Welcome to our new series of blogs “The stories they tell” which will focus on a single item within the Special Collections to explore what stories these objects have to tell us on a whole range of themes.
And we thought we would start with a look at an object that is perhaps quite pertinent in the current circumstances, where there have been concerns about food and supplies, and that is an Australian Military Forces emergency ration tin found within the Broadlands Archives.
Such emergency rations were issued to every soldier involved in operations and there are a number of such items still surviving with information relating to the person to whom it had belonged. This sample presumably must have come into the possession of Lord Mountbatten during his time as Supreme Allied Commander South East Asia, 1943-6, although sadly there is no information on its former owner.
The problem of supplying and feeding their forces has been an issue for all commanders over the centuries and their approach to resolving this has varied. The invention of the tin can by Peter Durand, in 1810, was said to have revolutionised military rations. By the Boer war, at the end of the nineteenth century, Bovril was involved in producing war ration packs for the British army containing dried beef and cocoa. During the First World War, the emergency rations – or “Iron Ration” – carried by the British army soldiers contained preserved meat, cheese, biscuit, tea, sugar and salt. The equivalent for the US army apparently consisted of cakes made of a concoction of beef boullion powder and wheat, bars of chocolate and packs of salt and pepper.
In the period between the two World Wars, army rations developed into a number of types with emergency rations becoming classified as D rations. A rations were the most desired as they were garrison rations, usually comprised of fresh, refrigerated or frozen food cooked at the garrison. B rations were canned or packed field rations and C were pre-cooked ready-to-eat individual rations. The US forces developed a D emergency rations in the form of a chocolate bar designed to be light and nutritious but not too appealing so that soldiers would not be tempted to eat it unless they absolutely needed to.
The Australian Military D ration here, which were produced by A.Gadsden, comprised of: firstly, blocks of chocolate, which according to instructions inside the lid could be broken up and dissolved in hot water to make hot chocolate; secondly, tea tablets, to be used one per pannikin (small metal drinking cup); and thirdly salt tablets “to reduce fatigue and cure muscle cramps” and to be taken either in water or as desired. Such rations were expressly for emergency use only and the back of the tin has the message: “To be consumed only when no other rations of any kind are procurable. Consumption of this ration must be reported at the first opportunity”.
Whilst nutritional science and technology has developed, so that field and combat rations of military forces today are somewhat more varied and might be supplied in pouches rather than cans, it is interesting to see that chocolate still remains a feature in many. So when we are looking to stock up on our supplies, perhaps including some chocolate in there is just good emergency planning.
Look out for next week’s blog when we look at an item within the Council of Christians and Jews archive.