Leave was up at midnight on October 12th, and every train from London to Milford carried soldiers returning to camp. Archie Wilcox got to his bunkhouse by 9:30 and wasted no time jumping into his “dirty bed.” He found it an unpleasant contrast to the nice clean sheets his relatives had provided.(1)
Fortunately Saturday was an easy day. There was the compulsory bath. Bath houses in camp were made of brick, “but it is just as cold in there as it is outside.” (2) A more comfortable alternative was to take advantage of the public baths in Godalming, but a “dandy bath” there cost sevenpence.(3)
A young soldier from Moose Jaw Saskatchewan told his mother that he took frequent shower baths at Witley. On a Sunday morning he would get up and shave, fold his blankets and sweep out the corner of his hut, then take his clean underwear and “beat it for a shower bath first good hot water and then the ice cold the only way to appreciate a bath at that time on a frosty morning is to put colder water on you than the atmosphere is.” (2)
Archie’s easy day ended with a “rare old pillow fight,” which involved pillows and even a mattress being flung through the hut. It ended only after someone’s eye was blacked when, in the darkness, “some prune let drive a boot.” (1)
The image used in this advertisement for Sunlight Soap shows, behind the rifleman and his injured comrade, another man washing in a bucket balanced on a small table. It appeared in The War Budget, Dec. 30, 1915, when such lack of realism might just be forgiven.
(1) Wills, Archie. Diary. 3:66-67. October 13, 1916. Archie Wills Fonds, University of Victoria Archives. Copyright 2007, University of Victoria.
(2) Cunningham, Laurie. Letter to his mother, undated, but a frosty Sunday in autumn 1916. This letter is part of a collection of letters and postcards copyright 2016 by the Cunningham family, made available at http://www.lettersfromthegreatwar.com.
(3) Brown, Robert Gordon. Letter to his mother. March 18, 1917. Available from the Canadian Letters and Images Project.
Copyright 2016. See “More about this project.”