c1943 The soldier’s friend F.R.E.D.

F.R.E.D. from the Australian War Memorial collection

Introduced around 1943, the F.R.E.D., a combination can opener, bottle opener and spoon, was included in military ration packs. Officially a Field Rations Eating Device, it was familiarly known as the “F**king Ridiculous Eating Device”.

It may have been based on a similar U.S. device called the P38, which lacked the refinements of spoon and bottle opener and was invented in 1942.  Soldiers in both forces formed a fierce attachment to these devices, which were just as useful for cleaning your fingernails as opening a can, and protested at their removal from active service when new packaging was introduced.

In 2005, a Captain Brian Tuohy wrote to The Soldiers’ Newspaper lamenting the loss of an old friend. “A nasty rumour is spreading far and wide throughout the ranks as to the demise of an old and faithful friend that has been both a saviour and an ally over the years,” he wrote. The “friend” was the F.R.E.D.

“As far back as World War II, the faithful Fred has been issued in one form or another to be utilised for whatever means it was required,” the Captain continued. “From opening tin cans to cleaning fingernails or personal assault weapons to a makeshift screwdriver, the humble Fred has served well. It has never been decorated, mentioned in dispatches or given a Commanding Officers Commendation. It has gone about its business, serving the Australian soldier, sailor and airman in every conceivable country and operation in the world without the recognition it so rightly deserves.”

Unfortunately, Captain Tuohy’s lament fell on deaf ears. An acerbic reply from the ADF Logistics Manager citing the cost saving in using ring-pull cans drew several responses from other servicemen. “Shock, Fred has gone. On reading the letter I immediately went to the backyard and buried my current Fred. A few words were said and tears glistened in my eyes, as Fred had been my faithful companion for more than 30 years,” wrote one.

American servicemen (mostly men, it seems) are equally passionate about the P38, officially known as the OPENER, CAN, HAND, FOLDING, TYPE I. It has a whole website devoted to it and has merited a story on the official website of the US Army.

It wasn’t just the soldiers themselves who appreciated these handy devices. Many collected their P38s or Freds and brought them home, where they were seized on by appreciative spouses. “Of course, my wife will never again look at me with that same loving look on return from the field – the crosses we bear for progress,” one soldier wrote.

The Australian War Memorial has a F.R.E.D. in its collection. It dates from WWII and was issued to Lieutenant A Treloar, 2/14 Battalion AIF. It’s still in its original issue wrapping with instructions.

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