Camp Ablutions

Cambridge District Scout Archive

Early camp ablutions were rarely carried out in the luxury of a shower block.  Green field sites (most camp sites) used the water sources available, stream, well, water tank, sea or tap and a vigorous open air ‘shirts off’ wash.  Swimming was also bathing, with or without soap, and if not readily available a special trip was arranged to the sea or lake.

The following pictures are illustrative of the ways Scouts washed on camp and the consequences of failing to do so. I have witnessed a Cub who attracted flies in a gentle halo when the rest of the pack did not. Not obviously grubbier than others, this marker disappeared with a trip to the washroom.

It should not be assumed that what constitutes an ideal standard of hygiene has remained unchanged or is uniform across society. My mother, a teacher in Leicester in the early 1950’s, had children in her class who were still wrapped in brown paper and sewn into their clothes for the winter. Scouting was part of the process of change.

Cambridge Archive

1918    Fotheringhay Flax camp ‘The river was two miles off so bathing was seldom possible. But we had two glorious 60 gallon tanks provided for us one for drinking water and the other for bathing in.  And the sounds of the bathers almost rivalled the sound of the guns in Flanders (which we heard incessantly).’

9th Cambridge 1927
‘A helping hand’ C T Wood’s album
9th Cambridge 1927
9th Cambridge 1927  
‘A Scout is tidy’ this appears to show the use of hair oil
7th Cambridge 1927
9th Cambridge Cumberland 1928
‘A Story without words’           C T Wood’s album No 355, 356, 427
12th Cambridge Brylcreem Boys?

The bath may suggest no handy stream, the toy yacht is perhaps optimistic.

A J Covell album, Cambridgeshire Collection

Pictures of campers shaving, often with some implied difficulty, are not infrequent. Whether they reflect the care expected concerning personal hygiene on camp or a level of disproportionate care is unclear. It is more usual to find photo’s of those who may need to shave only occasionally.

7th Cambridge 1937
7th Cambridge 1938?
IWM picture of Cambridge Scouts in WW2
7th Cambridge 1940’s

1947 12th Cambridge Hike report ‘wash under a pump near the back of the lock keepers house’.

11th Cambridge
The consequences of washing without taking your shirt off first    1960’s

This is a trial camp gadget rather than a regular part of the washing facilities.  However, such contrivances are part of the pioneer’s repertoire.

JWR Archivist Mar 2019