By J. Kenneth Wiles ( Son of James Fletcher Wiles)
Revised: November 08, 2000.

The Wiles Army Steam Cooker was first made just prior to the 1914-18 war and was invented by James (Jim) Fletcher Wiles, Ballarat, Victoria. Australia.

The basic principle was a horse drawn travelling kitchen, being a combination of Steam Boiler. Roasting Oven, Hot and Cold Water Tanks and a Limber, which were connected by steam hoses and carried two large Steamers or Stock Pots.

The unit could be galloped into an area and if necessary, the wheels detached to lower, for more convenient cooking.

After several trials before Military Boards. under worst conditions it was adopted by Defense Department for service in 1914-18 war, giving keen satisfaction to Brigade. Battalion, C.O.'S and men. With the subsequent acceptance by the war office this led to the establishment of a factory in Ballarat, Victoria.

The new factory produced over 300 cookers for the Federal Government. These units were used under active service conditions in Australia Egypt and France. Great satisfaction and good reports were given by many returned servicemen.

Well after the cessation of hostilities the Australian Army, owing to a decision to standardize all equipment to British Army methods, discontinued the use of the Wiles Cooker and reverted to the use of the antiquated methods:- Soyer stoves, (wash boilers) Dixies, Mud trenches and Mud Aldershot ovens.

Jim Wiles was very disappointed with this decision and sold his engineering workshops at Ballarat and purchased an irrigated fruit growing property with 100 acres of vines for dried fruit production located on the River Murray "New Era" near Cadell South Australia. Unfortunately the dried fruit industry collapsed owing to lack of marketing facilities between Australia and overseas countries. He lost everything and had no alternative but to abandon the property just prior to the "Great Depression" and settle in Adelaide April 1926 with his family.

In 1929 he decided to set up an Electroplating Plant in Adelaide. He had no capital and relied on his sons to support him.

After many years of hard work, the company was successful and became well known in industry.

He was the first to introduce in 1930 a new development Chromium plating to Adelaide. Prior to that Nickel plating was the method used but with the application of chromium plating it set a new standard in Decorative Electroplating.

During this period Jim frequently talked with his sons on the advantage of an Army having good cooking facilities, compulsory military training was then a fact, Army cooking had not progressed. He hoped that some top Army officials would see the light and reintroduce his Steam Cooker invention which had been so highly regarded by the troops in the 1914-18 war. These talks became more intensive in the late thirties when it appeared that a war was imminent.

Early 1939 Jim became seriously ill. Just prior to his death on 11th August 1939 he requested that we four brothers, should war break out, again submit proposals to the Defence Department for the making of steam cookers.

I visited Keswick Barracks and discussed with Major Lenton the idea of again endeavoring to convince the Army of the advantages of steam cooking. He told me of the difficulties encountered by my father in the previous war and forecast very accurately the problems we would encounter again. My brothers decided we would build a cooker and submit it to the Army.

We had no working drawings and my brother R.M. (Dick) and I worked from photographs of a first war unit estimating possible sizes from these. The model we developed had the basic design of first war unit, but at that early stage Dick and I considered the possibility that the idea could be used in static camps as well as in mobile form this was prompted by the arrangement in which first war units could be converted to stationary.

Therefore our submission was that of a double oven type that could be used in the field or in Static Army Camps.

We worked night and day and on the 28th November 1939 had completed the First prototype. The whole idea was submitted to officers concerned at Keswick Barracks 4 M.D.

Major Lenton was very impressed and arranged that the Base Commandant Brig Martyn give permission to it being tested with the Garrison Battalion then stationed at Keswick and consisting mainly of men returned from the first war.

The battalion cooks became very enthusiastic and the message rapidly spread that they had a good piece of equipment for cooking. Colonel H. Tolley C.R.E. and Major Stevens Assist. C.R.E. were satisfied and reported that the steam boiler was a sound design and quite safe to be used by Army cooks. Reports were also being received by Major Lenton regarding the wood fuel economy. With this information we decided that I should visit Army Headquarters Victoria Barracks Melbourne and talk with officers likely to be interested.

Progress and interest was slow then at the suggestion of Major Lenton the cooker was moved to Gawler Camp where the l8th Light Horse Machine Gun Regiment was camped under the command of Brigadier Blackburn.

This Mobile Regiment gave the Cooker considerable tests, one being the movement of the complete regiment from Gawler to Kingston Park and back. Meals were supplied without any difficulty.

When not on maneuvers the cooker was used at a static unit dispensing with the use of 20 odd Fires consisting of Aldershot ovens, Soyer stoves etc.

Opposition to the use or adoption was not recognized by high Army officers and a stalemate was developing. Dick had received unofficial approval to work with the cooks on the cooker and he camped with the battalion at Gawler then at Cheltenham race course. I had made frequent visits to Army Headquarters Melbourne without any avail.

