The Compo ration was a crate containing food for 14 men for one day.
It had to be delivered as soon as the 24-hour ration, if this was supplied, had been consumed. To make for some variety, seven basic menus were distributed in crates labeled A to G, one for every day of the week.
The different precooked meals could be heated on either the collective petrol gas stoves or the soldiers’ personal cookers.
As the Compo ration was chiefly made of preserved food, its use had to be kept to a minimum. The Field Service ration was to be supplied as often as possible.
In addition to the A to G Compo crates, there was another set of crates of the same size, numbered 1 to 3, without biscuits, and which were to be accompanied with fresh bread.
Armoured vehicle crews could occasionally take along a special ration, whose composition varied according to the number of men per vehicle (Armoured Fighting Vehicle Ration Pack.)
(The number of cans of each item is given in parentheses, followed by the weight per can in oz.)
Here are some suggestions for approximating the contents of the Compo crate for use in the field. If you come up with other suggestions, by all means pass them along. Your mileage may vary, of course.
The easiest way we’ve found to approximate M&V (Meat and Vegetable) is to go with large tins of Dinty Moore, or some similar canned beef stew. The original tins in the crate were usually smooth sided, with a goldish tint. The wording was usually painted or stuck on with plain labels. For example, one such tin reads
M. & V. Ration (with beans) Below this was the manufacturer’s name and information
It is difficult to find large smoothsided cans of prepared food. At this time, our best approximation has been to relabel the food tins, using desktop publishing. Scanned originals work well, as do simple selfcreated labels. At the very least, remove the original farby labels. Of course, relabelling makes more sense, considering that it would be a good idea to keep the tin of carrots in brine distinct from the tin of peaches.
As there were various kinds of "entrees", as it were, you can see what you can scare up at your local supermarket, ethnic food shop, or, if you have one nearby, British food shop. Tins of salmon are readily available. Be creative.
Tins of bacon are a bit more difficult to find. Some backpacking supply stores may have something similar. Another option is to go with good (?) old Spam or other pork product, and relabel as necessary.
This one’s real easy. Make sure to get the tins with either twistkeys or no opening device. Avoid the ones with pullrings. Some relabelling may be necessary.
Good old Campbell’s soup, in the BIG cans. Relabel as necessary. Stick to the simple stuff—-pea soup, vegetable, vegetable beef, etc. Avoid the ones with funny pasta shaped like Pokemons.
The cigarette ration came in a round tin. You can pick up tins like that at CostPlus and other such places. Remember that filtered cigarettes weren’t issued (as far as I know), so shop accordingly. Or if you don’t smoke, there is a company out there that makes boxes of candy cigarettes with a "Victory" label!
We haven’t been able to find cans of margarine yet. Not entirely sure I want to find any, either. Any thought out there?
Hershey bars with the modern paper labels removed with just the foil wrappers work fine for this. Cadbury and other Brit chocolates were also used.
These were often issued in a large, flat, square tin. Altoids are available in similarly sized tins. Take out the Altoids, paint the box a matte OD, and make up a stencil for the box, reading
SALT & MATCHES
along with the company and date
Go ahead and issue the Altoids as mepacrine pills in the morning to combat malaria (or morning breath)
I previously posted the recipe for our powdered tea concoction. This can be tinned up fairly easily with a bit of effort and patience.
You will need a "European" or safety can opener. This is a can opener that cuts into the seam of the lid, leaving no sharp edges. They are available at most kitchen shops. Next time you open a can of something, use the safety opener, and save the can and lid. Wash them both thoroughly, and dry well. Fill the tin with your tea mixture, leaving at least a quarter of an inch empty at the top, and replace the lid of tin with a bit of glue. Superglue works well. If you fill the tin to the top with the tea mixture, you will get tea in the glue, which may be unhealthy. Then, relabel the tea tin.
Tea was also issued in looseleaf form. Tin these up the same way, along with separate tins of powdered milk.
Most any canned vegetable will work here. Relabel accordingly.
Tins of crackers are available at Asian and Indian food shops. Keep an eye out for them.
Pudding, in the British sense, is dessert. This could be an actual pudding, treacle, fruit, etc. Tins of brown cake are often available around the holidays. Again, relabel accordingly.
Lifebuoy soap is still available, just as it was during the war. Repackage as necessary.
Some accounts describe this as being much like those brown papertowels available in the mens' room. You may want to go with a stack of tissues out of the box. Roll toilet paper wasn’t widely available.