Sunday, February 26, 2006

Keeping clean on Active Service

Photo shows: The swimming pool at Heliopolis in Egypt

The WW2 Team, recently posed the following question: "I just read a rather amusing story about soldiers having a bath in Belgium (A2725193) and I wonder if any of you have bath time memories to contribute. How DID you all keep clean? Especially in the desert? Answers as articles please, and first prize goes to the one who provides a photograph as well."

Well, who could resist a challenge like that? Certainly not I, so I scoured my memory for an appropriate response.

At training depots, ie in barracks in England and at the RAC depot in Rieti, no problem there at all. Plenty of running water and sometimes even hot water in the showers! The problems arose in the field (for the benefit of non-military folk that means whilst in the line).

Necessity has always been the mother of invention and so there were always ways round the lack of conventional means of bathing. We all had our own cut-down petrol cans and, time permitting, some means of heating the water. In the 4th Hussars we used to use pellets of cordite taken from Verey light cartridges for an immediate source of heat. The same fuel was often used for a quick brew-up.

The regimental water carts usually managed to visit us at least twice a week and at the cry, 'Water cart up!' everyone used to come running, loaded with jerrycans or similar containers.

Any chance of a dip in the sea was also always quickly taken up. I have swum in the sea at Carthage in North Africa, off the side of the SS Homer Lee in Augusta in Sicily, in the sea again at a rest camp in Termoli.

On day leave in Cairo I visited the all ranks swimming pool at Heliopolis and that's me in the snap above.

The most civilised of all our 'keep yourself clean' operations was certainly the YMCA in Trieste. I have already written about this in my story Trieste, October 1945 to January 1947 so I'll not dwell on it here.

The funniest story about keeping clean in the field has got to be the one that concerns my good friend Larry Fox.

Larry, a keep fit enthusiast in civilian life, was determined to get himself a good tan at the expense of HM Forces. At every opportunity he would sunbathe, strictly against standing orders that regarded sunbathing as not only a waste of good time but likely to risk sunburn and regarded by the Army as a self-inflicted wound.

On one occasion, Larry was caught in the act by BSM Lillie, who promptly hauled him up before the OC on a charge of 'Conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline'.

When the case came up before Major Mouland, Larry conducted his own defence which was, in effect, that he was washing himself at the time, as could be seen by the presence of his washing bowl.

Major Mouland asked BSM Lillie, 'Did you see his washing bowl, Sgt Major?'

A puzzled Lillie admitted he hadn't.

Mouland said, 'I'm afraid that I find the charge unproven, case dismissed.'

A triumphant Larry was marched smartly away and ever after used to see that he always had a washing bowl to hand!

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