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.
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…