In base camp, at Nui Dat, each company area (3 platoons plus company headquarters consisting of 100-110 odd soldiers all up) centred around the mess tent and ‘kitchen’. Initially, the mess consisted of a very large (5m x 10m) marquee in which were placed crude, fold-up long tables and forms set in two parallel rows. The floor was earthen. The condiments and ‘brew’ material were located on a separate table at one end. Soldiers would line up at meal-time at the adjacent ‘kitchen’ and be served by the ‘Company Cook’ and those on duty. The kitchen staff consisted of a sergeant, a corporal and a private, each supposedly trained in catering and cooking en masse.
The ‘kitchen’ itself was a very large separate open marquee which had room for an oven or two, large fridge and space for food storage and preparation. Each soldier did his own washing-up using two large hot water tubs adjacent to the mess tent.
The ‘Company Cook’ was always the butt of friendly ribbing and though the food was never cordon bleu, it was hot and there was always plenty of it and it was better than the food in the ration packs. As the base evolved, the marquee gave way to more sophisticated establishments like large metal pre-fab sheds with louvred windows, doors and a concrete floor. This poem is a light-hearted look at the ‘Company Cook’ in those very early days at Nui Dat.
“An army marches on its stomach!” - Napoleon Bonaparte, 1805.
“Yes indeed! I like cooking with wine! I sometimes even add it to the food!” - W.C. Fields
B Company 5RAR's Mess Tent - 1966 B Company 5RAR's Kitchen - 1966
In our ‘lines’ was Pete, our chubby cook,
As usual, full of cheer;
A dripping ladle in one hand,
And in the other, half a beer.
Since working conditions were pretty poor,
And true chef, he was clearly not,
Culinary skills had limited scope,
And yet the meals were sometimes hot!
“You’re in luck you blokes!”, with a smirky smile:
“The bread I baked ’tis now O.K.!
’Cause it’s dried right out and looks just fine!
Most of the mould I’ve scraped away!”
Now Pete also had another task,
Though ’twas not his primary role,
Working alongside the ‘hygiene wallahs’,
Keeping ‘mossies’ under control.
They sprayed our ‘kitchen’ with D.D.T.
Especially during monsoons,
Even all latrines and 4-man tents,
Right around our three platoons.
For every breakfast, two greasy eggs,
Each one had barely hit the pan;
No way would any be properly cooked,
They always bloody ran!
Our lunch was often a Bar-B-Q,
Just ‘snags’ and bread and sweets and stuff;
At night the usual braise and ‘spuds’,
Nothing special, but good enough!
Anyone neglecting to wash it down,
With boiling ‘coffee’, or cleansing ‘tea’,
Odds were they ended up next day,
In a long line at the R.A.P.
Yet, a few it seemed, had cast-iron guts,
No ill-effects, or perhaps they just kept quiet;
Others preferred Mum’s ‘goodies’ tin,
Sent to enhance their son’s poor diet.
Now, the medic pointed to other things,
For why most were getting crook;
Feared it’d be ‘once more ‘round the dunny can’,
If we blamed the Company Cook!