"Crate Expectations 2021" - re-enactor compo chest workshop

Even with Covid still being present, events were being planned for the summer and WW2 Commonwealth re-enacting is alive and well in the North East of the US. I support several local regiments and units with Commonwealth interests and food / rations are an essential theme for any army and event weekend. So it was easy to propose and research making realistic Compo(sition) ration crates and create a recipe and process to make a couple of dozen. One of the key things on the minds of the re-enacting groups is storage and camp dressing to match the period photos - a motorized ground army has a huge supply chain and material was moved forward, dropped in depots and distributed en-masse in not so orderly fashion - the closer to the front it seems the more "festooned" on vehicles - so the group executive realization is "can we have too many crates? - No not really!.


I am also a member of a Facebook rations page - which has published and updated sources and information for over a decade - so I started by reading as much of it as possible and compiling a notebook - this resulted in 12 pages of information on the two types of Compo rations issued - with biscuit (alphabet menu) and without biscuit (number menu). Through this whole experience of research and build I could note a commitment to use every available cubic inch of space and square in inch of material very efficiently. So the first realization is that the different types of crate are actually different shapes and sizes.

For this event we decided to build the more popular and commonly experienced Alphabet menu option - with biscuits - these were designed to be used where fresh bread was not possible or probable. Both types of compo ration were really designed to provide a balanced daily menu for the first 24 days or so of a new initiative - in this time the kitchen and catering units can advance and provide local meals from mass transit / shipment crates of each type of goods. During this preparation time lumber had reached a premium so the buy and cut list was scrutinized very carefully - in the end there was really no scrap from whole sheets of plywood and 2x6 studs. I decided to rip the batons out of studs so all sides would be saw finished - this makes the crate quite economical and realistically "furry" to build, similarly the plywood is rough surfaced and not the premium face ply - other efforts have been observed to be too "clinically clean". Other materials gathered included stencils for each menu type - in multiples and with two letter font choices. An appropriate blue stencil paint. It was also observed that crate panels were made with contractor number stencils applied ("17"). The original crate specifications also detailed how many nails were to be used - a large quantity of hand cut nails were acquired in raw steel, along with modern nail gun and glue supplies for reinforcement (these will have to last longer than 2 weeks!). one last supply detail was that the lids and bases had grooves to allow a wire to pass - the lids were originally wire sealed on to prevent supply chain in transit pilfering (the cigarettes' were a popular "liberation"!


This is the saw bench showing two widths of plywood to make sides and lids / bases, solid pine ends and the first finished crate assembly. Around the barn are caches of each size baton to make into side / lid kits (in the background you can see the ripped strips of 2x6 on two crates), a stenciling station for ends and a pile of hammers and nails. Friday was preparation day and the saw was run exclusively to generate all the rough cuts.



Several people stayed overnight and came and went during the build day, they were assigned roles per their skill set - one sawyer, a sawyer mate, a "stenciler", and panel / crate assemblers.



Frequent breaks were taken to greet new folks, take on tea and a decent sandwich break. A router was dedicated to notch the long sides of the lids and bases to allow the wire seals to pass. The last act of the day was to develop a wire sealing process - including a modification where the wires could be terminated to allow the lids to open but still look sealed.


The results of the stenciling station - posed by the Morris LRC project. These would be nice art pieces for an art or information display. The stencils are also available for sale for others projects. In theatre opened compo crates could be broken down to use the sides as improvised field signage, firewood or even reconstituted into a new sealed crate full of fresh supplies at purpose built depots. In a future event we aim to make some of the panels into field / route signs - this is another field of study any interest and a nice project offshoot!

In the end all planned crates were made for personal storage (some to be footlockers in camp), others to actually house the groups food and other supplies. There were several left over that have been air ageing in the barn.

There are still spare crate kits to build too - restarting the "factory" will be easy for this design for "Crate Expectations 2022" - now that lumber has returned to supply chains we can attempt the no biscuit version also - which is taller and not as wide - also planning more hammers!