Cambridge District Scout Archive
The sock as part of the Scout Uniform is rarely emphasised. Wearing shorts was a marker of a Scout from the start, but the accompanying long sock was very much part of that uniform. Requirements for specific socks are not found in the Cambridge archives. Leaders probably avoided adding the extra cost of a specific type of sock; parents couldn’t or wouldn’t.
It is generally hard to identify anything more than ‘knee length mid grey’ from photos but the following from the 13th Cambridge St Phillips (Notts’ Own) from the 1930s are very clearly of one type.
Even here some colour variation can be seen. It is of note that the leader has the same socks. The troop does not convey a particularly military smartness from the rest of their records at this time.
Socks are generally not worn on the camp site when plimsolls or sandals were the usual footwear. Camp inspections were ‘from the knee up’. The kit list for a week long camp at this time required ‘a spare pair of stockings’. Washing clothes at camp was a part of looking after personal hygiene – if the weather allowed.
Later kit lists, specifically in the archives in the 1960’s, differentiated between Scout socks and spare socks. ‘Scout socks’ suggest the sock for the full uniform to the Troop expectation.
This need to provide specific uniform socks presumably disappeared with adoption of the Advance Report and the coming of trousers as uniform for Scouts in 1966/7. Cubs continued with shorts, garters and socks.
The wearing of two pairs of socks with walking boots is a function of warmth (see Hobnailed boots) comfort and hygiene. The advances of Vibram soles and the Brasher boot modified some of the benefits of this practice. The first created boots that did not require inflexible soles for the heat sapping metal ‘hobs’, the second required less ‘breaking in’.
1949 12th Cambridge report on walking the Kander Glacier ‘most putting on two pairs of socks’ suggests by the very mention that this was still a new idea.
The likelihood that Scout feet were still growing and the boots bought oversized perpetuated the habit as did the limited changes of socks carried. It is easier to wash a thin inner than a thick wool pair. The doubled socks are clearly seen below.
The sophistication of modern sock technology; variable padding and elasticity, winter and summer weight hiking socks, handed socks (left and right specific shapes), are, as yet, ‘news’ to many Scouters and most Scout parents. They are a different set of demands on the family purse and definitely not a uniform requirement.
JWR Archivist Jan 2020