Composite ("Compo") Rations: (Pictures Below)
This is also known as the 14-Man Ration, and was designed to bridge the food needs
of troops between the issue and consumption of the 24-Hour Ration and establishment of mess services that could provide the
standard "Ration, Field Service", prepared by cooks.
The compo ration came in seven menus (identified by letters between A and G), contained
in wooden crates marked with the "14-Men COMP" designation, the menu letter and manufacturing date and information.
Each crate contained food for 14 men, and had to be partially prepared from both
tinned and packaged goods. To this end, sections generally "elected" an individual to serve as cook or "brew-up". Most of
the time this was done either by age or time in the section (The new chap generally had shown no soldierly talents yet and
was thus put to good use).
There were instances of very lucky sections, however, where this duty was assigned
by talent. Even though cooking and the packing of much of the attendant supplies fell to the new lads or young replacements,
evidence of talent based special treatment exists. These are the cases in which a skilled "cookie" or, even more prominently,
a skilled "Brew-up" was actually kept out of harms way in combat by their oppos ("opposite number"-Squad mate) because of
their value to the section!
Food was generally prepared over petrol cookers, but campfires and a variety of cookers
were also employed. Generally, individual cookers were of either the issue folding Tommy Cooker (a tri-wing folding stove
which used solid fuel), or the various locally purchased/received from home cookers, such as "Blackies" and "Tommys Cooker".
These "commercial" cookers generally used tinned jellied fuel (similar to Sterno brand), which, inexplicably, seems to have
been available in most theatres throughout the war, even though quality was generally low.
Even though Compo meals varied even within their meal specifications, they generally
Commercial tins of meat, such as Stewed Lamb, Salmon (tapered tins), Oxtail and Steak
and Vegetable, Pork and Vegetable, Kidney and Beef with gravy and Meat and Vegetable (yes-the dreaded M&V--your guess
as to what mystery meats were in this offering!)
Toward the end of the war, these commercially labeled tins were often mixed with
the Ministry of Food (MOF) standard service tins, which came in a variety of red and brown tones with the content and date
information stenciled on. This was done due to the fact that many of the compo-rations MOF and commercial paper labels would
come off during transport storage and re-packing and would lead to menus containing too much or none at all of one item or
There were also provisions of both commercial and MOF labeled tins containing Sardines
(we are producing a 100% copy of these in MOF waterproof wrappers), Bacon, Concentrated Soups, Cigarettes, Margarine, Sweets,
Biscuits, Preserved Vegetables and Pudding.
One of the stranger tins is the Bread with Raisin 1 lb tin, which came in cases of
ten, and was thrown in with compo lots. To the uninitiated, these smooth sided tins without any labels or markings seem the
pinnacle of military confusion, but the unusual height and the "thud" the tin would make when shaken were a give-away to soldiers
as to its content. In order to understand the popularity of this item, One must realize that this "bread" (more of a cake)
was equally well-liked with slices of tinned ham, cheese spread or as a sandwich WITH BAKED BEANS AS THE TOPPING! (Offer this
as tucker at your next re-enactment and spot the Brits in the crowd!).
Issue packets of Toilet Tissue, Matches, bags or tins of Salt, bundles of Service
Chocolates, tins of either leaf or powdered tea and some form of Soap rounded this out.
Keep watching this space for more pictures of Compo Rations!