In the past we have looked at the post war aluminium mess tins of both the UK and Canada, despite detail differences these designs are very similar and both nations used a deep pan, with a wire handle that folded over the top. Australia however went for a very different design to their post-war mess tins and tonight we have the opportunity to look at a pair of these: These mess tins are pretty hard to find on this side of the world, as indeed is any Australian Army kit, so I was very pleased to be able to add a set to my collection. There are two very notable changes between these tins and the ones we are more familiar with. Firstly the handles are made up of two parts that wrap around the sides of the pan rather than over the top. Secondly the pans themselves are much shallower, being barely more than an inch deep: The two mess tins stack inside each other in the usual way to take up less space: This pair date from February 1972, and the panel on the end has the /|\ mark and the Australian version of an NSN number: Australia is not part of NATO, but uses the same coding system and has been allocated the county code of ‘66’. This particular pair of mess tins have clearly seen service and the name of a previous owner has been scratched into the base of one of the tins: The merits of the Australian mess tin, besides it being lighter due to its smaller size, are that the twin handles make it much easier to pour hot liquids from the mess tin into a cup for instance without the risk of the handle ‘flopping’ and spilling the contents all over you hand. The smaller capacity also makes it quicker to heat up food and water in the tin- the downside is the smaller capacity which means you cannot get as much in them.
Following Tuesday night’s post on the 51 pattern mess tin carriers, this might be an opportune moment to look at the Canadian mess tins themselves. These mess tins are similar to the familiar British post war aluminium design, with two rectangular pans that fit one inside the other:One tin is larger than the other:And both have wire handles attached to one end with a riveted plate:Where these tins differ from British mess tins is in their shape, which is distinctly squarer at the corners, here we see a British example on the left, and the Canadian mess tin on the right:The design is clearly based on the pre-WW2 British aluminium mess tins which shared the squared off shape, when Britain resumed aluminium mess tin production in 1945 they altered the corners of their tins; the Canadians left the design as it was. This particular pair of tins do not have the /|\ in a ‘C’ mark of Canada, but are marked ‘CCB’ on the handle end of each tin:This stands for the ‘Coulter Copper and Brass’ of Toronto, Ontario. The company produced a large number of pressed metal items for the Canadian Army throughout WW2 and into the post war period, including gas mask parts and brass button sticks. There were a number of different manufacturers of Canadian mess tins and my thanks go to Michael Skriletz for his research into the different companies:These aluminium tins had a long life and were in use well into the 1980s, this example has the original owner’s name and number written on the bottom of one of the tins in permanent marker:I think this originally read ‘R Silman’ but it is a little worn now.
One of the unique elements of Canadian webbing design was to add a dedicated mess tin pouch to their 51 and 64 pattern sets. Most nations carried their mess tins inside the large pack, or if the design permitted slung from a convenient strap on part of the equipment. Canada however seems to have looked at the experience of its troops in the Second World War where it was common for them to acquire a second water bottle carrier to be used as a mess tin pouch- the mess tin then being easily available at unexpected ration stops without the need to go hunting in the main pack:The 51 pattern set had a large pouch to carry the mess tins in:The top flap is secured with a quick release pull tab fastener:A pair of mess tins fits inside, they are tight enough to prevent rattling, but easy enough to pull out:The methods of attaching the pouch to the rest of the equipment follow the same pattern as the canteen carrier we looked at last week:With a wire hook to attach to the belt:And a pair of brass Twigg buckles on either side to attach to the ends of the shoulder braces:As with a lot of this 51 pattern webbing, the markings are too faint to read, however unusually this pouch appears to have been blancoed at some point in its life, giving it the slightly shiny appearence seen in the photos abovve. Interestingly despite adopting this pouch, and a similar one for the following 64 pattern webbing set, Canada abandoned aluminium mess tins in the 1980s due to fears of aluminium poisoning- something the British military clearly didn’t consider a problem for their troops as aluminium mess tins are still issued!
As ever my thanks go to Andrew Iarocci for helping me add this piece to the collection.
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!
Nearly a year ago we looked at the late war Indian aluminium mess tin here. Tonight we are looking at an earlier pattern of Indian mess tins, made from tined steel rather than aluminium. I have been after a pair of these distinctive tins for a while now and thanks to a generous tip off from Karkee on the Warrelics Forum I was able to track a pair down in Greece. The mess tins themselves are a fairly standard rectangular dish with handles on one end:One is slightly smaller than the other:And they slot inside each other for storage:The distinguishing feature of these tins however is they are made form two pieces of metal crimped and soldered together rather than a single piece pressed into shape:This design change was due to the lack of manufacturing technology in India at the start of the war. The heavy machine presses were not available for mess tin manufacture, but the country made many simple tin items and the techniques from this industry readily translated into the making of these mess tins. The tins are stamped on the bottom:These indicate they were made by the Metal Box Company in Calcutta in 1941:Mess tins were widely used by all in India, with food and tea served up in them, Bill Pope of the RASC was at Deolali in India:
The regulars were in no way interested in we “transit wallahs”. We had our own cookhouse and cooks and by and large the food suited me. Banana fritters were my favourite. Our dining area was under cover, the cookhouse was some yards away. One queued up with your mess tins, these were in two halves, one for the grub, the other for the tea to wash the grub down. The walk from the cookhouse to the tables was not far, but what a shock we had the first time we trod that path. The vultures (shitehawks) were quite knowledgeable about our mealtimes and nose dived as one moved across. There would be a rush of wings and away would go everything off your plate. I believe quite a few chaps went hungry on that first meal parade, no refills!
