27 June 2017
Bathhouses On The Western Front Part II

Clean underclothes being issued to a soldier from piles in the storehouse after a bath. Ypres, 1st Anzac Corps. The baths were rarely as clean and orderly as this photograph suggests – this was likely an “ideal” representation set up for propaganda purposes.
© IWM (E(AUS) 1132)

This week we continue the humourous adventures of battling lice on the Western Front as Sgt. Frank S. Iriam, a Canadian sniper in the 8th (90th Winnipeg Rifles) Battalion  shares his experience with “lively” clothing:

“The baths were some institution. There was usually an old stationary boiler that had been patched and made to stand a few pounds pressure of steam… fitted with short branch pipes that had a tin can perforated with nail holes to serve as a spray. We would disrobe in one room, throw our underwear through a window to an attendant and pass on naked in Indian file into the spray from the tin cans. After a very short time there you would hear a yell from the Sgt. in charge of operations. Then you moved out and a new suit of underwear was thrown to you as you passed another window. You had to take pot luck on what you got. If you were tall and broad you were sure to get an outfit to fit a runt and vice-versa [sic]. Sometimes we were able to trade off ill-fitting garments with some small guy who had drawn a big suit in the lottery. These clothes were supposed to be free from lice or vermin but it was only a dream. The first dose of lice I got in France was on a new suit taken from a pile of stuff that had never been worn since coming from the factory. It had been stored and handled over the floors of these baths, in close contact with infected clothing until it was literally loaded for bear. You did not notice anything wrong until you got warm or started to perspire. Then things got lively and interesting all at once.”
(Iriam, In The Trenches – 1914-1918, p. 178).