Category Archives: Mess tins

Mess Tin Lid

Soldiers have long purchased their own variations on pieces of army equipment. These private purchases change over time with fashion, operational need and sometimes the military procurement system sees a popular commercial idea and decides to copy it for official issue. Tonight we have a modification to mess tins that seems to have been very popular in the 1980s and then lost some of their appeal again. In the 1980s many soldiers purchased special lids for their mess tins. These clipped onto the larger pan of a mess tin set:imageThe mess tin underneath was unaltered:imageThis example is dated 1985 and has the /|\ mark indicating it was army issue:imageThe lid had a small wire handle on the top:imageThis slid out to allow the lid to be used as a small frying pan:imageThe handle is riveted to the main lid section with five rivets that have been ground flush. The only markings on the lid are ‘MTL/3036 PAT-PEND’:imageThis lid served a number of purposes. It was lighter and rattled less than having the issue small second pan inside the larger mess tin. It acted as a lid to the main mess tin to speed up boiling over a hex-cooker and it could serve as the aforementioned frying pan. Apparently a non-stick version was also produced that made it easier to clean up after frying something on it. Similar designs are still for sale and BCB offers a non-stick example in their online catalogue.

One soldier outlines some of the benefits of the lids:

The lids were a “must have” speeds up the boiling time massively and you can leave them on with the water inside to keep it warm at last light so your mucker can have hot scoff and a brew as he comes off stag.

Australian Mess Tins

In the past we have looked at the post war aluminium mess tins of both the UK and Canada, despite detail differences these designs are very similar and both nations used a deep pan, with a wire handle that folded over the top. Australia however went for a very different design to their post-war mess tins and tonight we have the opportunity to look at a pair of these: imageThese mess tins are pretty hard to find on this side of the world, as indeed is any Australian Army kit, so I was very pleased to be able to add a set to my collection. There are two very notable changes between these tins and the ones we are more familiar with. Firstly the handles are made up of two parts that wrap around the sides of the pan rather than over the top. Secondly the pans themselves are much shallower, being barely more than an inch deep: imageThe two mess tins stack inside each other in the usual way to take up less space: imageThis pair date from February 1972, and the panel on the end has the /|\ mark and the Australian version of an NSN number: imageAustralia is not part of NATO, but uses the same coding system and has been allocated the county code of ‘66’. This particular pair of mess tins have clearly seen service and the name of a previous owner has been scratched into the base of one of the tins: imageThe merits of the Australian mess tin, besides it being lighter due to its smaller size, are that the twin handles make it much easier to pour hot liquids from the mess tin into a cup for instance without the risk of the handle ‘flopping’ and spilling the contents all over you hand. The smaller capacity also makes it quicker to heat up food and water in the tin- the downside is the smaller capacity which means you cannot get as much in them.

Canadian Alumium Mess Tins

Following Tuesday night’s post on the 51 pattern mess tin carriers, this might be an opportune moment to look at the Canadian mess tins themselves. These mess tins are similar to the familiar British post war aluminium design, with two rectangular pans that fit one inside the other:imageOne tin is larger than the other:imageAnd both have wire handles attached to one end with a riveted plate:imageWhere these tins differ from British mess tins is in their shape, which is distinctly squarer at the corners, here we see a British example on the left, and the Canadian mess tin on the right:imageThe design is clearly based on the pre-WW2 British aluminium mess tins which shared the squared off shape, when Britain resumed aluminium mess tin production in 1945 they altered the corners of their tins; the Canadians left the design as it was. This particular pair of tins do not have the /|\ in a ‘C’ mark of Canada, but are marked ‘CCB’ on the handle end of each tin:imageThis stands for the ‘Coulter Copper and Brass’ of Toronto, Ontario. The company produced a large number of pressed metal items for the Canadian Army throughout WW2 and into the post war period, including gas mask parts and brass button sticks. There were a number of different manufacturers of Canadian mess tins and my thanks go to Michael Skriletz for his research into the different companies:captureThese aluminium tins had a long life and were in use well into the 1980s, this example has the original owner’s name and number written on the bottom of one of the tins in permanent marker:imageI think this originally read ‘R Silman’ but it is a little worn now.

