Tommy cooker

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A Tommy cooker was a compact, portable stove, fuelled by something referred to as solidified alcohol [1] which was issued to British troops (Tommies) in World War I. [2] It was notoriously ineffective; one soldier complained that it took two hours to boil half a pint of water. A variety of commercial or improvised alternatives were in use. [3]


A refined version remained in use during World War II, using gelled fuel in a tin can; a steel ring fitted to the can supported a mess tin. [4]

Until recently the British army still used compact portable solid fuel (hexamine) stoves, until replaced by the BCB Fire Dragon alcohol gel fuel stove.

The term also came to be applied by the German tank crews as a derogatory nickname for the Sherman tank whose earlier models acquired a reputation for bursting up in flames when hit, due to improper ammunition storage. [5]

WWI "Rations Heater - Personal Cooker"

Cardboard box with a folding metal stand.
Anglo's Trench Fires
Folding tin stove fuelled by solid fuel tablets and retailed under the name "Anglo's Trench Fires". Contained in a card box with the slogan "A boon for dugouts, tents and trenches"
Tommy's Cooker
One WWI soldier advised that an extra tin of fuel should be provisioned,

My Pack contained the following items. ...A tin containing extra solidified methylated spirits (i.e. Refill for a "Tommy's Cooker.") [7]

Tinned Heat - solidified methylated spirits

'Tinned Heat' was a little round tin pocket stove, or 'Campaigner's Cooker'. Only 3½ inches in diameter and 1½ inches high, it contained solidified methylated spirits. It was deemed to be perfectly safe, quite practical and absolutely efficient; an ideal arrangement for a soldier's use in the trenches. If anything could be pronounced ideal in those circumstances. 'Tinned Heat' cost 10½d each. [8]

Canned Heat - Sterno solidified alcohol

Invented around 1900, Sterno is made from ethanol, methanol, water and an amphoteric oxide gelling agent, plus a dye that gives it a characteristic pink color. Designed to be odorless, a 7 oz (198 g) can will burn for up to two hours. The methanol is added to denature the product, which essentially is intended to make it too toxic for consumption, thus the British term 'Methylated Spirits'.

The British cookers were made by Tommy's Cooker Co., Limited, The Little Kitchener Co. and the "Pals" Cooker by Matthias Jackson & Sons. [9] [10] [11] [12]

WWII "Rations Heater - Personal Cooker"

British cookers used by individuals were generally known as Tommy Cookers and came in a number of different forms. The two most popular designs used were:

Self contained 'gel fuel' version in a small tin and attachable pot stand. There were also similar commercial stoves sold as the "Tommy's Cooker" and the "Blackie".
Hexi Cooker
Small field tri-fold stove fuelled by solid fuel discs (similar to heximine fuel).

Cylindrical tin container, an inscription reads; "SOLID FUEL COOKER (Stand, Disc & Tablets), INSTRUCTIONS INSIDE". The tin is black and measures 4 1/2" in height and 2 1/2" in diameter. The entire item weighs 309g. The instructions inside are like a newspaper cutting and say the following;

  • 1. Remove stand from this container and open out legs equally.
  • 2. Place (hinge downwards) on level non-inflammable surface.
  • 3. Remove metal disc from this container and fix on stand immediately above hinge so that the three slots cut in the edge of disc lock firmly on legs of stand.
  • 4. Place one fuel tablet on metal disc and ignite with match, lighter etc.
  • 5. To extinguish, tip tablet off stand and cover with lid.
  • 6. If greater heat required, break tablet into two or more pieces and stand these upright on the disc. If less heat required, break off small piece and use instead of whole tablet.
  • (a) It is essential to shield cooker from all draughts, using box, tin etc. or heating may be carried out in a shallow trench.
  • (b) If used in a covered accommodation, allow adequate ventilation to assist combustion and to remove fumes.

See also

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  1. Alexander, Jerome (1926). ""Solidified" Alcohol". Chemical Catalog Company, 1926 - Colloids. 4 of Colloid Chemistry, Theoretical and Applied. [Papers] by Selected International Contributors, Colloid Chemistry, Theoretical and Applied. [Papers] by Selected International Contributors: 617–631.
  2. First War encyclopaedia
  3. Weeks, Alan (2009), Tea, Rum and Fags: Sustaining Tommy 1914-18 The History Press (Chapter 6)
  4. Repro Rations - British World War II Rations
  5. BBC History
  6. "Trench Cooker, Bryant & May's". IWM London. Imperial War Museums (IWM) British national museum. Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  7. Prest, J. S. "Hints for the trenches 2 May 1918". NewspaperSG is an online resource of current and historic Singapore and Malaya newspapers. The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884-1942). Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  8. Wheeler, Hazel (2013). The Milliner's Apprentice: Girlhood in Edwardian Yorkshire, Chapter 23 – War News. Amberley Publishing Limited. ISBN   1445625903 . Retrieved 7 November 2014.
  9. Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons (1916). The Parliamentary Debates (official Report).: House of Commons. H.M. Stationery Office. p. 819. I cannot imagine what the Home Office have been doing. I understand that every facility has been given to Jacob Strumpf to go to all our military camps, and to get orders from the canteens, or wherever he can secure them, for this "Little Kitchener". There cannot be any military necessity in question because a better article, the original article, the article which a patent has been applied for, [Tommy's Cooker] is manufactured by an English company with entirely English shareholders. (Image of p. 819 at Google Books)
  10. The Pharmaceutical Journal and Pharmacist. 1916. pp. 236, 339. The Little Kitchener Co., 11-13, Gilbert Street. London W.C. announced that Mr. Robert Blackie, Shen Works, Tower Bridge Road, London, S.E., has taken over the manufacture of the "Little Kitchener" cooker. We have since received one of the stoves, which, as will be seen from Mr. Blackie's advertisement, consists of a tin of solidified methylated spirit, with a trivet for supporting a small boiling-pot. At the present time these cooking-outfits are selling vigorously for sending out to soldiers on active service.(p.236) & Tommy's Cooker Co., Limited, 31, Carburton Street, Great Portland Street, W. —The Soldier's Pocket Stove, manufactured by this company has attained a wonderful popularity, three millons actually having been supplied already to the Allies' armies and the various Red Cross and ambulance associations.(p.339)
  11. Chemist and Druggist: The Newsweekly for Pharmacy. Benn Brothers. 1916. p. 255. The "Pals" Cooker is made by Matthias Jackson & Sons, Shepley Street, London Road, Manchester. It is a portable stove which uses solidified spirit as fuel, and is of the variety so much in vogue among soldiers at the Front.
  12. Chemist and Druggist: The Newsweekly for Pharmacy. Benn Brothers. 1916. pp.  14, 22.