Posted 22 June 2012 - 11:22 PM
From Forgotten Voices of the Somme Joshua Levine
'Sergeant Charles Quinnell 9th Battalion Royal Fusiliers...We always had at least one bath whilst we were out of the line. In pretty well every large sized French village, there was a brewery, a brasserie as they called it, and in these brasseries there were great vats, twelve feet in diameter and about three feet deep. Well, in the boiler house there used to be some old soldiers, men in their fifties, and they'd been given the job of stoking up the boilers and filling these vats with hot water and then we the infantry would be marched up to this brasserie. We would take off all our things in one room and leave out dirty shirts in a heap there.....we'd get out of the vats, and go to the room to the other side and pick up a clean shirt. Well, the old soldier who was in charge there, he didn't havw time to see what size you were, you had the first shirt that came to you...'
Also a mention in the book of them using sugar factory vats for bathing. I've read about the sugar factory vats on the Somme recently when I was there but can't remember where they were, or where I read about them. I know I intended to try to find out if anything remained of the sugar factory but didn't get around to it at that time
In 'When the Somme ran red' Arthur Radclyffe, the author states 'The British Tommy has a mania for washing' and goes on to decribe finding some of his men bathing in a large pool full of dead rats
In Sapper Martin Richard Van Emden
'..We are marched down to the brasserie which has been converted into baths; before entering we start to disrobe for an RAMC man who stands at the door yelling 'Take your boots and puttees off outside' ...admits us into an ante-room where we stow away our boots puttees, overcoat, cap etc in places where we hope to be able to find them later on.....(after the bath)....we pick up our dirty underclothing and trot to the Exchange Room where, if we are lucky we get a clean article for each dirty one we hand in. Generally, there are 'no clean shirts' or 'No clean pants' or 'No clean socks' and to get a clean towel is an occasion to be marked as a red letter day, while a complete change is almost unheard of...'