At this time Major Lenton had co-opted into the Army Sir Stanton Hicks who then was Emeritus Professor of Human Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Adelaide, C.St.J., M.Sc., M.D., PhD., F.I.C., eventually to become the founder of the Australian Army Catering Corps and first director of Catering A.M.F.9.LT. SIR STANTON HICKS BEING THEN ONE OF THE WORLD'S FOREMOST NUTRITIONAL EXPERTS, IMMEDIATELY BECAME INTERESTED AND I VISITED HIM AT THE ADELAIDE UNIVERSITY AND HE EXPRESSED A WISH TO INSPECT THE UNIT IMMEDIATELY.

I quote from his book "Who called the Cook a Bastard"

I visited the l8th Light Horse (Machine gun Regiment) in camp at Cheltenham race course. Lenton had sent me there to see this new steam cooker. The Commanding Officer was Lieutenant Colonel Arthur Blackburn V.C. He was delighted, as he expressed it, to have some one with intelligence to look at the performance of the mobile steam cooker that was on trial feeding his unit.

Arthur Blackburn had compiled a complete record of its performance. Its fuel consumption was only 30 per cent of the official issue. Within 20 minutes of lighting the fire it was ready to prepare a meal, and it could cook on the road whilst travelling at normal convoy speed, and supply a battalion with a two course meal. Four gallons of water could be boiled For tea in two minutes.

Soup, stews and vegetables steamed so that 'troops will eat them and return for more', as the Commanding Officer said. He continued, 'There must be something important about this, and you are just the one to find out'.

Lieutenant Colonel Blackburn could not restrain his enthusiasm, so satisfied were his troops with meals produced by this cooker. He insisted that I go on bivouac with his unit in order to watch it closely in action. Little wonder that the C.O. was enthusiastic. It was a revolutionary idea.

The total number of persons for which this kitchen has catered is 494. It is quite capable of cooking for 550.

Food when cooked is very palatable, and the matter of burnt food does not exist, but particularly in the case of porridge, stews, etc., or any foods containing a large liquid content.

In movement the cooking unit has the effect of basting meat rather than roasting, in that fat is continually thrown over the meat. This is not only preferable to the taste, but ensures that the meat juices are kept in the meat. For tea making a continuous supply of boiling water of approximately 76 gallons is always on hand.

For 55 days the daily average consumption of wood is 4781bs. when catering for an average of 380 men. This shows a distinct saving of fuel as the average daily allowance of wood for 380 men is 2280 lbs, but, the 478 lbs of wood would still be sufficient for 550.

Convoy movements are normally 25 miles per our. and this speed can be maintained without any loss of efficiency or delay. A speed of 35 m.p.h. has been attained and maintained for some miles on good roads. A higher speed can be obtained, but this is not desirable as the kitchen is mounted on a trailer and at this greater speed the kitchen commences to sway, making the movement of the cooking staff difficult.

A fixed unit it can be used for any type of camp or unit. Its efficiency is of a very high standard. The main reasons for this being its hygiene, economy and compactness, as unlike the normal camp kitchen everything needed for the cooking of meals is part of the unit itself.

Its efficiency in this respect is outstanding, in that, wherever the C.O. (Commanding Officer) may decide to stop to feed his regiment, the kitchen is up with him and the food can be served hot without loss of time, thus allowing him to obtain the maximum travelling time and least delay in getting on the move again.

The Electroplating Factory was in the meantime carrying the financial burden for the development. This created a clash with "The Industries Assistance Corporation" a semi government South Australian organization set up to assist industry. We had obtained a loan from them to expand our Electroplating Plant.

I was managing all our activities and endeavoring to control a very difficult cash flow period. Jack and Ivor were managing the factory.

Eight to nine months had then elapsed with no prospect of acceptance effected. During this period considerable discussions were taking place at Army Headquarters with mixed feelings. Most Army Officials were keen to use the cooker but no one would make the forward step.

With the war expanding Woodside camp had been established, with each camp site area having a kitchen with facilities to cook for a battalion of men. A feature of the equipment being many Soyer Stoves, and a huge Aldershot Oven situated in the center; until the wood burnt down to form a hot ash, the smoke was incredible. The oven did not have good flues.

Sir Stanton's inspection of Woodside horrified him and he discussed with us the possibility of developing and installing a cooking unit with a capacity for a 3 course meal for 600 men.

