Mess Tin

During an outdoor tactical training exercise at the National Defence Academy, Captain Raj Mehta (now a Veteran Major General) was our instructor.  It was all about section tactics in defence and we were expected to dig a three-man trench – four feet long and in depth and two feet wide.  With the pickaxes and shovels, it was near impossible to dig on the stony mountains of Pune.

In the evening when Captain Mehta came on his rounds, he found our progress real slow.  We blamed it on our blunt pickaxes and shovels and on the hard surface.  Captain Mehta, not too pleased said “When bullets fly, you will dig down with your mess tins! Why? You will do it with your bare hands and dig much deeper than this rat hole in minutes!!

Now what is this wonder tool called a Mess Tin?

A mess tin is an item of a soldier’s mess kit, designed to be used over a portable cooking apparatus. It’s a pair of rectangular-shaped tins of similar depth, one fits inside the other, both having extendable handles that are fixed to the tins by brackets. Mess tins were originally a military design but are also popular among civilian campers.

Mess tins are generally rectangular with rounded-off edges as the rounded edges make it easier to clean inside than sharp corners. Most mess tins are supplied as a set, with one slightly larger than the other, allowing them to nestle together for easy packing. This arrangement is also useful when using the tins for boiling, as the smaller tin can be used to hold the liquid, with the larger tin placed on top to act as a lid. It also uses space as efficiently as possible, especially as the space and weight are premium in a soldier’s haversack. The nesting mess tins in use with the British Indian Army during World War II, making them one of the longest serving items of equipment in the Indian and British Army.  

The word ‘mess’ in the 14th Century meant ‘a supply or provision of food for one meal.’ The word came from Old French ‘mes’ meaning ‘portion of food, course at dinner,’ and was spelt ‘mes.’ By the 16th Century the word was spelt ‘mess’ with its meaning evolving from ‘a company of persons eating together at the same table’ to the current meaning ‘a communal eating place (especially a military one.)’

In a book published in 1916 ‘Camps, Billets, Cooking, Ceremonial,’ written by an Officer of the British Army and edited by Captain E John Solano lays out rules regarding health and hygiene; water supply; the inspection of food; preserving food, milk, and water from contamination; personal cleanliness and sanitation in billets, camps, and bivouacs. This is the most comprehensive document I read about camping and how to use the mess tin.  I followed it post-retirement during various camping trips we undertook with our children. An extract from the book says:-

‘It is especially useful that men and cadets should know how to cook various articles of food in their service mess -tins, which are so designed that, besides serving as a cup or dish and plate to eat from, they can also be used to cook certain rations in the same manner as in the camp kettle of the field-kitchen.

Cooking in Mess Tins. – The capacity of the mess tin is 1 quart, and it will cook sufficient food for one person if the diet consists of meat and vegetables cooked together, as in the case of Irish stew or sea- pie. Variety in diet is both essential and desirable, and it can be obtained to some extent when cooking in mess -tins by dividing up the rations of, say, two men, so that one mess -tin is used for cooking their meat, and another mess -tin is used for cooking their vegetables. It will be possible in this manner to vary the food slightly, provided such dishes as meat puddings, plain stews, stewed steak, or curry and rice, are given.  When this is done, the front -rank men prepare the meat, and the rear-rank men prepare the vegetables.’

As Cadets at the Academy, the mess tins were our best companions during tactical exercises as we collected our meals in them, ate in them, brewed our tea in them, etc.  It was the most sacred place for the smokers to hide the cigarette packs during tactical exercises. 

Mess Tin may be from the World War but is still popular with campers for similar reasons.  It is unbreakable, light and occupies minimum space.  You can use them to cook and eat out of, and they can be cleaned easily.  You can barbecue, fry and cook in it. 

Indian Army Water Bottle

Water is one of the most important elements of a soldier’s life – it is vital for all human beings, animals and plants.  Our body is made up of almost two-thirds water. Blood contains  92 percent water; the brain is 75 percent water; muscles are 75 percent water; and bones 22 percent.

Hydration, or consuming enough water is crucial for humans: to regulate body temperature, keep joints lubricated, prevent infections, deliver nutrients to cells, and keep organs functioning properly. Being well-hydrated improves sleep quality, cognition, and mood.

Soldiers used to carry water for personal consumption in a water-bottle, attached to the belt. Today’s soldier needs a hydration system that is effective, allows freedom of action, and is easier to carry and use than the current water-bottles.  An ideal hydration system will encourage the soldier to drink more water, resulting in better performance in battle and facilitate in delivering personal combat power- surely not an obstruction.

