This post is an introduction to some of the many types of improvised cookers used by the British Army in both world wars. I am unsure of the year of introduction of all of the types illustrated here, but am fairly certain that the Kettle Trench and Camelback Kettle Trench were in existence by the end of World War I. All of the types illustrated were in use before the end of World War II. In the 1950's the Civil Defence Department of the Home Office gave new life to the art of constructing improvised cookers as designed by the British Army. They were an ideal solution to the problem of feeding large numbers of people in the aftermath of nuclear or chemical weapons attack, and were included in Civil Defence training manuals of the time.
“Boiling and /or Frying” cookers were a simple design. They consisted of two low side walls, a fire box, flue, chimney and a sheet metal plate upon which cooking vessels were heated. The firebox used a metal grate, perforated sheet metal, or metal bars. Any type of combustible material could be used for heat. Bricks were held together with pug, a mixture of clay soil and dry grass, hay or straw.
At this point I need to digress a bit and offer a description of the "camp kettle". Throughout much of the 20th century, a mainstay of British field cookery equipment was the camp kettle, more commonly referred to as a “dixie”. The camp kettle was an oval cooking pot with a 3-gallon capacity, lid, and a bail handle. Versions used through WW2 were tinned sheet metal. Leter versions were made of aluminum. They were used for cooking and for transporting prepared rations to the front lines. In addition to several types of improvised cookers built specifically to utilize the camp kettles, they were also employed in several types of combination cookers.
|Aluminum camp kettle.|
Note the flanges on the side.
Dixies being used to transport cooked rations to
the trenches on the Western Front, WWI.
Using the same basic design as the boiling and/or frying cooker, a hot water boiler could be constructed with an oil drum and two short pieces of pipe, for the water inlet and outlet. The water outlet was placed near the top of the drum and left open. Cold water would have to be added through an inlet at the top in order to draw out hot water, insuring that the drum remained full.
Taking the design a step further, the features of different types of cookers were joined together to form “combination cookers”. A combination cooker could consist of an oven, frying /boiling plate, hot water boiler, and a covered hot plate to keep food warm.
Improvised field cookers became increasingly sophisticated and varied in design. Larger and more complex units were built to feed larger units.
|The "Camelback" Kettle Trench was one of the more unusual and complex variants of the improvised field kitchen.|
It included an oven, hot water boiler, and space for 3 dixies.
|One of the larger types of improvised field ovens.|
|A sneak preview of my combination cooker under construction.|
Manual of Military Cooking and Dietary, 1924. H.M. Stationery Office, 1924
Manual of Military Cooking and Dietary, Part I - General. H.M. Stationery Office, 1940
Manual of Army Catering Services 1945, Part III. The War Office, 1945
Manual of Army Catering Services 1954. The War Office, 1954
Civil Defence Manual of Basic Training Volume 1 Welfare Section (Improvisation of Large Scale Cooking Equipment), Pamphlet no. 2B. H.M. Stationery Office, 1952