Interestingly this pair of tins have some faint arabic markings on them:This suggests that after the war they were used by one of the armies in the middle east- presumably bought as surplus. This pair of tins is in excellent condition, and whilst not cheap they are getting harder to find now that WPG seems to have exhausted their supply. WD Militaria as ever has eye watering prices- they are selling a pair for £125! Careful hunting should get you a pair a lot cheaper than that though…
When the British Army introduced the 1937 pattern webbing equipment, they took the opportunity to replace the old D-Shaped mess tin set that had been in use for over a hundred years with something more suitable for modern warfare. They adopted a rectangular two piece aluminium mess tin set- aluminium being lighter and more hygienic than the tinned steel used up to this point and a better heat conductor allowing food to be heated quicker. Sadly the outbreak of war put huge strains on the nation’s raw materials reserves and aluminium was of more use in making aircraft than mess tins. Because of this a new mild steel rectangular mess tin set was developed:The two tins are made of mild steel, with a tinned coating to prevent rust, one is slightly smaller than the other, allowing them to be stored one inside the other:This then allows them to be stored in the relevant pocket of a 37 pattern haversack. Each tin has a folding wire handle:These are secured to the main body of the mess tin with a hinge fastened by four rivets:This has the markings of the combined ‘MB’ for the Metal Box company and a date of 1941 on the top tin and 1942 on the lower. The long sides of each mess tin have a deep rib formed down them:This would appear to be for strength to prevent the tin from flexing. In use water could be placed in the smaller tin and the larger placed on top as a lid allowing the water to boil quicker than in an open tin. The picture below shows Sergeant Chase of the South Alberta Regiment cleaning his mess tin whilst sat on his Staghound armoured car:The steel mess tin was replaced by a new aluminium type in 1944 as part of the jungle system introduced that year, the steel tins being declared obsolete in 1955. Over the years the tin coating on many of these tins has deteriorated and it is not recommended they be used for eating any more- I use an aluminium set in my equipment for re-enacting for safety. The steel mess tins are easily available, with What Price Glory having examples available for under £10. These are covered in a thick storage grease that has now hardened to a brown gunk; I have a second set of these tins in this condition and their restoration will be the topic of a future post.
Whilst I am primarily a collector these days, I do still re-enact a few times a year. As such I occasionally buy reproduction kit from the various suppliers, either in place of very rare items or to use for safety reasons where it would be unwise to use an original item. I have just taken delivery of What price Glory’s D-Shaped mess tin and tonight we are going to look at how it stacks up against an original and in comparison to other replicas on the market.
What Price Glory (WPG) are an American company, but they offer a wide range of WW1 and WW2 British kit, and have a distribution hub in the United Arab Emirates, so items normally reach the UK within a couple of weeks. I recently ordered a set of mess tins from them, whilst I own an original set I wouldn’t want to risk eating out of them. The original tinning is very worn and they were originally made with lead based solder, so for re-enacting a reproduction set is a far safer option. The mess tins are the later pattern, without an inner tray, and come with a canvas messtin cover:
Overall the shape of the tins are very good, as can be seen from above they closely mirror the originals:Looking face on, they are fractionally larger than my original tin, but the originals were made over a span of 150 years and by numerous companies so there is a lot of variation anyway:As can be seen the WPG tin has a little kink in the handle that allows the can to be hung on a stick over a fire, my original does not, but again this is not unusual.
The mess tins have a number of fittings secured to them for their handles. Looking first at the handles on the lid, there is a clear difference between the angle of the handle, the WPG example is a 90˚ to the tin, whilst the original is at a much steeper angle:Also the handle on the WPG is much more crudely riveted on than the original:Both of these things are minor points however, and the design of this handle is very similar to the original. Turning to the base the biggest problem with the tin becomes apparent. The quality of the handle fitting is decidedly crude:A comparison shows the original to have a much finer casting:The fitting of the handle here is, for me, the weakest part of the reproduction, however it is not a major issue and I imagine that with use the whole tin would tone down in colour and get a more realistic patina. The lid is a tight fit and a bit of a struggle to get off, but hopefully this will ease up with use.
As has been seen above, the WPG mess tin comes with its own cover. This is a nice touch as every other reproduction requires you to buy one separately. The material for the cover seems a bit dark and heavy, however again a few seasons of use would probably tone it down nicely. Unfortunately the button hole on the front has not been sewn properly and after using it twice the stitching came undone on mine. This might be an isolated incident, but was disappointing.
As far as I am aware the only other two companies offering a reproduction D Shaped mess tin are Soldier of Fortune (SOF) and Military History Workshop (MHW). As MHW have been out of stock for months now, I will concentrate on the SOF tin, which I had the dubious pleasure of seeing in person on their stall at the Victory Show last year. Firstly the SOF tin does have the inner frying pan tray, which the WPG example does not. In terms of shape there is not much between them, however the un-resolvable problem with the SOF tin is the material it is made out of. It appeared to be made out of some highly patterned steel, reminiscent of a galvanised bucket. Both the original and WPG’s example are made from traditional flat metal, without this pattern on. For this reason, and the included cover, I can only recommend people buy the WPG example. It is not perfect, but in my opinion the problems are very minor and it is the best on the market at the moment.
The tin is currently out of stock, but I imagine it will soon be back. It is listed at $37, which is about £24.30. It is listed here.