5RAR Association Website
Tales From The Tiger


Australian Infantryman's Combat Badge
Feed The Man Meat
(Remembering the Australian 24 hour Ration pack, the US ‘C’ Rations and cooking utensils/accessories)

© Roger Lambert
Platoon Commander
9 Platoon, C Company,
2nd Tour

Author: Roger Lambert

The image of the menu for the Combat Ration (One Man) aka 24 hour ration pack published on the 5 RAR website got me reminiscing about the tucker we sustained ourselves with in training and in the J: http://www.5rar.asn.au/reference/24-hour-ration-packs.htm

One quickly found out during training in Australia that there was a very good reason for including Curry Powder in the A, B and C menus of the one man packs. Either that or Tabasco sauce were the only things to make the Ham & Egg, Pork & Beans and Luncheon Meat halfway edible. The Beef & Egg in the E menu also needed a supplementary ‘kicker’ together with the Corned Beef and Corned Beef hash. I was also known to carry a supply of onions in my pack to add variety to the meals.

As for the Cereal Block and Chocolate, I reckon one could have used these, given enough supplies, as body armour or over-head protection. I cannot recall anyone actually using the Cereal Block although the Chocolate, complete with its white coating of who-knows-what, was at least consumed in lieu of anything better. The Soup Powder (Beef or Chicken) and the Fruit Drink Powder defy description to this day.

Comparison of Australian and American can openersTwo things were the saving grace of the 24 hour pack and accessories. One of course was the tube of Sweetened Condensed Milk. This was considered pure gold both in Australia and in country, even if it caramelized in the tube. The condensed milk, together with the sugar packets, at least gave one half a chance at a decent brew. The other was the Can Opener apparently known as FRED (Field Ration Eating Device) or as some wags would have it “Freaking Ridiculous Eating Device”:

FRED was a combination can opener, bottle opener and spoon all in one. I always carried mine attached to the cord of my ‘dog tags’. It was such a useful utensil I made sure than I didn’t lose it.
At least FRED was a darn side more user-friendly than its American counterpart, the ridiculously small P-38 opener:

At least with FRED, one could open a can in no time flat whereas the US counterpart took ages to get a can open. Some say that the “38” in the designation P-38 actually referred to the number of times around a C Ration can to actually open the thing!

C Ration Combat MealRation pack wise, things didn’t change all that much in country except we were introduced to the gastronomic delights of the American ‘C’ Rations (three boxes constituted a day’s rations), a welcome dietary supplement to the Aussie 24 hour pack:

However, it seemed that even the Yanks had a predilection for beef, ham & eggs and pork. There were however a couple of stand-outs in the menu line-up including (to my taste) Beans W/Frankfurter Chunks in Tomato Sauce, Chicken Boned and Spaghetti W/Ground Beef although the latter still need a good splash of Tabasco to create a palatable meal. It was inevitably the Beans W/Frankfurter Chunks in Tomato sauce that became a valuable trading commodity:

Like the Australian 24 hour ration pack, there were a couple of other redeeming inclusions in the ‘C’ Ration. One was the Pound Cake (closely followed by the Pecan Roll). The other, which would be absolutely frowned upon today, was the inclusion of a packet of four cigarettes of various brands in each box:

Then of course there were the American Supplementary Ration Packs designed to cater for 100 personnel. Besides a whole range of ‘goodies’, these came with whole cartons of cigarettes.

Cigarettes issued with American ration packs during the Vietnam WarNow, when I was in charge of putting the Battalion through Week One at the Jungle Training Centre at Canungra, I switched from “Marlboro” to “Kool” menthol cigarettes, kidding myself that these were better for me than the full-strength smokes. Of course, when we got into country, my diggers were well aware of my menthol habit and so any Salem cigarettes that were received in their ‘C’ rations were donated to the ‘skipper’. And it goes without saying that the cartons of Salem also ended up with me. There’s a footnote to these menthol ‘donations’ which I’ll come back to later.

Australian Heximine Stove used with Heximine cooking tabletsOne thing that we didn’t have to re-invent was the Australian Field Stove. Couple this handy device with the blocks of Hexamine tablets we were issued and, given the opportunity, one could cook up a storm. The Hexamine blocks contained in a wax-coated cardboard cover actually fitted inside the stove enabling a compact unit to be carried in a Basic Pouch or pack:

Interestingly, when we first went on operations, and in order to save weight for ammunition and water, a lot of the tinned rations were discarded. As our tour of operations progressed, and we became even fitter than we previously were, there wasn’t all that much that was discarded as we needed as much sustenance as we could possibly get our hands on. Of course, whenever practical, our hard rations were supplemented in the field with hot box meals and in Charlie Company, SGT Paddy Cahill’s famous hamburgers (although we were never quite sure what constituted the ‘meat patty’ and some of the vegetables!)

Some interesting techniques were devised for cooking the rations. While some meals sometimes had to eaten cold because of the tactical situation, when the opportunity arose, a hot meal was the order of the day (usually the lunch-time or evening meal).

“Pressure cooking” was developed into a real culinary art form. To cook say one’s Beans W/Frankfurter Chunks in Tomato Sauce, you simply dented one side of the can and then the other by knocking it against the heel of your boot. The dented can was then placed directly on the Hexamine stove with a portion of Hexamine and when the can started to pop, it was cooked. Mind you, there were also some explosions where too much Hexamine was used! One learnt to judge the amount of ‘fuel’ required for each size can.

Making a brew was simplicity itself. Using one’s Cups Canteen, Aluminium, Troops for the Use Of, water was poured in and the ‘mug’ placed directly on the Hexamine stove to boil. Add coffee, sugar and Sweetened Condensed Milk to taste and there you had it:

Metal Canteen cup and water bottleThe Cups Canteen was also used to boil water for shaving and one quickly learnt to carry two, one for brews and one for shaving – it’s a taste thing! Note the shape of the canteen ― the standard issue water bottle fitted neatly inside and was able to be carried in the issue water bottle webbing pouch.

The handle on the Cups Canteen could become very hot when water was boiled and that’s where the ubiquitous “Giggle Hat” came into play:

Australian Army Floppy hat, known as the Giggle Hat The “Giggle Hat” could be used as an ‘oven mitt’ to take the hot brew off the stove. It could also be used as means of surreptitious smoking at night. With a suitable size hole in the crown, a cigarette could be lit and smoked using the hat to ‘camouflage’ the glow as well as dissipating the cigarette smoke. This practice was not condoned but we were aware that it sometimes occurred in tactical harbours (as the late LCPL Reg Smith would attest to) as opposed to ambush positions which were conducted in deadly earnest.

That brings me back to the subject of Salem cigarettes. These things were in such plentiful supply there was simply no way an individual could get through them all. What was the solution?
I’m sure that the statute of limitations has now long passed after 40 odd years so …

The solid cardboard cylinders that 105 Field Battery’s 105mm howitzer ammunition came in were in plentiful supply as well and they made very useful mailing tubes to ship articles back home to Oz. Now a number of cartons of cigarettes could be stowed inside these cylinders and to keep the Custom’s Declaration ‘reasonably accurate’, articles of unwanted clothing could be used to pack around the cigarettes. The Custom’s Declaration affixed to the ‘mailing tube’ simply stated “Clothing no longer required in country.”

Needless to say, I had pretty much a 6 month (or more) supply of cigarettes waiting for me when we finally came home to Australia in March 1970.