British Personal Hexamine Stove, Tommy Cooker, Fuel and 24 Hour / Assault Rations
Updated: Jul 6, 2022
I support a British re-enacting unit that participates in several authenticity / immersion events where things are as they were in 1944. Which sounds great in concept - until you get cold and hungry / thirsty! Solving the problem per 1944 British kit was best done at a squad or unit level with a field kitchen - an army marches on its stomach! However during WW2 and just like our events a personal stove and ration is necessary and welcomed!
So the deployment of folding hexamine stoves and fuel tins was born out of necessity to re-enter the European struggle - at least for the advanced units for a couple of days after insertion. The early model of the stove had the angled upper surfaces - that presented a "dish" when unfolded to center the mug or tin for heating, these were contemporary to the painted and silk screened tins. The later stoves were simplified with a flat top and featured tins that were now wrapped in paper instructions. The 1944 pattern stove and fuel tin were "tropicalized" with extra attention to preservative paints and seals. - the latest stove design featured curved legs (as seen from the top) and it was made to fit inside the tin with its burner disk and fuel - similarly the instructions were also inside the tin. Post war the fuel in tins was surplused and the growing camping / hiking / preparedness scene made all shapes of folding stoves to use with the fuel (this is where the odd stoves fit - more so than "private purchase" thoughts that are often given.
There are few good example original stoves remaining due to the thin materials used and the rigors of packing, using (burns hot) and repacking - these were designed to provide for a few days only and then be tossed. There are photos of British commandos lining up to receive stoves and fuel out of the packing crates as they prepared for D-Day. Fuel tins can be found, but are typically empty and no longer have fuel, the card liner, the round stove burner in the top or the replaceable moisture seal. Complete fuel tins with fuel content and stove present have been attracting multiple bidders and sales prices of $500 to $800 in the worldwide marketplace (Oct 2020). The crates that these were delivered and issued from were probably burned in the unit stoves the same or next day - only descriptions and similar crates survive. So with the best expert help on board, the internet and lots of time from the Covid precautions a new field gear project was born! - Authentic reproduction stoves, fuel tin and a packing crate to serve as a sales point.
Some clever fellow in the UK (Neil) has worked out that the tins are close to a modern Chinese made tea caddy in size and details - the tea caddy comes with a bonus internal air tight lid. These are repainted in one of the various paint schemes observed - there are photos of one commando gripping 2 tins at issue - of different colors! The instructions were printed on the original cans - these have been reproduced in the UK as a decal. My US efforts have yielded similar tins that are out for paint (to offer a lower cost / budget alternative). Originally the tin would have had the round burner plate for the stove packed on top of the fuel tabs. I also add a cardboard liner and a moisture seal
Of usable fuel tabs, there are no original or current production 2"diameter hexamine tabs. I have Chinese chaffing dish tablets that are 2"square and I modify them to have 2" rounded corners. I put one in top of my tin with a pack of modern smaller fuel tabs underneath. These tablets do make a pint of tea that is producing steam in about 8 minutes (total burn time is about 12 minutes per tab).
There seem to have been a couple of reproduction efforts to make the folding stove base and round burner plate - these do not seem based on original examples, photos or sketches! So we found a world expert (Ramsey) with an original in hand and had measurements and drawings made.
As I portray a REME artificer and being a Mechanical Engineer of British origin it is appropriate for me to propose what they would have done to the design next. So our stove is in thicker stainless steel to withstand the rigors of use and repeated show and tell. These improvements also included a real but subtle hinge pin to replace the all folded / fabricated war expedient - this allows much more heating / opening / closing potential. Then we can offer an original black finish for authentic show and tell, or leave it in plain stainless for burning and resulting self color. We are designing and making several versions of the burner disk, one that is "full sized" of the base for survival / camping and one that is flat formed but fits in the fuel tin as intended and future versions with the original dished / lipped form - check our Store now!
The world expert also indicated that the fuel and stoves were packed into shipping crates as 80 kits (fuel and stoves) - this seemed like an ideal sales point / display / transport idea so more details were obtained. these were "trade cases" - the closest use was for holding 2 rum ration jars for shipment. Additional details involved a red painted band around 4 sides and potential stenciling for the contents and origin. From the rum ration example photos I could see details of outer banding and the use of square machine cut nails in the construction. A prototype crate has been completed and filled with stoves, fuel tins fuel and other accessories.
Oct 2020 - A rare training weekend with 1 Canadian Para HQ near Gettysburg PA - time to show off the new Commonwealth Only Suttler display (forgive the long hair).
Nov 2020 - testing the new stove - first test to boil a pint of tea. Using a 2" square fuel tab a single match lit the fuel at each corner and the oversize (22oz) mug put over it. The first signs of steam rose at 4 minutes with yellow flame lapping the bottom of the mug - resulting in light sooting of the mug. At 8 minutes the maximum water temp was achieved, but the flames were waning - the remaining fuel burned until 11 minutes had elapsed leaving a dark dry residue on the hot stove. The tea was lovely! When drunk the stoves was cool enough to handle and scrape clean for next time.
Next test - soup! In newly acquired authentic enamel pint (16 oz) mugs in white with a blue rim as issued to all British and Commonwealth forces between 1912 and 1944 (post 1944 the green / brown series of mugs were standardized). - these are restaurant supply quality are are now in the hands of customers and collaborators for real life testing.
The first user feedback came from those friendly Canadian Paratrooper types - who made their own firelighter fuel, cooked spam, boiled tee nd otherwise gave the gear real life torture tests: