On display in the Light Infantry Collection at Cornwall’s Regimental Museum is a solitary bag of M&M’s. You’d be excused for wondering what on earth they’re doing there, between a chunk of the Berlin Wall and a Light Infantry Lieutenant’s ceremonial dress. The M&M’s are part of a jungle survival pack dating from 1995, and the case they sit in contains some of the many essentials a Light Infantry soldier had to carry in order to survive and operate in the jungle.
The role of chocolate in military history is an interesting one – Chocolate is an easy (and tasty!) high calorie way to provide sustenance out in the field. Mars began manufacturing M&M’s during the second world war exclusively for the US military, however their civilian popularity in post-war America led to their commercialisation around the world. In fact, the invention of sugar-shell coated chocolate beans (now known as Smarties) was much earlier; British soldiers during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s were able to take chocolate in their rations, thanks to the brand-new ‘melt-proof’ design, which allowed the chocolate to withstand warmer climates.
Visitors will notice that the branding of these particular M&M’s appears very different to their commercial equivalent. As with all the rations, the packaging is kept very plain, usually brown or khaki to blend in with uniforms and kit. Contrary to everything modern day consumers have come to expect, the packaging is designed not to stand out.
Among the display of jungle survival equipment in Cornwall’s Regimental Museum are many other items visitors may or may not expect to find in a military museum. These include a tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce, some greengage jam and a Fray Bentos Braised Steak pie!
Recently some of the Light Infantry displays were moved to make space for a temporary exhibition ‘Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War’. While moving the displays, it was discovered that the tube of Margarine had split and leaked into the case. Imagine the smell – this margarine had been unrefrigerated for over 20 years! Luckily the museum’s collections manager, Verity Anthony, was cleverly able to save the tube by gently melting the contents out through the split, retaining the shape of the packaging.
Visitors to the Museum can see the M&M’s, the salvaged margarine tube and the other Light Infantry rations on display in the second-floor galleries.
If you were formerly a member of the Light Infantry and these have brought back memories for you, please get in touch. We would love for you to get involved and share your stories and memories of the objects in the collection. Read more on our Light Infantry page, on our blog post Light Infantry Collection Supporters, or get in touch.