Possibly the most important piece of equipment for a soldier is his spoon! World War one era military issue spoons are quite distinctive and tonight we are looking at a wonderfully marked example that has seen at least three users. My thanks go to Taff Gillingham for his help in filling in some of the blanks with this object. This spoon is particularly large, equivalent to a modern tablespoon, and has what is known as a ‘fiddle back’:This pattern of spoon was introduced in 1894 under pattern 3910/1894 and is made of cupronickel. It was to remain in service throughout the Great War, although it was supplemented by a new pattern in 1917 that more closely resembles the ‘teardrop’ handle of today. It is common to find one edge of the spoon sharpened and ground down, as in this example:This made it easier to get the spoon into every part of a D-Shaped mess tin and acted as a simple knife for cutting up food with. Soldiers tended to discard knives and forks and just carry a spoon, often to be seen tucked into their puttees:Veterans recalled that in the trenches the preferred method of cleaning a spoon after use was to push it into the ground two or three times until it was clean! Having said that if the mud was particularly thick then the spoon was often carried in the breast pocket for ease of access. This example belonged to various members of the 4th West Yorkshire Regiment as witnessed by the service numbers stamped into the front of the fiddle back:Further numbers are to be seen on the back, these are different and its seems this spoon went through the hands of at least three different men:Whilst this is unusual, it was not unheard of as kit tended to get recycled and reused. This spoon was a lucky find on eBay for 99p and is definitely a favourite of mine. It will be going into my wash roll with my WW1 kit and may well see service again!
Since I first wrote about the mid-nineties ration pack two years ago, I have added several more packs to my collection and I now have four different boxed ration packs, one is sealed and the other three are open with minor varieties in the printing on the box:These ration packs were first introduced in 1995 and these boxes come from that initial batch, with two different types of 24 hour ration available, the ’24 hour ration GP’ and the ’24 hour ration’. These boxes contain boil in the bag rations and unlike today where there are twenty different options to suit dietary requirements, choice was more limited with seven different packs available:The rear of this leaflet sets out how to cook these rations:These packs appear to have been muddled up a bit over the years, but I have laid out what appears to be the most complete set to illustrate the contents: As ever ARRSE gives some wonderful descriptions of the contents of these ration packs:
Fruit Dumplings in Butterscotch Sauce- Tastes the same way as burnt electrical insulation smells.
Biscuits Brown- Pack contained within the 24 Hour ration pack. Consists of 6 slices of compressed cardboard, occasionally supplied with dog shit in a can to spread over said cardboard.
Rather scarily, this institution of the soldiering ways is/has been phased out with the new Multi-Climate ORP’s, and they are fast becoming rocking horse shit. Those of us more aware of the value of the Biscuit Brown are now involved in an intense hoarding operation to ensure that in ten years’ time, we’ll still have a tasty biccy to bung ourselves up with, whilst those sprogs stare on in wonder and ask us what these magical looking things are.
Apart from the (Debatable) nutritional value that the Biscuit Brown holds, its primary value is of the bunger-upper. As soon as any soldier worth his salt hit the field for exercise, he’d scoff down at least three packs, thus ensuring his arse would be blocked solid for days to come. No need to lay a cable only to discover that you need to use it as the new harbour’s sentry position two days later.
The need to have a restoring drink in the field has led to many national idiosyncrasies in essential equipment provided to soldiers- the French and Italians had military issue coffee grinders, the US Army ensured its GIs could always have a Coca Cola and of course the British Army did its best to ensure there was always facilities for its soldiers to have a hot cup of tea. Out of the front line this was fairly easy with tea urns and NAAFI vans providing Tommy with a hot wet- in the front lines getting a hot cup of tea was more problematic and an instant tea was issued with milk and sugar already included in the mix so a soldier just had to add water. This was issued in the standard sized tin used for emergency rations, cigarettes etc:The lid of the tin has instructions on how to brew up the tea:TEA RATION 5oz
(Containing Tea, Sugar and Soluble Milk Powder)
Use dry spoon and sprinkle powder on the heated water and bring to the boil, stirring until the milk powder is completely dissolved. The contents of the tin are sufficient for 6 pints of tea. For small quantities, 1 oz (3 heaped teaspoonfuls) are to be added to each pint of water.
The tea contained in this tin was not, by all accounts, particularly good and the closest modern equivalent is something like QT. Despite this, a hot drink would have been very welcome and there are many stories of British troops stopping during a lull in the fighting to brew up. This tin has a maker’s stamp impressed in the base:As can be seen this tin is not in the best condition, however inside the tin is a small note saying it was found in a farm near Bernay on the Normandy battlefield. This makes it a bit special as it was actually a piece of equipment that went over to France and has not just sat unissued in stores. My thanks go to Andy Dixon for this item.