My tryst with the water-bottle began on joining the National Defence Academy (NDA) in 1979.  We were issued with the Field Service Marching Order (FSMO) with the all important water-bottle.  In the Scale A version of FSMO with the bigger backpack, the smaller haversack was attached to the belt on the left  and the water-bottle on the right.  Most soldiers were right-handers and for easy access the water-bottle was placed on the right.  In the Scale B version where the small haversack became the backpack, the water-bottle was attached to the back of the belt.

Scale B was used for most training as a cadet – for endurance runs, weapon and tactical training, etc – and the water-bottle hanging by the belt at the back kept pounding one’s butt as we cadets ran.  It was more of an encouraging tap on the butt that kept many of us going and the wet felt outer casing did cool our butts in the warm Indian afternoons.

This water-bottle, officially known in the Indian Army as  Bottle Water Mark 7, owed its origin to the British Army’s 1937 Web Equipment.  Made of blue colored sheet metal welded at the shoulder and at the bottom with outer side convex and  the inner side concave to fit with the contours of the human body.  The spout was closed with a cork stopper and the stopper was attached to an eye on the top of the bottle  with a string. The outer felt cover protected the metallic bottle and when kept soaked, evaporative cooling kept the water inside cool.  These enamelled water-bottles were manufactured in India mostly by the Bengal Enamel Works of Kolkata and also by the Madras Enamel Works of Chennai.

The British Army originally called the water-bottle a Canteen.  A canteen is a place outside a military camp where refreshments are provided for members of the armed forces. This very ‘place of refreshment’ became the water-bottle that the soldier carried on a march.  This canteen’s design and use have remained the same since 1937.  It appears that the technological revolution marched right past one of the Indian soldier’s most vital personal equipment – the water-bottle.

After we were commissioned in 1982, the Indian Army introduced the plastic cousin of the age old enamelled water-bottle, officially known as Bottle Water Complete M83.  This water-bottle continued with us as late as 2002.  While in command of the Regiment in operational area in Rajasthan when the Indian army was deployed along the Indo-Pak border in the aftermath of a terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament, we ordered for the water-bottles, but the Ordnance Depot did not supply us with any.

The new plastic water-bottle consisted of a green, plastic, square shaped bottle  with a  screw-on cap.  It had a plastic cover on top with  handles made of aluminium, and could be used as a cup when detached. The whole set was inserted into a canvas carrier lined with a thin layer of foam. This helped to keep the contents of the bottle warm in winter and cold in summer .  Though the water-bottle had straps to be attached to the belt, most soldiers carried it in their backpacks,

These plastic water-bottles were manufactured by some unheard-of  private plastic manufacturers, located in and around Delhi.  Though it was supposed to be made of food-grade High Density Poly Ethylene (HDPE), the water stored inside these water-bottles had unpleasant odour and left an after-taste.  Cracks developed as a result of any accidental drop or extra-pressure exerted by the soldier on the water-bottle, especially while resting after a tiring long march.  That was why our soldiers carried their water-bottles in their backpacks.  By 2003, the Indian Army withdrew this plastic water-bottle.

The soldier of the future will have a heads-up display on his helmet, a sophisticated weapon and a computer wired to his pack frame.  The soldiers operating in such an environment will have little time for a nap or to get a drink of water.  A quickly accessible hydration system close to the soldier’s mouth will help the soldier take small sips on a regular basis.

The CamelBak hydration system is a plastic water bladder connected to a length of hose that fits into an insulated bag that can be strapped on the soldier’s back or attached to a backpack. The mouth of the hose is positioned close to the carrier’s mouth for easy access. The ‘bite’ valve at the end of the hose makes the water readily available to sip or drink.

The Indian Army could develop its own hydration system that would be less expensive than a CamelBak system.  A change to the current water storage and delivery system is long overdue. A potable, palatable, easily available hydration system that allow soldiers to move easily and quickly on the battlefield and encourage water consumption would be an important force multiplier.  Importantly, soldiers under fire on the battlefield should be able to get a sip of water without taking their hands off their weapons.

The Invictus Games

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The word ‘Invictus’ means ‘unconquered’. It showcases the fighting spirit of the injured military personnel and what these tenacious men and women can achieve, post injury. The Games harness the power of sport to support recovery and rehabilitation.  It has helped to generate a wider understanding and respect for those who serve their country.

