The 24 Hour Ration Guide written by Ramsey Green, February 2019 in collaboration with MECo (Military Equipment Collectors).  Not for commercial gain. Contents subject to change if new evidence becomes available.

Background and History

The 24 Hour Ration was a direct successor to the Mess Tin Ration (48 Hour), which was issued for the invasion of North Africa.  Whilst the Mess Tin Ration served its purpose, it was deemed too heavy and too bulky in proportion to its nutritional value.  Therefore, after experimentation and research, it was deemed that a compact, lightweight ration was needed. This resulted in the 24 Hour Ration being devised.

Due to it being intended to be used as an assault or landing ration (or if special circumstances dictated, a sea passage ration), it was designed to provide the highest possible ratio of food value in the smallest possible space and weight.

All contents were dried and wrapped in a waxed paper which was heat-sealed and the box itself being waxed cardboard, which eliminated the need to rely on tinplate, also allowing the contents to be both waterproof and gas-proof.  It’s one of the big myths of the pack that it contained tins, it never did.

The complete box, with contents was designed be fitted into the larger portion of the mess tin.  For operations where it was deemed it would be more than 24 hours, two packs would be issued, one fitted to the mess tin and the other split and distributed on the individual.  Alongside this, the individual was also issued a stove, fuel and a flat tin of 20 cigarettes with a hinged lid.

It was particularly stressed in the instructions regarding the 24 Hour Ration that, when it was used as an assault or landing ration, it was important for troops not to consume it before they had disembarked and officers were told to remind the men that it would be the only food they would get for up to 48 hours.

In this guide, I have tried to replicate the ration elements as far as possible, most of this has come from the technical specification, existing documentation and other peoples’ collections that they have kindly allowed me to look at.  I thank them for the help they have given me.

Composition

Item Number of Pieces Ration (Approx.) oz.
Biscuits 10 9
Oatmeal 2 Blocks 3 ½
Tea, Sugar and Milk Blocks Several wrapped together  
Meat Block 1 4
Raisin Chocolate 2 Slabs 4
Chocolate (Vit.) 1 Slab 2
Boiled Sweets 4
Chewing Gum 2 Pkts. 2 Pkts.
Meat Extract Cubes ½
Salt 1 Pkt ¼
Sugar 4 Tablets ½
Latrine Paper 4 Pieces 4 Pieces

Notes;

  • The nutritional value of the ration is 4,000 calories (approximately).
  • One solid fuel cooker for each man will be issues separately with the ration and may be one of the following types;
    • Hexamine fuel tablet type
    • Solidified alcohol type

If the former is issued, it is important that the three-legged stand be retained for further use, as refills, in the form of fuel tablets only will be issued.

  • When this ration is used for a period of 48 hours of an actual operation one special flat tin containing 20 cigarettes is issued to each man.
  • Tea should be taken (so far as practicable and provided the use of solid fuel cookers may be allowed during the darkness) during periods of greatest cold or fatigue, generally during the night, early morning or following periods of great exhaustion.
  • The tea-sugar-milk blocks produce two pints of tea. It is more economical for men to cook in pairs, and make the larger part of a mess tin full of tea to give nearly two pints.  It is essential to use cookers away from all draughts- using a tin as a shield or by making a small slit trench.
  • On no account will the ration be taken or accepted from wounded men as otherwise dressing stations may find considerable difficulty in feeding patients during the first 48 hours of an operation.

The Box

The box is classed as a “Shouldered box with flush fitting lid”, plans for it can be found below.  The card used should be 0.5mm thick and the words 24 HOUR RATION (instructions within) should be printed onto the front of it and the contractor’s initials onto one of the flanges. Dimensions of the box should be; 6 inches long, 4 and 15/16 wide and 2 and 7/8 in height.

In order to wax it, you need to heat up some paraffin wax (available on eBay) in an old saucepan/frying pan until it has completely melted, then dilute with 50% more paraffin and dip all sides of the constructed box in the wax and allow it to dry.  It might take a couple of coats.

