Not a standard "ration" in and of itself, the individual Tommys "brew" or "brew-up"
kit was essential to any missions success. Items in this kit were generally items gleaned from other food sources and leftover
items saved from more standard rations, such as the 24-Hour and Compo meals.
The obsession with tea, or any other beverage powder was not a mere affectation with
soldiers, but a very much needed distraction from the generally poor quality water available, as even filtered and "potable"
water always had a horrible taste of chlorine and other chemicals.
The contents of the kit varied, but always consisted of materials to brew up the
quintessential "cuppa" tea (or "Cha" for ye Border troops exposed to Asian cultures), make it palatable, and have a snack
to go with it.
Most of the time, soldiers would keep these items inside their nested mess kit, but
cello bags from 24-hour rations, grenade fiberboard sleeves or tins with a stopper of some sort were also used. In some instances,
empty cloth bandoleers or Bren gunner wallets were also pressed into duty for this sacred task.
Some of the most frequently encountered items include:
Whenever possible, Tommy had the proper sort on hand; loose leaf, but many times
soluble tea, such in the form of tea blocks was carried. Occasionally, American soluble coffee (instant) as found in K-Rations
and Mountain rations was used.
Where there is tea, there is sugar. Even if one is not a nutty fiend (a sweet tooth
for you Yanks), sugar is a must to have with tea, if nothing else for that social offering to a squaddie, that subaltern who
wants to discuss your leave request, or just plain for barter.
As with sugar, milk was not just a perfect way to enjoy (or make more enjoyable)
a cup of tea, but could also be used for barter. As the real product was hard to come by and carry about, milk powder (as
found in the 24 Hour Ration and U.S. Mountain Ration) was carried. No opportunity where tinned milk, whether condensed or
evaporated could be obtained was missed, and many Yank mess sections regretted the ready help rendered by British soldiers
when unloading supplies. With British and Commonwealth forces in CBI, milk in tins became, next to good quality cigarettes,
a substitute currency, especially in light of the fact that many native troops, such as Gurkhas were virtually addicted to
Even a pack of Indian "Elephant Fight" brand matches was better to start a brew-up
with than nothing, even though generally soldiers (especially smokers) would go to great lengths to obtain either a reliable
lighter or book matches wrapped in a bit of foil or cellophane.
When bouillon cubes (as found in 24-hour rations and various US Ration kits) could
be obtained, these would be added to the brew kit as a make-shift meal.
Any biscuit, bit of chocolate, hard-boiled egg, bit of dry meat and such that had "survived"
the most recent meal would be stored with the kit, mainly to prevent animal pilferage and breakage, but also to make a cup
of tea a meal.
Where possible, a spoon, salt packets and kindling materials were included. Most
of the time, soldiers would store bits of waxed ration carton with this kit. Those who opposed Jerry, of course, would be
delighted to display their war-booty "Esbit" German Army personal stove which was highly priced for its compactness and durability.
(Even when I was liaison to British Soldiers in the 1980s, they would gladly replace their "hexi-cooker" folding size for
the more compact Esbit ones issued by the German Army whenever possible). Of course, the 3-in-1 Pocket tin opener was always
on hand and sometimes attached to the brew kit or a mess pan by string or light chain, for its clever versatility in stirring,
scooping, opening tins and serving as a bottle opener.
Failing possession of a prized Esbit stove, troops would either carry the British
Army issue tri-fold "Tommy cooker" in their mess kit, or one of the myriad commercial ones (such as "Blackie" stoves) and
alcohol fuel in their packs.