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A field kitchen is a truck or trailer that is equipped to prepare and serve food to soldiers while in the field. Using several types of fuel, from diesel to coal, to heat the food, a field kitchen is able to serve various types of hot food to those who may not otherwise be able to obtain hot food. A throwback to the chuck wagon that tendered meals to the cowboys, a field kitchen provides the comfort and camaraderie to soldiers who have often spent a great deal of time outside in the elements.
Reported as one of the most frustrating and demoralizing aspects of spending time in the field for a soldier is the lack of fresh and hot food. The field kitchen was first designed as a small wagon that was pulled behind horses. Using wood, coal or coal oil for fuel, the mobile kitchens served stews and soups to hungry soldiers. One of the cons to having a field kitchen near was the smoke that often filled the sky over the wagon. Enemy artillery would commonly focus fire on the area near the smoke, inflicting injury on those attempting to partake of some warm food.
World War II saw the evolution of the field kitchen rising from a small trailer to a truck-based design. As a self-contained unit, the field kitchen is a much more mobile unit capable of moving out in a moment's notice. The truck-type kitchen is able to travel back and forth from the front lines to the rear to be resupplied, providing ample food, water and coffee to the soldiers serving in the forward areas. In some locations, the kitchen trucks would also carry fresh socks and occasionally gloves, boots and other gear. Ammunition was not carried on the trucks for fear of making them a higher-priority target for the enemy sharpshooters and artillery.
English troops during World War II used the mobile kitchens to serve tea and as a morale booster. Many armies gave nicknames to their respective field kitchens. German troops called the field kitchens that provided them with hot food, "Gulaschkanone," or goulash cannons. This was because of the resemblance of the chimney to the weapon when tipped down to travel. American troops often referred to their kitchens as soup cans or mess trucks.
The field kitchen often traveled with a mobile shower truck. This provided the soldier an opportunity to both eat and take a shower. Many of the kitchen trucks also supplied mess kits and rations that the soldier could carry with him or her and eat in the field.