The card is readily available online or via craft stores costing only a few pence per sheet.  The paraffin wax is available for a few pounds for a massive bag, so the cost is minimal, especially if you make several.

For the shape of the top and bottom of the box (they are identical, apart from text on the top half), please see Appendix 1 at the end of this guide.  The middle portion is the sum of both of the sides and fits inside the bottom of the box creating a flush fit (see photos of the original box later in this guide).

The box was sealed using 1 inch moisture resistant tape (lassoband).  18 boxes (3 layers of 6 boxes) were packed into one fibreboard case with a packing outer (of asphalt or bitumen coated jute cloth) and sealed again with lassoband/fabric tape.  The outside of the larger box to be marked with the contents, quantity, manufacturer and packing date.

Contents

Packaging

Anywhere where an item was wrapped in what looks to be white paper is actually heat sealed waxed “pukka” paper with the text being printed on the paper in royal blue.

Biscuits

Original biscuits were made from National Flour, they also contained Sugar, Salt, Hydrogenated Coconut Oil and water, they were similar to Biscuits, Service Plain.

The biscuits I used for mine are commercially available, however are in Holland and are called Patria Biscuits.  The need to be sawn/cut down to be 2 7/16 inches x 1 15/16 inches

You need 10 of them.

Oatmeal

Oatmeal is basically a dry flapjack.  Originally there were two types, a baked type and a compressed type.  I would recommend the baked type.  I made a big batch and cut them to fit (and just ate the rest with my lunches for a week!).

If you want to make precisely the right amount, you will need to mix the following together:

  • Pre-cooked rolled oats – 47.5g
  • Hydrogenated Coconut oil (available online) – 23.5g
  • Caster Sugar – 17.5g
  • Golden Syrup – 11.5g

Mix up all the ingredients in a bowl, put them into a mould and press into 2 moulds of 2 x 2 x ¾ inches and bake in the oven until dry.

Packet should be labelled as OATMEAL.

Tea Milk and Sugar blocks

The tea milk and sugar blocks comprise of the following and its best to make a bigger batch than you need and make several blocks;

This is based on making 5oz tea (also useful for compo tins, if you’re that way inclined), however you could cut this in half to get roughly the amount you need;

  • Tea – 23g
  • Caster Sugar – 62g
  • Milk Powder (full fat if you can get it) – 28g
  • Icing Sugar – 28g

Mix the icing sugar with the milk powder, then add the tea and caster sugar, put it into a coffee grinder or blender on “fine” and give it a blitz until it’s a powder.  Then slightly dampen (I would start with 1 tbsp of water, more might be required though) and mould into 8 lots of 2cm cubes.  I used an ice tray for this job.  After this is done, I put it back in my dehydrator for a couple of hours (you will need one for the meat block, so I am covering this in that section) to make sure they fully dry out.  Packet should be labelled as TEA.

Meat Block

There were no tins within the 24 hour ration, so when the instructions talk of a meat block, it is precisely that, a block of dehydrated meat.  It could be manufactured by either pressing it or by moulding it. For the Compressed type, a force of 600-700lb/in2 is needed, according to the specification.  The moulded type is easier to produce at home;

For this, you will need to purchase a dehydrator (available from places like Amazon for about £50).  Make sure it is suitable for meat (70 centigrade+).

To make it, you will need;

  • 500g lamb mince or 500g beef mince.
  • 5g of beef dripping + a bit extra for greasing (you could also use lard or suet).
  • 2 oxo cubes.
  • 15g marmite (or any yeast extract).
  • 2g celery salt.
  • A plastic mould that is 2 7/8 x 2 ¼ x 1 3/8

Step 1

Cook the meat in a frying pan, the idea here is to remove as much fat through the cooking process as possible as the fat is one of the things that causes the meat to turn rancid over time.  Once the meat is cooked, put it in a sieve and drain thoroughly.  Wash the meat with boiling water, drain and dry on some kitchen towel.

