tin had been introduced before World War 2, but rapidly dropped in favour of tinned steel (as seen here) to allow the metal to be prioritised for more urgent war uses. A new aluminium mess tin was developed of a slightly different shape and this came in as part of the new jungle equipment brought in in the wake of the Lethbridge report.
The set consists of two aluminium pans, one slightly smaller than the other:This allows the two tins to be placed together, taking up less room in a man’s bag and offering some protection to whatever food stuffs might be stored inside them:Each tin has an aluminium alloy handle, which folds out to make a safe grip for the tin- the metal is a poor conductor of heat so even if the main tin gets hot, the thin wire handle remains cool:These are secured to the body of the mess tin by an aluminium plate and four rivets:These plates are the usual place to find details of the year and manufacturer of the mess tin:In this case the set were made in 1980 by a company using the initials ‘PK’, dating this set nicely to the Falklands War period:
‘Vince waved me over for a brew he was making. I was on the way over when I heard another barrage on the way and I dived in beside him. He started yelling at me: “Watch my mess tin- this is my last water. Don’t spill the bloody thing.”
‘Did I laugh? What else could you do? The bloody brew was more important to us than the artillery. We lay side by side with our hands over the mess tin to stop the dirt from the shell explosions landing in the water’
There are also accounts from the Falklands of the Parachute Regiment using mess tins, along with their bayonets to dig improvised shell scrapes around Goose Green.
In use it is common to fill the smaller pan with water, put ration bags into the water and then boil this over a personal stove, the larger pan sitting on top as a lid to encourage heat retention and speed up the cooking process. Once the water has boiled this is used for making a drink and the food bags opened and either the contents are eaten out of the bag or placed into the mess tin that then becomes a plate. These tins are very easily available, having been made continuously for over seventy years, and can be bought for a few pounds- the metal is far thicker and better quality than the cheap copies sold in camping shops so even if you are not a collector it is more sensible to invest in a second hand military set rather than a new civilian set as these are almost indestructible!