Over the weekend I was lucky enough to receive a massive collection of 1980s British Army kit from a good friend of mine, Andy Dixon, who is downsizing his collection. Needless to say we will be looking at some of these items over the coming months, starting tonight with a General Service Ration Pack as used from the mid 1970s, this example dates from around 1991 and is the sort used in the First Gulf War.
This ration pack was designed to sustain a man for 24 hours, and a man was issued one or two and carried the contents in the kidney pouches of his 58 pattern webbing. There was a limited choice of menus, four different options being produced and generally was well liked by troops, if a bit monotonous. The box is made of stiff cardboard and has the following contents (as ever click on the image for a clearer version and the key):The plastic packet of drinks and sundries has the following contents:A paper leaflet is included that gives details of the different menus available:And how to prepare the contents of the ration pack:For more details on ration packs in the 1980s Forces 80s has an excellent page covering the subject in much more detail here.
I always enjoy rummaging in boxes at the second hand market in the hope of a bargain. As can be expected most of the time I draw a blank, but every so often something nice turns up, as was the case last Tuesday when I found a Horlicks 24 hour ration tin for £1 in a large box of old tins:The tin is the same size as a standard tobacco tin, with a cream lid, with blue and red printing on it, a blue band surrounds the edge of the lid:The legend ‘As Supplied to the Air ministry’ is clear in the bottom right corner. The rear of the tin provides details of the contents and a small depression originally held a seal to keep the contents fresh:The tablets were issued to aircrew as emergency rations. Horlicks is a malted drink, which was very popular in the UK in the interwar period. The tablets were made of the same ingredients, but designed to be eaten rather than prepared as a drink. The tin provided enough sustenance for twenty-four hours and could be slipped easily into a pocket. It was often the case however that the tablets had to last considerably longer then the manufacturer intended. The following account of a crashed Hampden bomber comes from Martin Bowman’s book Heavy Bomber Offensive of World War II:
First Day afloat- When they had taken stock of their rations they found thirty-six Horlicks tablets, a small bottle of rum, a few ounces of concentrated chocolate, some boiled sweets and one and a half pints of water in a rubber hot water bottle. The marine distress signals were found to be wet and useless. The pilot was soaked through and very sick all day. Another of the crew who had swallowed a lot of sea water was very sick all day. The others were reasonably fit. It was decided to ration the water and food. In the morning each man had half a tin-lid of water and three Horlicks tablets…
While many items of military equipment survive, it is those items that were most common, but disposable, that are often hardest to find- tooth brushes and period (clean) toilet paper, ration packs etc. are all scarce. Added to that are the simple wooden crates used to transport supplies. Ammunition boxes survive in large numbers because they were useful in workshops as tool boxes, wooden crates are much less common, with most being burnt for heat at the time. Tonight we are looking at one of these rarer survivors, a crate originally used by the army for condensed milk:This crate is profusely marked; in 1947 RASC published a book with instructions for contractors in how to store tinned food being supplied to the military, Janet McDonald explains in her book From Boiled Beef to Chicken Tikka: 500 Years of Feeding the British Army:
The case was also to be marked with the description and the nett weight of the contents, the initials of the contractor, the month and year of packing, the month and year of the expiry of the warranty period, all this to be in one-inch-high characters in good oil paint or stencil ink, in the middle of one side. They were also to be marked in 1 ¼-in characters in light royal blue ‘RASC SUPS’ (Royal Army Service Corps- Supplies) horizontally and centrally about one inch from the upper edge on both the top and bottom and on each end. There should be no other markings except, if desired, identity marks such as batch or case numbers, these to be smaller characters.
As instructed then, this crate has the main description on the front:From this we can see that the crate contained 48x 16oz cans of unsweetened condensed milk; manufactured by L.M. & L Ltd. The box is faintly dated June 1948. ‘RASC SUPS’ is marked on the ends:And bottom:Further markings inside the crate probably refer to the manufacturer of the box rather than the contents:Sadly this box is missing its lid, but nonetheless is an interesting survivor- when I acquired it there was a piece of linoleum in the bottom and evidence that it had been used to hold pot-plants in a greenhouse.
Tonight’s object has a degree of mystery about it. This little blue ration card is fairly self explanatory, being issued to troops in camp to ensure they got fair shares of chocolate and cigarettes:It is made of a postcard-weight card and is simply printed in black. It has a number of diamond shaped holes punched in it, presumably to indicate when the items had been issued:The mystery however is the unit that used this card, it is marked 2Bn C.B.R.B:This is presumably the second battalion of a regiment, but I have been unable to identify which regiment C.B.R.B refers to, but the name of the original owner, Lance Corporal J T Baker H94318 suggests it is Canadian:A Pte J T Baker with the same number is listed as being part of the Canadian Forestry Corps in No23 Company. This unit disbanded in 1943 and presumably Pte Baker was reallocated to a different unit, where he received his stripe. This sort of frustrating dead end in research is not unknown, and despite much searching I can’t find a Canadian unit that matches ‘C.B.R.B.’ If any reader can identify it then please drop me a line.