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 District camps at Impington 1917 and later Fortheringhay (Northamptonshire) 1918 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

1918    Fotheringhay             C T Wood’s album

Bombing raids WW2

Britain experienced sustained bombing from June 1940; between September 1940 and May 1941 the big cities suffered the ‘Blitz’ and lesser bombing continued 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.  The worst night was in June 1940 when Vicarage Terrace was hit and 10 people died. 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.

A camp by the 11th Cambridge at Pemberton Hall, Trumpington, was not quite welcomed; the tents looked military and possibly invited bombs. The 11th also record that tents were limited to a maximum of twenty and camps were not to be held within two miles of a military establishment.

Immediately after WW2 sketch maps of the 60th Cambridge camps identify some tents by camouflage patterns.

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‘           

May 1940 The 60th Cambridge, Leys School Seniors, record a meeting ‘Camouflaging tents at HQ’ in May 1940.

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

July 1943 Little House School, previously 16th Cambridge, then in Mid Cambridgeshire, later to be 52nd on rejoining Cambridge District in 1946. ‘In July 1943 we took the pack camping in a field near the school and I was asked to do the cooking on a field oven, which was completely new to me.’ ‘One night a German bomber, presumably on his way home, opened fire with his machine gun and some bushes caught fire. There was no panic and the fire was quickly extinguished, but not before one of the boys said “It’s like Moses and the burning bush ‘Miss!”‘ We may hypothesize that the camouflaging of the tents was insufficient.

JWR Archivist Jan 2020