The Wiles "Double Oven Stationary Cooker" consisting of 1-100 lb (Pound) pressure steam boiler, six large steamers, two ovens and two top warming ovens complete with roasting pans and slides, a 40 gallon hot water tank and one 15 gallon tea urn. Poultry, boiled meats, stews, soups, puddings, porridge and vegetables - all soft foods - are cooked hygienically and perfectly in the steamers; roasts, baked vegetables, baked sweets are cooked in the two ovens, each of which is heated by and independent firebox. The 40 gallon tank, heated from the boiler, provides continuous flow of boiling water. A 100 gallon hot water service to be provided, using surplus steam. In addition to the above mentioned cooking facilities, eggs, grills, potato chips etc. can be fried, and bread toasted, on hot plates permanently fixed on top of the ovens. Bread, cakes and pastry can also be baked in this unit.

The "Double Oven Stationary" cooks meals for l00 to 500. By its flexibility of operation both ovens and six steamers together can be used, or one oven and any number of steamers or just any number of steamers. Specifications:- Length, 10'6" Width, 5’, Cooks for 100 to 500, 3 course meals; cooks 100 to 1,000 2 course meals; can be fuelled with wood, coal or oil.

Sir Stanton Hicks was pleased and he submitted the design and capability to 4th Military District Officers.

Armed with Arthur Blackburn's figures and my own experience of the cooker in action, I recommended its installation in new kitchens in progress of erection at Woodside, and also as a replacement of the brick kiln and Soyer stoves and trench fires in that smoke-grimed Cave of Vulcan at No. 1 camp site.

We worked night and day and had the units manufactured and installed within 3 weeks. We obtained assistance from Sheet Metal Shops and Foundries. Many of these factories became very substantial sub-contractors to us during the war.

Great consternation was expressed at Victoria Barracks Melbourne that 4.M.D. officers had the audacity to order these units without approval from Headquarters.

Dick or myself usually managed to be at Woodside when it was known that an inspection was to take place. With one of us being available to explain the technical details and one of Sir Stanton's officers to expand on the nutritional advantages and tremendous fuel savings being made.

Sir Stanton soon convinced Headquarters that a system of cooking was emerging that would revolutionize the existing standards of Army cooking. By mid 1940 16 stationary cookers were installed at Darley Camp, Victoria. This was followed by orders for 20 units For Narrellan and Liverpool Camps, New South Wales.

At this stage the British Air Force became interested and some 30 odd units were installed in various camps in Malaya. Towards the end of 1940, Stationary units were well established in various camps throughout the Commonwealth but efforts to obtain recognition for the Mobile Cooker had been without avail.

We leased a property at Sturt Street Adelaide but in a very short period we needed to again increase the factory area. Our work force had then increased to 60 men.

No official recognition was Forthcoming for Mobile Cookers. Then at the discreet suggestion of Brigadier Bundock, Colonel Hicks and Colonel Tolley, the Euchunga citizens presented the First mobile cooker to the Army in March, 1941.

We then received a request, could we build 5 Mobile Cookers for an urgent requirement in the Northern Territory, to operate and supply meals for a group under the command of Brig. Loutit to be known as "The Darwin Overland Maintenance Force (D.O.M.F.)". The object to build a road from Alice Springs to Darwin.

The well fed road teams completed their all weather two lane highway under the most trying climatic and working conditions in two months under the contract time and what is more, without a single complaint.

Brig. H. Bundock of 4 MAD. accepted the plan of Brig. Sir Stanton Hicks to supply Army cooks and our mobile cookers to feed those road construction gangs without reference to A.H.Q.

It was a wonderful opportunity moreover to try out the Wiles cooker under conditions of strenuous service. The Mobile Cookers were usually sent ahead of the men to have meals ready at a base further up the track.

By then most Army and Airforce base camps throughout Australia were using or having installed Stationary Cookers.

Then on 26th March 1941 the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria through its President, Mr. Rowe and Secretary, Mr. Scott-Clarke, decided it was time the Army used Mobile cookers. They accordingly arranged for citizens of the town of Leongatha, Gippsland, Victoria to present one to the Army. This was a great day for the town and it was considered by the Mayor as the greatest influx of Brass Hats the town had ever seen. Quarter Master General Cannan to then had not been enthusiastic regarding mobile cookers and I had the pleasure of hearing his speech of acceptance in which he indicated how necessary it was to have mobile equipment.

On the 30th October l941 the Contracts Board in Adelaide in conjunction with the Board of Area Management issued order No. 7126 for 25 mobile cookers.

The order for 25 mobiles then created another problem. All material steel etc. throughout Australia had come under the control of Ministry of Munitions and whilst reasonable priorities had been given us for material for stationary cookers Contracts Board could not obtain priorities for us from Ministry of Munitions.

We produced 25 by borrowing and exchanging material with other manufacturers.

Eventually Ministry of Munitions sent an officer Mr. M. Montieth to investigate the cause of the delays for completion of order for 25 Cookers which had then been transferred from Board of area Management to their control

With the likely entrance of Japan into the war a new outlook had developed and Army realized that total mobility would be required. War Cabinet then on the 2nd February 1942 issued orders for 275 Mobile Units in addition to the 25 being currently produced.

