Yes, you read that right. Tins played a very important part in my father’s escape from Sulmona POW camp in Italy in 1943. I’m not going to give away the details of how they were used here. To find out you’ll have to read my book Far Away!
There were approximately eleven tins in each Red Cross parcel. They contained foods like condensed milk, meat roll, cocoa powder, salmon, sardines etc and they were prisoners’ sole source of metal. The Red Cross even produced a helpful leaflet written by The Metal Box Company titled: Useful Articles from Empty Tins – Hints on How to Make Them.
And make them they did. Here are some of the items:
- drinking mugs
- frying pans
- soap trays
- armour for use in plays
- the ferrule of a paint brush
- ventilation system to help tunnellers breath while digging
- cooking stoves or ‘stufa’ for brewing up their own drinks and warming food
- chess pieces
- theatre spotlights
The brand names were powerful reminders of home: Spam, Nestle, Rowntree, Crosse & Blackwell. And some of the labels, like the one with a leaping salmon were removed and stuck into log books to drool over.
The most coveted tin was a KLIM tin (milk spelled backwards) which came in Canadian Red Cross parcels. When fitted with a handle this would hold more than a pint of liquid.
So next time you casually take a tin opener to a can of tomatoes, use the contents, swill the tin out and trying to avoid slicing open your thumb, chuck it in the recycling, pause for a moment and think how precious that once was to bored yet ingenious young men, imprisoned far away from home during the Second World War. Just pause and think what you could make with it.