51 Pattern Mess Tin Pouch

One of the unique elements of Canadian webbing design was to add a dedicated mess tin pouch to their 51 and 64 pattern sets. Most nations carried their mess tins inside the large pack, or if the design permitted slung from a convenient strap on part of the equipment. Canada however seems to have looked at the experience of its troops in the Second World War where it was common for them to acquire a second water bottle carrier to be used as a mess tin pouch- the mess tin then being easily available at unexpected ration stops without the need to go hunting in the main pack:etool10etool10-copyThe 51 pattern set had a large pouch to carry the mess tins in:imageThe top flap is secured with a quick release pull tab fastener:imageA pair of mess tins fits inside, they are tight enough to prevent rattling, but easy enough to pull out:imageThe methods of attaching the pouch to the rest of the equipment follow the same pattern as the canteen carrier we looked at last week:imageWith a wire hook to attach to the belt:imageAnd a pair of brass Twigg buckles on either side to attach to the ends of the shoulder braces:imageAs with a lot of this 51 pattern webbing, the markings are too faint to read, however unusually this pouch appears to have been blancoed at some point in its life, giving it the slightly shiny appearence seen in the photos abovve. Interestingly despite adopting this pouch, and a similar one for the following 64 pattern webbing set, Canada abandoned aluminium mess tins in the 1980s due to fears of aluminium poisoning- something the British military clearly didn’t consider a problem for their troops as aluminium mess tins are still issued!

As ever my thanks go to Andrew Iarocci for helping me add this piece to the collection.

Aluminium Mess Tins

The rectangular nesting mess tins in use with the British Army have seen service since 1944, making them one of the longest serving items of equipment in the British Army, 72 years and counting! The aluminium mess tin had been introduced before World War 2, but rapidly dropped in favour of tinned steel (as seen here) to allow the metal to be prioritised for more urgent war uses. A new aluminium mess tin was developed of a slightly different shape and this came in as part of the new jungle equipment brought in in the wake of the Lethbridge report.

The set consists of two aluminium pans, one slightly smaller than the other:imageThis allows the two tins to be placed together, taking up less room in a man’s bag and offering some protection to whatever food stuffs might be stored inside them:imageEach tin has an aluminium alloy handle, which folds out to make a safe grip for the tin- the metal is a poor conductor of heat so even if the main tin gets hot, the thin wire handle remains cool:imageThese are secured to the body of the mess tin by an aluminium plate and four rivets:imageThese plates are the usual place to find details of the year and manufacturer of the mess tin:imageIn this case the set were made in 1980 by a company using the initials ‘PK’, dating this set nicely to the Falklands War period:

‘Vince waved me over for a brew he was making. I was on the way over when I heard another barrage on the way and I dived in beside him. He started yelling at me: “Watch my mess tin- this is my last water. Don’t spill the bloody thing.”

‘Did I laugh? What else could you do? The bloody brew was more important to us than the artillery. We lay side by side with our hands over the mess tin to stop the dirt from the shell explosions landing in the water’

There are also accounts from the Falklands of the Parachute Regiment using mess tins, along with their bayonets to dig improvised shell scrapes around Goose Green.

In use it is common to fill the smaller pan with water, put ration bags into the water and then boil this over a personal stove, the larger pan sitting on top as a lid to encourage heat retention and speed up the cooking process. Once the water has boiled this is used for making a drink and the food bags opened and either the contents are eaten out of the bag or placed into the mess tin that then becomes a plate. These tins are very easily available, having been made continuously for over seventy years, and can be bought for a few pounds- the metal is far thicker and better quality than the cheap copies sold in camping shops so even if you are not a collector it is more sensible to invest in a second hand military set rather than a new civilian set as these are almost indestructible!

