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A Brief history on British rations for tropical/jungle issue.

by George Kudszus (a.k.a. Grandarse)

1940-1942

When the British were drawn into the ever widening world war, they were still issuing their troops with many food items considered "pan climactic" when originally introduced in the late 1930's. Of course, the "tropical" testing of such kit had been done by well-to-do gentlemen while setting sporting records, traveling in aeroplanes or hunting tigers from a howdah, rather than by infantry soldiers living in the harsh conditions of the Tropics.

By the time the Japanese Empire decided to annex all of Britain's Far-East possessions, Tommy was still subsisting on a minimal amount of long-term storage rations, (such as 24-Hour rations, a limited number of tinned goods, as well as emergency rations), as pre-war planning foresaw such items as needed for "emergency use" only.

Needless to say, this view changed drastically as the war progressed!

1942-1944

By the end of 1942, many of the remaining commonwealth forces in the Pacific were cut off from regular supply lines, and regular mess facilities did not exist. This necessitated the provisioning of troops with more shelf-stable foods that could be air delivered, would be temperature and moisture resistant, and would provide a sufficient caloric count to the fighting men in the pacific.

Initially, as a stop-gap measure, commercial tinned goods from Australia and the United States were added to sparse issues of the 24-hour type ration packs, which were not on the troops' most favourite foodstuffs list, as the packs were designed for use in central Europe and many of the components (such as the chocolate and broth cubes) would readily leak, melt or spoil in the Tropics.

Examples of these commercially produced ration items were Kraft Cheese tins from Australia, Vegetables and Fruit from the United States, and meat products from Brazil, such as the ever (un-) popular Bully beef in the characteristically tapered tins.

meltedchocolate.jpg

Trial and Error

With growing U.S. involvement in the war, and lessons learned concerning food storage and climatic extremes in the campaigns in North Africa, British military planners and researchers working for the Ministry of Food (MOF) decided that a separate ration for tropical use had to be provided, which was to combine the features of the new British Composite Ration (14-MEN) Pack, the 24-Hour Ration and the American K-Ration. Many K-Rations had been provided to the British specifically for use in theatres of operation where definite re-supply could not be guaranteed.

Initial Plans were for a "Jungle Ration" that would come in an air-deliverable container and would contain sufficient food for two men for one day. A similarly named ration was simultaneously being developed by the American Armys Quarter Master (QM) Corps, very obviously, in joint consultation with British MOF authorities - the American Jungle Ration will be discussed in detail in a future article). From the outset, the British Jungle Ration was again designed as an emergency type ration rather than a standard food item. As was the case with previous rations, virtually no menu variation was allotted for by the MOF. Small quantities of the so-called "Jungle Ration, Mk.I" were produced in 1942 and distributed throughout Far East command. From those rations issued, the MOF immediately assessed feedback and determined that the Mk.I had too many shortcomings to be considered as a complete answer to British ration needs.

The Jungle Ration Mark II

Given the inherent shortcomings of the Mk.I , the "Jungle Ration, Mk.II." was born in late 1942. It came in similar aluminum or tinned steel containers as the Mk.I, but had a greater variety of meals (a total of 8 meals in 4 distinctive menus-A through D-were were included in each 4 Gallon sealed air-droppable tin) available to troops in the field. Even though this ration was more geared toward sustained feeding of troops and was definitely more geared toward use in the Tropics, it still was treated by theatre commanders as a "limited standard" or "emergency" use item.

Oddly enough, portions of the British Jungle Rations would survive as an inspiration to ration development all over the world. It introduced such items as Sweetened Condensed Milk in metal tubes, Orange Flavoured Chewable Vitamin Tablets and, to everyone's delight, "Fizz" tablets to mask the flavour of poor or overly chlorinated water. Limited use or not, the Jungle Ration Mk.II was procured and distributed throughout the war, concurrent with other ration developments.

