Camouflaged Tents

Cambridge District Scout Archives

Twice in the history of British Scouting it has been necessary to camouflage tents.   The bombing during the Second World War is well known and the restrictions on camping, the dispersal of tents on a site and the camouflaging by colour sensible precautions.

That the same precautions were practiced during the Great War is less well known. 

Bombing raids WW1

The Germans bombed Britain from early 1915 to the end of the war, initially in Airships later in aeroplanes. Zeppelins (airships) were greatly affected by the weather and flew at night. They were unable to navigate or bomb accurately.  Targeting military installations accurately was not possible and they became known as baby killers.

Airships and aeroplanes made about 78 bombing raids on England during the war. These killed 1392 and injured another 3330 people.

Although the military effect of the raids was small, they caused widespread alarm.

Camping WW1

Camping for scouts was banned in Cambridgeshire for a time during WW1 (record dated 1915).   The camps at Impington and later Fortheringhay (Northamptonshire) were official harvesting events.

Cambridge Archives

‘At that time week-end camps were all that was possible, with tents camouflaged by paint. In 1917 however I took a number of Cambridge Scouts to camp on Mr. Chivers’ ground at Impington to pick fruit for him, -strawberries (ugh!) and gooseberries’.  C T Wood


1917    Impington      C T Wood’s album

The following year the Flax picking camp at Fortheringhay also used camouflaged tents


18    Fotheringhay             C T Wood’s album

Bombing raids WW2

Britain experienced sustained bombing between June 1940 and May 1941 (the Blitz) and lesser bombing until January 1944.  Thereafter most attacks were by the unmanned V1 and V2.  The total deaths in the ‘Blitz’ amounted to over 43,000. Total deaths from the different forms of air attack 1940-1945 were around 61,000.  

The majority of attacks were on London and southern England, but attacks occurred as far as Glasgow and Belfast and repeated attacks were made on port areas; London, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow, Hull, Plymouth, Bristol and Southampton.

Cambridge was also bombed on at least eleven occasions and 30+ people killed.  All areas could be bombed in error or as planes jettisoned bombs before returning to base or landing.

Camping WW2

Abington remained open during the Second War with strict requirements to disperse and camouflage tents (no straight lines or white canvas to look like a military camp).  Tents would be taken down without warning if they were insufficiently hidden.  Camouflage paint was sold in Scout shops and instructions on making scrim nets appeared in scouting periodicals.

Cambridge Archives

1940                Scout shop (Equipment store) Cambridge reported ‘Trade in this period good, the increase being partly due to the new orders of camouflage‘           

July 1940         Mr Wilson reported on tents not properly camouflaged at Abington