It is recommended that in the interest of the feeding of troops, Wiles Bros. and associates organization be instructed to produce continuously, and that they be aided by the necessary priorities for steel and other material acquisition.

With current orders in excess of 275 mobiles, on 6th June 1942 M.G.O. placed orders for an additional 500 units production required delivery of 5 to made by 5/8/42 increasing to 50 number per week by 2/9/42 destination to be advised later.

Therefore ended the long battle for acceptance by Army and my acknowledgment and appreciation must go to my brother Dick and other brothers. Brig Sir Stanton Hicks, Col. Tolley C.R.E. 4.M.D., Major Stevens.

'The demand for Stationary Units was considerable, also spare parts castings etc. All factories were flat out on production and our work force had increased to in excess of 300 men.

The urgent demand was so great that mobile units were placed where they served an urgent requirement. It was used on rail transport where it was carried in a truck at feeding points, beach heads. in sea transport where it was lashed on deck, in field hospitals, trans-shipment points and dock operating units.

With the acceptance of the large 4 four wheeled mobile cooker and because Army and Airforce Bases were located all over Australia and the Islands, Army Catering Corps suggested we develop a small two wheel cooking unit to cater for 100 to 150 personnel to be towed by a jeep or possibly dropped by parachute into inaccessible areas. weight not to exceed 1 ton.

We submitted our ideas based somewhat on the design of the horse drawn unit developed by our father for the 1914-18 war.

Within 2 months we produced a unit consisting wheel design similar to a jeep, a light axle and frame. On this was mounted boiler, roasting oven, four small steamers or stock pots, 1 cold water tank for boiler supply and 1, 20 gallon copper insulated tank.

The cooker was tested and immediately accepted by Army. Because of its size and possible confusion with the large 4 wheel unit it was named "The Junior Mobile Cooker". With good mobility considerable numbers were used by Army and Airforce.

Although its use did not become effective till the later stages of the war it was extensively used by Army until 1980.

Wiles stationary Steam Cookers were to be used in base hospitals, operational and forward areas. The total bed capacity was 27,500. Approximately 100 stationary units were supplied.

Great numbers of cookers were being used in the South-West Pacific area.

The European Theatre of Operations were not aware of the extensive use throughout the Pacific. Arrangements were made for further tests to be carried out.

British Army ordered 30 Mobiles for use with the Indian Army.
The factory was still producing a large volume of mobile and stationary cookers and continued to do so until completion of the war. Over 3000 mobile and stationary cookers were made and were used continually by the Australian and New Zealand Army in Korea and Vietnam.

It is regretted that the Army decided in 1980 to phase the cooker out and return to the somewhat antiquated method of boiling foodstuffs in lieu of steaming therefore losing many of the advantages of retaining the vitamins in the foodstuffs being cooked.

It is pleasing to have recorded in a booklet produced by Ministry of types of Army equipment made by Australian Manufacturers proceeded with a foreword by General Sir Thomas Blamey Commander in Chief Australian Military Forces and a comment by Hon F.M. Forde Minister for the Army.

During the war Australia was responsible for considerable scientific and technical development in equipping, feeding, and providing medical treatment for the Australian Military Forces engaged in operations in the South West Pacific Area.

Much of this work had direct and significant bearing on the successful prosecution of the war against Japan. It is an achievement of which not only the Australian Army, but the Australian manufacturers, scientists and engineers, associated with various Government Departments, the Universities, and private and corporate civilian organizations, who contributed to it, can be justifiably proud.

A tribute to our late father James F. Wiles written in an "Instruction Book" issued with all cookers supplied to Army and Airforce.

The Mobile Steam Cooker, as developed by Messrs. Wiles Bros. in close co-operation with the Staff of the 4th Military District, as it existed during the first year of hostilities, represents the final realization of the idea of an old South African veteran, who was determined to do something towards improving the feeding of the soldier.

It made its first appearance in its earlier form on active service in 1914-18. Today it embodies the results of improved technology. as well as of mechanization of the Army, and provides the most efficient move or in concentration.

The Wiles Mobile Steam Cooker is a fitting tribute to the work of the Army Cook, and to the memory of its soldier inventor J.F. WILES.

By Brig. Sir Stanton Hicks,M.Sc., M.D., Ph.D:, F.I.C., F.C.S. Director Army Catering,H.Q.
Allied Land Forces,S.W. Pacific Area.

Brig. Sir Stanton Hicks

J. Kenneth Wiles and Brig. Sir Stanton Hicks


My brothers, staff, and I who worked together as a team consider we made a useful contribution to the War Effort and a lasting memory to an incredible man James F. Wiles, soldier, Inventor, Engineer.

Edited by Hugh Williams (Nephew of James F. Wiles)

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