 

The jungle Ration Mk.II provided a full days ration for two soldiers in the field. The ration consisted of:

1 Tin (5 or 7 ounce) of either Fish and Egg, Breakfast Pork, Ham and Egg, or Chopped Liver and Bacon (The 4 Flavors, in order, constitute the breakfast meat portion of each of the 4 menus)

1 Tin (10 to 14 ounce) of either Preserved Meat (Bully Beef), Meat and Kidney Pudding, Stewed Steak (or Irish Stew), Chopped Ham and Beef (Spam-like in a round can)

1 Square metal "Biscuit Tin" of "Other food stuffs", containing:

Oatmeal blocks (Either 2 single cubes or a double stick-generally made in Canada)

Biscuits Plain and/or Enriched

Chocolate (High Temperature, various flavours)

Milk Powder (Boxed) or Sweetened Condensed Milk (Foil Tube)

Tea Blocks (Tea, Sugar and Whitener combo sufficient for one 12-ounce mug each) OR

Tea Tablets (Very strong compressed Tea in a small drum called SBC "Service Blend, Compressed", but often called "Some Blokes Choke"),  which was at times said to have the aroma and taste of old socks, OR

Tea Bags (Canadian Red Rose-This was like finding a good prize in Cracker Jacks!)

Salt Tablets,

Vitamin Tablets (Chewable flavoured ones)

Boiled Sweets (generally not counted but used to fill voids in tin)

Jam (Pressed) (The Chivers disks in cello)

Cheese (Tin or Foil Tube)

Sugar Tablets (8 of them in a variety of packages, but most often a drab cube box)

Salt (boxed)

Chewing Gum

Fizz Tablets (Vitamin enriched)

Lemon Crystals

Matches (not camouflaged!)

Latrine Paper (not camouflaged!)

Additionally, there was either a flat or tub shaped tin of 20 Cigarettes

All component portions of the ration were lacquered/painted in a green colour, with the notable exception of the Pressed Jam (which came in a clear Cello wrapper), the Chewing Gum, matches and the Latrine Paper

Both the sizes/manufacturers of the tinned goods, as well as the crackers and overall outer tin size changed throughout the Mk.II rations life span.

Even though this ration was a welcome, "English" flavoured, portable patrol ration, it was not liked for anything but short periods, as it offered no variety. Even this shortcoming of the ration could not quell Tommys spirit, though. When asked what they thought best of the new 24-Hour Ration (Pacific), a group of Chindits making mixed drinks from captured Japanese liquor commented "The Lemon Crystals--Perfect t'ae cut the bite from Japper grog!"

When the "Composite Ration (14-MEN)" became available in 1942, it soon began replacing other types of rations throughout the British Army. By the time sufficient quantities of this ration reached Far-East Command (in mid to late 1943), the general reception of the ration was positive, but, it had a major factor "weighing" against it for use by troops in the Pacific.

While most operations in the European theatre were supported either in part or in their entirety by vehicles, most operations in the Pacific were carried out on the backs of troops. This meant that many of the food stuffs issued to a section would have to be carried in packs or, in the case of large tins of fruits, soups, vegetables or biscuits, on shoulders or in make-shift sling carriers. Considering that many troops were already loaded down with ammunition, chaggles (water bags) and a host of other items. The additional weight of the Composite Ration ("Compo Ration") to an already heavy load of kit and equipment proved impractical at best. Another drawback was that many items in the Compo Ration were marked with commercial paste labels, which readily came off in tropical rainfall, adding confusion to the frustration factor having to carry the heavy Compo Ration. One classic account of the use of Compo rations comes to us from George MacDonald Fraser's, "Quartered Safe Out Here". In it, Mr. Fraser is assigned the dubious task of carrying a tin of fruit while the section is on the move. He maintains hold of the tin, despite a run in with a Japanese bunker line. When the section is having dinner later that day and the long-anticipated treat of tinned fruit is finally opened, it turns out to be "Carrots in Brine", much to everyone's dismay.

Many officers in Far-East Command sent in commentary on the situation with the standard "Compo" rations, but no direct action was taken until 1944 to remedy the problems.

By the time the landings in Normandy had taken place and the MOF had the supply of the Army on the Continent in hand, the food supply for troops in the Pacific was re-evaluated. The frequent delivery of U.S. Rations allowed the question of rations for troops in the tropics to be put on a back burner, but a more permanent solution was now sought. In addition, the Jungle Rations were now recognized for the stop-gap measure they really were.

Even though troops appreciated the compactness of the K-Rations and the portability and light weight of rations like the Mountain Ration (both supplied by the U.S. from 1942 forward), British tastes were still somewhat different from that of the "Yanks".

One of the problems with US K-Rations for British and Commonwealth troops was the absence of Tea. Another was the inclusion of certain meat items that Indian troops would not eat due to religious dietary restrictions.

