An iron ration was a soldier's emergency food ration; a “sealed supply of concentrated food, issued to troops on service for use only in the last emergency and by special order. Each man carried his own Iron ration. The term dates from the Thirty Years' War (1618-48). Albrecht von Wallenstein is said to have introduced it. Frederick the Great next had an "Iron Ration" provided for the Prussian Army during the Seven Years' War (1754-63), a reserve biscuit ration, carried in each soldier's knapsack. Other nations then followed suit, England last of all. It was also a colloquial expression in speaking of a hot shell-fire - "Jerry is letting them have it, lots of iron rations flying about!" ” 
References / notes
- A Bohemian military leader and politician who offered his services, and an army of 30,000 to 100,000 men, during the Thirty Years' War to the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand II.
- Frederick II (German: Friedrich; born 24 January 1712, died 17 August 1786) was King of Prussia from 1740 until 1786.
- Edward Fraser and John Gibbons (1925). Soldier and Sailor Words and Phrases. Routledge, London p.128.
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