The Invictus Games was the brainchild of Prince Harry, a former Apache helicopter pilot who served with the British armed forces in Afghanistan.  He was inspired to launch an event after seeing three young soldiers badly injured in Afghanistan in 2008.  At the time, Harry was being sent home after the news of his presence in Afghanistan as a British army officer was flashed by the media.  This endangered his fellow officers, forcing him to leave, even though he wanted to stay with his soldiers.

While sitting aboard his flight home, Harry saw a coffin of a Danish solider loaded aboard. Also on that flight were three young British soldiers on stretchers in induced comas, wrapped in plastic, with missing limbs and tubes coming out of them.

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On a trip to the Warrior Games in the USA in 2013 he saw how the power of sport could motivate the injured soldier physically, psychologically and socially. He formed the Invictus Foundation and hosted the inaugural Invictus Games at London from 10-14 September 2014 which was attended by over 400 competitors from 13 nations.  Across four days of intense sporting action, they competed in nine sports in five venues.

Thus was born the Invictus Games, the only international adaptive sporting event for wounded and sick soldiers and veterans.

The Games started with a spectacular Opening Ceremony, with an audience of 5,000 gathering on Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park for the special military themed opening event. With a fly past from The Red Arrows, displays by The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery and the Queen’s Colour Squadron and performances from bands in the Royal Marines, Army and RAF, the Games kicked off with all pomp and ceremony.

Prince Harry on conclusion of the first Invictus Games said “These Games have shone a spotlight on the ‘unconquerable’ character of service men and women and their families and their ‘Invictus’ spirit. These Games have been about seeing guys sprinting for the finish line and then turning round to clap the last man in. They have been about teammates choosing to cross the line together, not wanting to come second, but not wanting the other guys to either. These Games have shown the very best of the human spirit.”

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According to Prince Harry, the 2014 Games were just the beginning of the Invictus story. The competitors showed grit, determination and humour with an absolute refusal to be beaten or be defined by their injuries.  There the Invictus spirit was born.  He was excited to see the American public supporting these inspirational men and women at the 2016 Invictus Games.  Seeing so many men and women competing against each other with huge beaming smiles, made him realise the power of the concept behind Invictus Games.  He is of the opinion that sports can make a huge difference and help the injured soldiers fix their lives and those of others around them.

The Invictus Games 2016 was held at Orlando, USA from 08 to 12 May 2016.  The games featured 500 competitors from 15 nations: Afghanistan, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Netherlands, New Zealand, United Kingdom and the United States of America.  First lady Michelle Obama, Britain’s Prince Harry and Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman delivered stirring speeches during the opening ceremony.

Freeman powerfully orated the Invictus Pledge to the crowd to help conclude the ceremony:
Your service sets an example
Your bravery inspires me
It is my honor now
To support and give you courage
To fight for you as you fought for us
To keep your family close beside
To take the steps you need to take
I am here for you.

President George W Bush is the Honorary Chairman of the Games.  He said “I have dedicated the rest of my life to honoring the service and sacrifice of the men and women with whom I served as Commander-in-Chief.  Those who wear their Nation’s uniform, some of whom have overcome both visible and invisible injuries, deserve our support.  I am proud to serve as honorary Chairman of the Invictus Games Orlando 2016, and to shine a spotlight on the unconquered spirit of these men and women, not just from the American team but from 15 coalition nations.”

The George W Bush Institute conducted an international symposium at Invictus Games Orlando 2016 on May 8, to discuss solutions aimed at helping returning servicemen and women improve outcomes for their transition back to civilian life.

The Invictus Games 2017 would be hosted by Toronto, Canada, from September 26­ to 30.  It coincides with the  celebrations of the 150th anniversary of its Confederation and 100th anniversary of Canada’s defining rolein the Battle of Vimy Ridge in World War I.  It will provide a unique opportunity for Canadians to commemorate and honour its injured soldiers and their families.  Ontario has committed up to $10 million in support of the Invictus Games 2017.   It is expected to feature more than 600 competitors from 16 nations.

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The kickoff for the Invictus Games 2017 was held on 02 May 2016, by way of an exhibition sledge hockey game at Toronto.  Prince Harry joined Prime Minister Trudeau and Toronto Mayor John Tory were in attendance.

Paraplegic rehabilitation Centre (PRC), Kirkee, is a pioneer in introducing sports on wheelchair for the Indian wounded soldiers. The First National Games for disabled were also organised by PRC and were held at the Centre. Inmates of the Centre are undisputed champions in wheelchair sports at National level. At the international level, inmates from PRC have won many medals.

Will India ever hold an Invictus Games?  Will someone sponsor the Games? It is ironic that the sponsor for the Invictus Games 2014 and 2016 was none other than Indian owned Jaguar Range Rover.