The Jungle Ration Mk. II, which had been produced in smaller numbers, was now being put to the fore again, along with a "Pacific 24-Hour Ration", which differed from its standard counterpart in several areas:

1. Meals were packaged in metal containers to eliminate animal pilferage, allow for air-drop capability, and to provide a better protection against the elements.

2. There was a much greater meal variety than in previous tropical rations.

3. Meals for one day were delivered strapped together with packing tape, and each meal container was in drab colours to assist in hiding the ration.

 
Getting it Right!

By early 1944, the MOF had assembled the suggestions, complaints and draft ideas from the field and from planning staff, and had decided that with the war in Europe seemingly well in hand, equipment and provisioning for the troops bogged down in the ground warfare of the Pacific Theatre needed revisiting.

From the assessment of rations such as the Jungle Ration, the Compo Ration (14-MEN) and North American specialty rations ( like the versatile U.S. Jungle and Mountain rations and the Canadian Compo packs with their large multi-unit tea blocks), it was decided that the new ration needed to not only meet the Army's needs (i.e.- cost constraints, calorie count, air-delivery capability and long shelf-life), but should also address issues important to the soldiers, such as:

1. Palatability--Troops had to like what they ate; it should provide not only physical nutrition, but should also be a morale booster.

2. Portability--Troops should be able to carry several days worth of food which was not only conveniently packed for stashing in packs and pockets, but should also be sealed to the widest extend, so unused portions would neither spoil nor attract animals.

3. Variety--Rations should at least provide a one-week rotation in menus, as opposed to the no-choice in the 24-Hour Ration (Pacific) or the four limited variety menus of the Jungle Ration.

4. Completeness--The ration should meet all the daily non-munition consumables needs of the individual soldier. This meant not only food stuffs, but also included cigarettes, water purification supplies and soap.

These issues were addressed with the introduction of the Pacific Composite (6-MEN) Ration Pack.

Click Here to view pictures of the Late Pacific Compo Ration

General:In keeping with all the requirements outlined above, the initial production run of the Pacific Composite Ration (6-MEN) Pack was geared with input in mind, and to this end, comment cards for officers to (hopefully) discuss with their troops were included in several production runs of this ration.

To some up the basics, the PRC (6-MEN) consisted of meals for 6 men. The entire days ration was one of 7 menus (Type P.1 through Type P.7).

Each menu included breakfast items, which generally were centered around a dish of Oatmeal per soldier. To provide this in a tropics-proof pack, a re-sealable roughly quart size tin was provided, which contain two cello packs of quick oats, 2 cello packs of granulated sugar, 2 small packs of salt (initial ones were foil, later cello) and 2 cello pouches of dry fruit (which varied, and could include prunes, raisins, apples, apricots or mixed fruit), along with an instructional sheet for preparation of the oats. The label was waterproofed, glued on with water-resistant glue, and then the entire tin was sprayed with clear lacquer, to prevent label loss and prevent any rust of the exposed metal.

Along with the oats, some form of meat was provided, either in the form of tinned "Breakfast Pork", "Ham and Egg" or tinned Bacon.

All meals had Biscuits included, both the long-familiar Tommy Armour plates, and the later war "Fortified" variety, which are more similar to salted crackers than hard bread.

A special meal item in the Pacific Compo Ration was the "Midday Snack". This was an individual box, roughly 2.1x2.25x4.8 inches, which contained crackers, boiled sweets, a beverage powder (lemon crystals and sugar packs, sweetened orangeade or sweetened lemonade and/or Bovril Brand Broth) and sometimes chocolate. Along with these snacks, this meal pack included either cheese (early: tinned later: foil pouched) or jam (early: pressed jam, later foil pouched) and occasionally hot climate chocolate.

This meal was intended to be taken on patrol, and was meant as a food supplement when the section was in operations that were not conducive to sit-down food preparation. As the Pacific ration generally provided a good calorie count, these packs were often stashed in Tommys "brew kit" against contingencies.

As the war progressed and the fights with Japanese "stay behinds" were becoming more and more a guerilla war, some concern was raised that the shiny tins and light-coloured packaging may end up drawing fire, and, as in the case of the Pacific 24-hour ration and the Jungle ration, items were now coated with a olive drab lacquer, and packaging was done with green drab or light green wrappers and boxes.

This ration was to set standards for British and foreign forces ration development for decades to come. Todays modern rations, such as the British 24-Hour ration, the French RCIR, the US MRE and the German EPA, can all trace their development back to meals designed for a lost Army far from home, looking for that bit of mum's cookin'.