The field ration eating device, more commonly known as FRED, has served soldiers faithfully since World War 2.
First introduced in 1943 as part of the Operational Ration Type 02 (ORT2), the world-first 24-hour ration offered a realistic amount of food to sustain a soldier without catering support.
According to combat ration pack (CRP) technical adviser Captain Andre Borg, a key design aspect of ORT2 was its canned meals, which allowed previously unsuitable food such as stews or fish to be used.
“In order for soldiers to get into the canned foods, a magnificent and all-powerful device was required to open them. Thus, the FRED was born,” he said.
The first version of the FRED had only a single purpose as a can opener, but over time more functions were added to its design, including a bottle opener, capability to sterilise, and spoon shape.
The FRED has since transcended its humble beginnings, and has been employed by innovative soldiers in situations it was not designed for, including fishing lures and early warning devices.
“I once watched an RAEME [Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers] digger use an angle grinder to chop up a FRED to make an improvised tool, and then use that tool to somehow fix a thing on a semi-trailer and get us back on the road,” Captain Borg said.
Despite its simple design, making a FRED is relatively labour-intensive. Parts are stamped from hardened steel with a FRED die tool, and coated to prevent rust. The two pieces are then assembled on a different machine press.
While it can’t be claimed that FREDs are handmade, the process is not automated, and they require a high level of human involvement, which adds to its manufacturing quality.
During his time as a technical adviser, Captain Borg conducted CRP taste-testing activities around Australia, and informed participants that canned cheese would be replaced with a non-canned alternative.
He received considerable feedback regarding the implied removal of the FRED in addition to their preference to retain the cheese, as many soldiers expressed an affinity for the tool and advocated for its retention.
“I am happy to report that both canned cheese and the FRED will remain an important and enduring feature in the ADF’s CRP design,” Captain Borg said.