Indian Mess Tins

Nearly a year ago we looked at the late war Indian aluminium mess tin here. Tonight we are looking at an earlier pattern of Indian mess tins, made from tined steel rather than aluminium. I have been after a pair of these distinctive tins for a while now and thanks to a generous tip off from Karkee on the Warrelics Forum I was able to track a pair down in Greece. The mess tins themselves are a fairly standard rectangular dish with handles on one end:imageOne is slightly smaller than the other:imageAnd they slot inside each other for storage:imageThe distinguishing feature of these tins however is they are made form two pieces of metal crimped and soldered together rather than a single piece pressed into shape:imageThis design change was due to the lack of manufacturing technology in India at the start of the war. The heavy machine presses were not available for mess tin manufacture, but the country made many simple tin items and the techniques from this industry readily translated into the making of these mess tins. The tins are stamped on the bottom:imageThese indicate they were made by the Metal Box Company in Calcutta in 1941:imageMess tins were widely used by all in India, with food and tea served up in them, Bill Pope of the RASC was at Deolali in India:

The regulars were in no way interested in we “transit wallahs”. We had our own cookhouse and cooks and by and large the food suited me. Banana fritters were my favourite. Our dining area was under cover, the cookhouse was some yards away. One queued up with your mess tins, these were in two halves, one for the grub, the other for the tea to wash the grub down. The walk from the cookhouse to the tables was not far, but what a shock we had the first time we trod that path. The vultures (shitehawks) were quite knowledgeable about our mealtimes and nose dived as one moved across. There would be a rush of wings and away would go everything off your plate. I believe quite a few chaps went hungry on that first meal parade, no refills!

Interestingly this pair of tins have some faint arabic markings on them:imageThis suggests that after the war they were used by one of the armies in the middle east- presumably bought as surplus. This pair of tins is in excellent condition, and whilst not cheap they are getting harder to find now that WPG seems to have exhausted their supply. WD Militaria as ever has eye watering prices- they are selling a pair for £125! Careful hunting should get you a pair a lot cheaper than that though…

WW2 Tinned Steel Mess Tins

When the British Army introduced the 1937 pattern webbing equipment, they took the opportunity to replace the old D-Shaped mess tin set that had been in use for over a hundred years with something more suitable for modern warfare. They adopted a rectangular two piece aluminium mess tin set- aluminium being  lighter and more hygienic than the tinned steel used up to this point and a better heat conductor allowing food to be heated quicker. Sadly the outbreak of war put huge strains on the nation’s raw materials reserves and aluminium was of more use in making aircraft than mess tins. Because of this a new mild steel rectangular mess tin set was developed:imageThe two tins are made of mild steel, with a tinned coating to prevent rust, one is slightly smaller than the other, allowing them to be stored one inside the other:imageThis then allows them to be stored in the relevant pocket of a 37 pattern haversack. Each tin has a folding wire handle:imageThese are secured to the main body of the mess tin with a hinge fastened by four rivets:imageThis has the markings of the combined ‘MB’ for the Metal Box company and a date of 1941 on the top tin and 1942 on the lower. The long sides of each mess tin have a deep rib formed down them:imageThis would appear to be for strength to prevent the tin from flexing. In use water could be placed in the smaller tin and the larger placed on top as a lid allowing the water to boil quicker than in an open tin. The picture below shows Sergeant Chase of the South Alberta Regiment cleaning his mess tin whilst sat on his Staghound armoured car:imageThe steel mess tin was replaced by a new aluminium type in 1944 as part of the jungle system introduced that year, the steel tins being declared obsolete in 1955. Over the years the tin coating on many of these tins has deteriorated and it is not recommended they be used for eating any more- I use an aluminium set in my equipment for re-enacting for safety. The steel mess tins are easily available, with What Price Glory having examples available for under £10. These are covered in a thick storage grease that has now hardened to a brown gunk; I have a second set of these tins in this condition and their restoration will be the topic of a future post.