Retro Rations

Do you have a hankering for the culinary delights enjoyed by Canadian soldiers during World War II? Do you have $17.50 (U.S.)?

Thanks to some “out-of-shape, thirtysomething guys” in Oregon who share a love of British military history, authentic reproductions of Canadian, British, American, Australian and Russian combat rations from WW II are being sold over the Internet. And business at the “Knacker Squaddies Quartermaster Depot” is surprisingly brisk.

The part-time business (http://17th division.tripod.com) was launched when one of the founders, who worked for a veterans’ organization in Oregon, was queried by a veteran’s son about the types of in-flight rations available to B-17 bomber crews during WW II. Because of his connections within the military-memorabilia community, he was able to produce some replicas of the original packaging. Response was so positive that he decided to put some food in the reborn packages, and a thriving business was born. The main market is military re-enactment groups that relive past battles.

“We’ve shipped to the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, Switzerland and throughout the U.S.,” said a spokesperson, “although it does seem rather ironic that we are shipping repro British rations from Oregon to re-enactor groups in the U.K.”

The market is large simply because the re-enactment hobby is now so huge. Thus far, interest in the reproduced rations has been shown by a range of groups whose specialties range from Austrian soldiers in WW I to American troops in the Vietnam War. “I’d hate to hazard a guess at the average number of orders we get per week via EBay and the Web site, but it is certainly enough to keep three of us busy after we finish our day jobs.”

The most popular product is a “small-box” version of rations issued to Allied troops prior to D-Day. Available in five different versions (including tinned sardines with cheese-pouch supplement and “meat block” with cheese pouch and pressed-jam supplements), each $17.50 kit also contains plain and sweet biscuits, two tea blocks (“tea-milk-sugar combo”), one or two blocks of ham or tomato broth soup and several other non-food items, such as “one pack of latrine paper” and a can opener.

All items are new products that have been repackaged in replica labels from WW II. The labelling was produced from photos and digital scans. Any money made from their sale becomes “spending money” that allows the group to buy more memorabilia, particularly from the British army.

Part of the group’s Web site is devoted exclusively to Canadian rations from WW II. (The Canadian ration sets were sold out this summer, but more should be available soon.) They include everything from a tin of ham to two packs of sweets. The Web site adds: “Please note: Even though all Canadian boiled sweets are much better than their U.K. counterparts, these are in the original flavour varieties from the 1940s, such as Ice Peppermint and Scotchie Discs, which may appear unusual to the uninitiated palate.”

The Canadian ration pack also contains a pack of “latrine tissue that is great for sanding or cleaning the gas relief on the Bren.”

There is one sign that times have changed, however—the replica ration packs do not contain cigarettes. In the history section dealing with Canadian rations, the authors note that WW II Canadian 24-hour and 48-hour ration packs came with either a four-cigarette slide pack or 20-cigarette tin.

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