BRITISH ARMY RATION PACK
An Army marches on its stomach, so they so say, and as I am about to publish my third novel with the back-drop of WW11, which touches on the shortage of food especially towards the end of the war, I watched the run-up to the D Day celebrations with interest, along with the BBC coverage on Gold Beach on the 6th June.
What especially caught my attention was the 89 year old man geared-up, sitting in a plane, ready to make a parachute jump. I thought, surely not at his age. But he did, albeit attached to someone, but he did it all the same. Then there was that 90 year old guy from Hove who went AWOL for two days from his nursing home because he couldn’t get a ticket to be with the rest of his comrades. He made it there all by himself. The determination of these men was admirable indeed, but what came over loud and clear was that it meant so much to them just to be there to remember the fallen.
That same night I watched the culmination of weeks of heats where top chefs from all over the country vied for the privilege of cooking a banquet for the veterans. Ration Packs was the name of their starter, but the food inside the veterans box was nothing like the food they had in their Army ration packs on D Day. My 14 year old grandson complains about them when he’s on ‘manoeuvers’ with Army Cadets, but his father gave him a short lesson on how to cook them properly. He’d survived on it, along with the occasional squirrel.
A few years ago when a great aunt died, my uncle and I went to clear her house. I found a large tin trunk in one of the bedrooms, the sort you usually saw on cruise liners in the early 1900’s. It was like opening a Pandora’s box, as inside was a 100 year old tin with Crawford’s Hero Box on the front along with a picture of two men in the trenches. I believe a tin was sent to every soldier during WW1 and was an assorted choice of biscuits.
The biscuits have long gone, but inside this tin I found 2 pieces of lead shot, a Christmas card sent from the City & County of Nottingham, dated 1915, a couple of cards with delicate embroidery – I believe the womenfolk sent these cards to their menfolk as inside the embroidered pouch were other little cards with words of endearment on them. A postal order for 2s 6d, an assortment of other postcards, and a khaki wallet with a number on it. Last, but certainly not least, was a piece of very brown bread which is rock-hard and could be used to shore-up a building.
When I first discovered this tin and its contents I thought it would be of some historical interest, so I rang a couple of museums to find out if they were interested. They both turned them down as they said they weren’t important finds. But one unfriendly man I spoke to: a ‘Rupert’ of high military ranking, spoke to me in a rather upper-class, haughty manner, making me think he was pissed-off because I’d interrupted his mid-morning tiffin. After putting down the phone I came to the conclusion I wouldn’t send them to him even if he begged me.
Anyway, this tin still sits in a cupboard; taken out occasionally to show my grandchildren. And the bread? that’s still there in all its solid glory, and as I look at it now I am wondering just where this bread came from. I have a notion that its German, as the family member involved was taken POW by the Germans. I suppose their bread is like their cars – will last forever.
I would rather these items be on display than kept in a cupboard in my conservatory. So any suggestions on finding a very good home for my little piece of military history would be much appreciated, even though I am particularly attached to the piece of bread.
N.B. We found out after my great aunt had died that she had buried all military medals in the back garden along with her dog. She was always known by members of the family to be rather scatter-brained, so apart from digging up the back garden before we left the house for the last time, we left them to rest where she had buried them.