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Laundry matters for national servicemen
in the Royal Navy

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This page takes 'National Service' as the generally understood term in 1950s Britain, meaning conscription into the armed forces for young men after World War Two.

We naval national servicemen had to wash our own clothes. There were, though, so I understand, differing provisions for naval men not dressed as seamen inasmuch as their white shirts were laundered by facilities in their camp.

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How clothes were washed

At our training base in Cookham we could use the sinks in the shower/washing huts. On board ship we used a tin bucket of hot water. The soap was the cheap rough kind which was issued once a month.

At any time when a crew member was off duty one of his pastimes would be to obtain a bucket and sit rubbing away at his collars, underclothes, handkerchiefs and socks - always rubbing, the rule being you scrub dirt in and rub dirt out.

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How the washing was rinsed

Once all our clothes had been rubbed and squeezed clean, the bucket was refilled with cold water and the clothes rinsed.

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How the washing was dried

The washing was squeezed and wrung to remove as much water as possible and and then hung up to dry.

At our training base in Cookham we hung out our washing on string stretched between huts. This was, however, frowned upon by the authorities and had to be whisked away if there was a risk of an officer becoming present.

On board ship, if you could get away with it you could leave your washing to dry near the engine room where the air was always very warm - providing you were reasonably sure than when you returned to collect your dried clothes they were still there. Otherwise washing was hung up in the mess.

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How the washing was ironed

in each hut or mess there was a communal iron, purchased by a small contribution from each mess-member. It was used to smooth the washed items.

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If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer webmaster

Comparison with the other services

The other two services, as I understand it, did not have to wash their clothes themselves. They had laundry arrangements. Just another example of how we national servicemen in the Royal Navy had a harder time than those in the other two services.

Page contributed by Fred Peach

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