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"Tommy" pocket fillers - small items of comfort and survival

Updated: Jun 23, 2023

The typical British or Commonwealth infantry man - or "Tommy" as they were known throughout the 20th century by friend and foe alike had a good range of pockets and pouches to stow small personal gear to make life a little more livable. This is a brief study on what would be source and period appropriate for re-enacting purposes. Some of today's events ask for higher levels of detail authenticity and allow for deeper and more detailed immersion into 1939 to 1945.

Rations were a 3 times daily occurrence and were in high supply and demand, an army marches on its stomach! There were several types and menu choices of rations developed during the war - there were determined by the number of people and number of days they supported and included food, drink, cigarettes and toilet paper. For the Normandy invasion each trooper could be issues 1, 2 or more single person "24 hour rations" - typically in a card box that fitted inside the mess tins. On top of this were Emergency rations. When in a more defined supply process vehicles would carry rations for 2, 3,4 or 5 crew for 1 or 2 days - these had their respective sized containers, labels and contents. Fighting formations (platoons) were issued rations in crates that were split up and traded off, 14 men, 2 days menu A is a typical designation - each of these would have multiple tins of meat and veg and breakfast course, dinner and supper as well as more cigarettes, sweets, matches and toilet paper. As the infantry were mostly lower working class; their meals were named after the meals experienced by house staff - breakfast was (really) early morning, their dinner was before the masters of the house would eat theirs and was at midday - hence the midday meal was called and rations labelled "dinner" and evening meal or snack would then be called and labeled "supper". The reproduction ration above indicates that it was intended for the 5 men 3 day ration option.

Here we see an original Boiled Sweets ration opened to reveal original contents and a reproduction tin of the same type - British boiled sweets have been virtually unchanged for over 100 years from the original makers and are still available. Note small updates to the cellophane wrap, some WW2 foods would have been wrapped in grease proof paper as an alternative. The tins would a have become surplus and spare after the ration was consumed. The Poor Blinking Infantry (PBI) having survived the great recession would have not wasted such useful tins and they would slip into pockets and pouches to hold all types of personal gear - smoking kit, house the issue housewife sewing kit - the possibilities are endless.

Any good soldier can create a light! Here are some period British matches and lighters that could have been brought from home or bought from the NAAFI and be the closest and most handy tool about their person. Top left a Ronson "Whirlwind" lighter - with retractable flame wind shield, top right a Ronson "Standard" lighter - these are more suitable for NCO or Officer as they represent an expensive luxury item, The Brass No5 lighter was made for 80 years in the attractive two piece fusiform design, quite often provided by the cigarette manufacturers this would have been for the serious PBI smoker. Britain received all manner of goods from the US, including the Victory match books (these ones are real WW2). The home grown matches were the household Swan Vestas, this box is modern production but the colors and logo have been changed little.

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