Step 2

Transfer the meat to the dehydrator for 8+ hours on 70+ degrees to fully dehydrate.

Step 3

Put the meat into a Ziploc bag along with the celery salt and the crushed oxo cubes and cool in the fridge for another 8+ hours.

Step 4:

Put your cooled meat into a grinder/food processer and blitz it to get it into fine granules (not a powder).

Step 5

Grease the inside of your mould (I used a Tupperware plastic container) and melt the beef dripping and marmite together in a pan and add it to your meat, mixing it well to make sure all the meat is covered.  Quickly (before it cools and sets) put it into your mould and press it until full.

Step 6

Put it in the fridge and allow it to cool for another few hours

Step 7

Remove from the fridge, flex the plastic mould and get the meat block out.  I wrapped mine up in some cellophane, then in some greaseproof paper for added protection.  In theory, if you put it in a vacuum seal bag, you can freeze it, but as it stands, it should last for quite a long time. Should be labelled simply as MEAT.

Raisin Chocolate

This was just chocolate with raisins in, with an 80/20 mix of chocolate to raisins.

Therefore, for a 2oz bar, you will need to melt 45g of chocolate and mix with 11g of raisins.  Set in a mould of 2 1/16 x 3 ¾ x 7/16 inches.

Vitamin Enriched Chocolate

The vitamin enriched chocolate contained the following, Vitamin A, B, C and D and Calcium in the following proportions per 1oz:

  • A: 2000 IU (International Unit for vitamin measurement)
  • B: 1 mg
  • C: 10 mg
  • D: 700 IU
  • Calcium: 300 mg

The chocolate itself was dark, made of not less than 30% cocoa butter.  Size should be the same as the raisin chocolate.

Boiled Sweets

These should be non-thirst producing, such as barley sugar, acid drops, lime, lemon, orange etc.  They need to be nearly rectangular, preferably 1 5/8 inches x 5/8 inches x 3/8 inches.  I found suitable cough sweets in Tescos.  They need to be wrapped in cellophane.

Chewing Gum

These should be peppermint in flavour and like the chewing gum capsules/tablets.  4 Per pack and 2 packs wrapped in transparent film.

Meat Extract Cubes

These are just commercial beef extract cubes. Similar to OXO.

Salt

Amount of loose salt in a greaseproof packet and labelled SALT.

Sugar

Cubes of Tate and Lyle refined white sugar.

Latrine Paper

The latrine paper is one of the hardest parts to find.  Izal is suitable and is available on Ebay.

Leaflet

The leaflet was double-sided, containing instructions and suggested menus for the complete ration.

Packing the box

Looking at original photos and film footage (entitled Feeding the Troops 1943) there seems to have been a couple of methods of packing the box.  This is one of the methods as per the specification.

Bottom Layer

24RationLeaflet-Contents-BottomLayer

Top Layer

24RationLeaflet-Contents-TopLayer

Photos of original boxes (A Prior Collection)

Original Photos of the contents of the box (Various sources including the IWM Archive)


Appendix 1: Shape of the box

This is designed to show the shape of the box.  It is not to scale but using the dimensions given above, an accurate box can be made.

24Ration-Box-3-GreenR
Not to scale

Appendix 2: Ancillaries to be issued alongside The 24 Hour Ration.

Hexamine 3-legged stove.

These small stoves, issued alongside The 24 Hour Ration came with a small metal tin (approx. 2 inches in diameter and 3 inches tall with a push lid.  The base of the stove (the circular part) was included within the tin with 6 circular tablets of paraffin-based hexamine fuel.  80 complete stoves came in a box (with a 2-inch red band around 4 sides of the box) with the tins on the bottom, a pad in between and the cooker flat on the top.

Writing on the side of the tin was as follows:

24Ration-Stove-1-GreenR

Alongside this, was an additional cardboard sided tin with metal top and bottom that contained refills for the stove.  Written on the top was:

24Ration-Stove-2-GreenR

24Ration-Stove-1-IWM

Cigarettes

The flat 20 cigarette tins with flip lid were also issued alongside 2 ration packs for 48-hour operations.  The cigarettes themselves were of medium strength, Empire or American blend with standard brands available in Great Britain.  Each one had H.M. Forces printed down the side of each one and were unfiltered.  The tins came in crates of 360 tins for issuing out.

