Source of a Tank commander's "cheese sandwich" quote

Discussion in 'General' started by Gary Kennedy, Mar 22, 2021.

  1. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    This popped up on another forum and I thought if anyone could identify the source, and perhaps even add some context, they probably reside here;

    "The 75(mm gun) is firing. The 37(mm gun) is firing, but it is traversed round the wrong way. The Browning (machine gun) is jammed. I am saying "Driver, advance" on the A set, and the driver, who can’t hear me, is reversing. And as I look over the top of the turret and see twelve enemy tanks fifty yards away . . . . someone hands me a cheese sandwich."

    The quote is reproduced in dozens of places on the internet it seems, but with no attribution. It is in the book "Alamein" by Jon Latimer, where it is credited to an officer named Ken Giles. I don't have the book, and I just got a glance into the Google books preview but couldn't see the footnote appended to the quote.

    Does anyone know any more about the context and the officer involved?

    Dave55 likes this.
  2. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Shooting from the hip - I've a feeling that's from one of Ken Tout's books.
    Unconfirmed, but will have a look.
  3. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Ah, maybe in (top poet) Keith Douglas's 'Alamein to Zem Zem'?
    Cannot find my copy.
  4. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Ah, thanks
    Yes, Douglas, P119,
    Ken Giles:
    douglas.png dfdf.png
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2021
  5. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    I knew if anywhere knew, it would be here!

    Chris C likes this.
  6. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

    Got a feeling Giles wrote a book.
    Dunno. Will have a shufti later.
  7. Quarterfinal

    Quarterfinal Well-Known Member

    Well done for finding the source for the quote. I have partaken in a few ‘tanky sandwiches’ over the years, but never in a meeting engagement. For those who have never seen one, the main difference between the latter and one obtained from an ordinary provider is that the slices of bread have invariably been well pressed together to forestall undesired slippage of filling, with consequent highly visible oily black handprint indentations on both external faces.

    The handprint residues usually impart an interesting je ne sais quoi. A ‘wad’ would often be accompanied with a ‘wet’. Scalding was a hazard before the advent of modern lidded mugs.

    During Ex SPEARPOINT in 1984, there was significant PR/media coverage when Challenger 1 was first deployed. A young female BFBS reporter was giving an opening outside broadcast to an international audience, herewith the gist:

    I’m sitting in the turret of the Army’s latest Challenger tank with the Royal Hussars. We’re moving off (bumpy grunt) and seem to be going (bumpy grunt) very fast cross-country. There are (bumpy grunts) enemy tanks to our front left and we’re (bumpy grunt) turning to engage. I’m sat beside the Squadron Commander and (bumpy grunt) I’ll tell you what he’s doing .... he’s eating an egg banjo (voice pitches high) and the yolk’s going all over my hair ........
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2021
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  8. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    Two thoughts about the cheese sandwich. :)

    First it would presumably have been made with the biscuits they got in their rations rather than anything very nice.

    Second, when did the troops in the desert ever get cheese? I can remember reading about biscuit and bully beef or biscuit with jam, but did they regularly get cheese?
  9. Quarterfinal

    Quarterfinal Well-Known Member

    Never had ‘cheese possessed’? The stuff of legend.

    Tinned was marginally preferable to tube, but others may disagree.

    BBC - WW2 People's War - Army Rations in Burma

    And the stalwarts in the field bakeries?

    BBC - WW2 People's War - A Baker at War - Part 1

    Even journos would get out of bed if you had proper bacon sarnies. A l’Ecosse were interesting - deep fried in batter.
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  10. von Poop

    von Poop Adaministrator Admin

  11. Tricky Dicky

    Tricky Dicky Don'tre member

    BBC - WW2 People's War - Self - Catering Holiday in North Africa

    Standing in the turret of a bouncing Tank trying to drink a mug of tea, hastily prepared by the crew whilst awaiting orders. That poor Wireless Op. underneath cursing the hot tea spilling down the back of his shirt as he tries to prepare our breakfast, jam and cheese on hard biscuits.

    Flexible meal times, with the blessing of the enemy, allowed you the freedom to eat when you felt like it with a menu of your choice. You could have biscuits cheese and jam, biscuits with cheese or jam, or even a hunk of cheese, of course for a real treat how about a tin of bully beef all to yourself. Opened carefully to prevent the warm fat running down the operator’s neck and devoured quickly to ensure your fair share in competition with the flies. Add some grit thrown up by the tracks and you have the perfect balanced system, grinding the hard biscuits to assist digestion and keep the teeth clean. Of course fresh meat was always available, just like us the flies loved the sweet things and often paid the penalty, I never could tell the difference in taste.


    Bully and Biscuits: British Rations

    Haversack Ration
    The haversack ration was typically issued for field exercises in England, and consisted of a simple sandwich of meat or cheese with thickly-cut bread with butter or margarine; sometimes a meat pie or pasty would be given instead.

    Compo Ration
    All compo crates came with tins of the same instant tea as the 24-Hour Ration. They also came with chocolate, boiled sweets, salt, margarine, soap, latrine paper, and cigarettes. The variable items included: sausages, bacon, “luncheon meat” (presumably something similar to American “Spam”), baked beans, sardines, fruit, vegetables, condensed soup, salmon, jam, cheese, and sweet puddings.

    Other Rations
    ................... The Pacific 24-Hour Ration contained small tins of meat, cheese, and jam; while the tins added weight, they provided greater weatherproofing to the contents than was possible with the standard 24-Hour Ration.

    An army marches on its stomach | National Army Museum
    Also known as the 14-Man Ration, the 'compo' ration came in a wooden crate and contained tinned and packaged food. A typical crate might include tins of bully beef, spam, steak and kidney pudding, beans, cheese, jam, biscuits, soup, sausages, and margarine. Cookable items could be heated up on a variety of portable stoves.
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2021
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  12. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    Thanks! It must have slipped my memory somehow :) Have we all seen the comic strip created with the quote in question?
  13. AG HART

    AG HART Member

    The Tankie Sandwich has not changed over the years. sandwich.jpg
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  14. Love the Ketchup bottle in the background! Heinz 57?
  15. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target Turn the page

    Cookable items could be heated up on a variety of portable stoves. What !
    Not unless the tank is in laager or hull down for some time.
    Tankies were well known for a hot meal and drinks heated on the exhaust. The infantry would crowd around if they could, hoping for at least a drink.
    Modern crews use baby mugs with spouts, no spillage.
    Fresh rations (mainly bread) were mainly on exercise but they could take time to catch up or the cookhouse got rid of the old stock. If you were fussy it took time to pick out the green bits!
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2021
  16. JDKR

    JDKR Member

  17. Quarterfinal

    Quarterfinal Well-Known Member


    5RANGLIAN New Member

    There was definitely bread at El Alamein. I know because my grandfather was MiD for his work at the field bakery. I have his recipes too.
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  19. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian Patron

    In case anyone hasn't seen this online comic strip version.
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