There were two patterns of tins, one with striker and one without, at a glance, the ones with smaller writing have the striker on the bottom (the tin on the right in the below photo), the larger writing do not.  They were sealed with moisture resistant fabric tape.

At time of writing, most major supermarkets in the UK still stock Senior Service, Park Drive, Woodbines etc and a pack of 20 senior Service fit into a tin perfectly.

24Ration-Cigarettes-1-GreenR

Sick Bags

Not much is known on the bags, they seem to be elaborate bags, or simple paper bags.  If you search the IWM archives, there is an example on there.

Water Purification Tablets

These Outfits contained 2 narrow-necked corked and screw capped bottles containing tablets in a flat metal container.  The corks were sealed in a plastic wax. Inside the lid of the container were instructions for use.  The sterilising tablets themselves were 7.54% halazone, 10.54% Na2CO3 anhydrous, 82% NaCl.  The Thio tablets contained 15% na2S203 anhydrous, 85% NaCl and a small amount of Blue Dye (Night Blue).

Instructions were to place one sterilising tablet in the water bottle, filling it to the shoulder with water.  Shake the bottle vigorously to dissolve the tablet and wait 30 mins to kill the germs.  After 30 mins (or until the water is needed for drinking), add a thio tablet and shake to dissolve. Then drink.

Beverages in Self Heating Cans

These 13 fluid ounce drinks, were designed to give a palatable hot drink by piecing the tin and then igniting the self-heating element in the centre of the can using a match or a cigarette.   This would then heat to a maximum of 120 Fahrenheit in 3-5 minutes.  Several flavours were available;

  • Oxtail
  • Mock Turtle
  • Kidney
  • Pea
  • Chicken
  • Celery
  • Cocoa
  • Malt Milk

The cans were lacquered externally with R. R. lacquer and labelled with the flavour, contract number, contractors initials, week ending date and instructions on the reverse:

24Ration-SelfHeatingCan-1-GreenR

Emergency Ration Chocolate

Emergency Ration Chocolate was issued in a gold lacquered tin with a rubber gasket in the lid and a patented band that ran around the edge to seal the tin.  The tin then was then vacuumised to keep the contents. The chocolate itself was designed to bridge a gap where there were no rations issued in a maximum of a 24-hour period.  The chocolate itself weighs 6oz and generates 780 calories.

The composition of the chocolate was as follows:

  • Finely powdered and prepared cocoa powder: 23%
  • Milk Protein preparation: 34%
  • Cocoa butter: 14 %
  • Icing Sugar: 27%

There seems to be several different mould methods used to shape the chocolate.  1 piece, with a cross piece moulded into the top to allow the breaking of the chocolate, 4 pieces of half a tin and half the tin depth – individually wrapped, 4 individual quarters, to name a few methods.

The chocolate could also be made into a hot beverage by adding hot water.


Acknowledgements and Thanks

Thank you for reading my guide, I hope you found it useful.  I would like to thank the following people for helping me with information, photos, or items from their collection.  Without them, this level of information would not have been possible.  Mr Allen Prior, Mr Nick Wall, Mr Gary Hancock, Mr Mike Van Den Dobblesteen, Mr Steve Britton, Mr Craig Bushman, Mr Neil Sylvester-King.  Apologies if I have missed anyone.


Sources

  • Supplies and Transport – Volume 2 (1954).
  • DSIR 26-344 Ration Specifications.
  • Imperial War Museum.
  • Royal Army Service Corps Training Pamphlet No 16: Composition of Food and Canning 1941

The 24 Hour Ration Guide written by Ramsey Green, February 2019 in collaboration with MECo (Military Equipment Collectors).  Not for commercial gain. Contents subject to change if new evidence becomes available.

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