British, Personal Gear, WW2

WW2 British Army Soldier’s Wash Bag & Personal Items

During WW2 any member of the British Army or Navy was issued with a Wash Bag or Wash Roll and various pieces of personal equipment. In this article we take a brief look at some of those items for sale from our partner sites.

It was a simple idea that had served the British Army well for many years. All the things that a soldier would need for washing and personal care while on active service could to be contained in a small canvas roll. The roll would then fit inside the soldiers larger bag and be relatively accessible.

The kit for the northern European theatre of operations was pretty standard. The regular items being shaving items (brush and razor), knife, fork and spoon, toothbrush, toothpaste, foot powder, button stick, hair comb…  as well as a “housewife” sewing kit – and once it had been issued, the soldier was then free to replenish or adapt the contents to his own needs. So as time went on they very much reflected the requirements of the individual. A shaving brush, a particular type of razor – even razor blades could be chosen and soap could be any brand that the soldier could buy or was given. The soap was then contained in a small aluminium container.

The rolls are relatively easy to find on their own with prices starting from £10 upwards for the empty cloth roll, depending on marks and date etc. The contents on their own are all still readily available and generally inexpensive, but again, the emphasis is on date and condition. The most popular dates focus around the main operations of the British Army during WW2 – with D-Day 1944 being one of the most collected.

A comprehensive wash roll and housewife set

It contains all of the items that a man would need – plus a few extras.  There is a razor with a packet of extra blades, a toothbrush, a shaving brush. There is soap in an aluminium tin, a shaving mirror in a cloth sleeve, a plastic box of toothpaste and a housewife sewing kit which has replacement tunic and shirt buttons, also various threads and a thimble.

It is priced at €160 from Clements Militaria in Holland.

WW2 British Army Wash Roll.
A comprehensive WW2 British Army Wash Roll with housewife sewing kit.
A WW2 razor.
WW2 replacement soap in the issue tin.
WW2 Razor.
Alloy razor with a packet of replacement blades.
WW2 Army sewing kit.
This housewife kit which includes tunic, shirt and trouser buttons as well as coloured threads.

Clements Militaria

A box of peppermint flavoured toothpaste

An important individual part of any person kit is this packet of peppermint flavoured toothpaste. This pack is unopened and comes in a well marked bakelite container. The lid says “H. M. Forces – Royal Navy Tooth Soap“.

It is priced at £25 and available from Britton at War

Royal Navy Tooth Soap in box.
Royal Navy marked “Tooth Soap” in bakelite box.
WW2 Royal Navy Toothpaste.
Royal Navy marked box and “Tooth Soap” in unopened packet.

British Army Brass button cleaner

Another essential item for the man to look good on parade was a button stick. It was a very simple idea, the flat piece of brass could be inserted behind a button or badge to allow it to be cleaned – without the cleaning solution touching the cloth behind it.

Before they were issued the alternative was to have removable buttons which would be cleaned and then replaced. The time saving alone that this create made this a great asset to the soldier in the field.

The patterns of these do vary as a number were privately made in different shapes and they could be bought easily. During the First World War there were many different makers, but the standard Government issue one which lasted and was the most widely issued is this type. This one is makers marked and dated 1955 but it is the same pattern as those issued during WW2.

This example is available from Battleflag Militaria and is priced at £10.00.

A Button Stick for cleaning army buttons.
British Army Brass Button Stick
Brass Button Stick. British Army issue.
Close up of the makers marks – WD arrow and date. Although 1956 dated this pattern has not changed since the First World War.

Battleflag Militaria

British Army mess tins

A pair of metal or alloy mess tins were issued to each soldier for their own personal use. They could be heated over a fire to provide warm food or used cold. They have a folding handle and they sit inside each other when not being used. In most wartime examples you will find a makers name (or initials) stamped into the end near the handle.

This 1941 dated pair are for sale from The Militaria Shop priced at £25.00.

WW2 British Army mess tins.
British Army mess tins with folding handles.
Inside view of the WW2 mess tin.
Inside view of the mess tin.
British Army Mess Tins from WW2.
A close up of the February 1941 date.


WW2 Army issue bible

Another personal item that was authorised to be carried was a bible. Depending on the faith of the soldier they could have comfort having a bible by carrying it with them. Although not an essential item of personal kit there were a lot of them distributed and many were carried.
This example is for sale from Alderney Vintage Collectables via their Ebay store priced at £35.

British Army Bible.
British Army issue bible with the impressed crown and George VI cypher.
Army Bible.
This 1939 dated British Army bible has an introduction by His Majesty the King.

Battledress buttons

To help build up your housewife kit – Military Tour in Canada have a set spare battledress buttons. Priced at $9.99 for the 9. These were often stored in the wash roll or housewife kit ready for the inevitable day a soldier would rip a button off. It happened, but at least it was an easy fix!

A group of WW2 Battledress buttons.
WW2 Battledress buttons were supplied as spares in the housewife kit.

A group of WW2 Battledress buttons.

WW2 Soap

Soap was a necessity for all soldiers and it is difficult to find unissued bars. The simple reason is that soap is a commodity which was going to be used once the soldier returned home.

This example is located in Normandy, France and it is in perfect unused condition and still in its’ original paper wrapper. It is priced at €25 and for sale by 1944 Supply

Soldiers bar of Palmolive Soap in original wrapper.
WW2 Palmolive Soap in original wrapper.
WW2 soldier's soap.
Rear view shows the wrapping around the soap.

1944 Supply Logo

Housewife sewing kit

If you want to put together your own housewife kit then this example belonged to a member of the Welsh Regiment which is identified by the soldier’s serial number. It still contains a pair of different coloured threads and is an ideal way to build your own with your choice of contents.

It is for sale via The Khaki Colonel priced at £18.

WW2 British Army Housewife kit.
WW2 British Army Housewife sewing kit. Although it is nearly empty, the internal items are easy to find.
WW2 British Army housewife sewing kit.
The soldier’s number indicates that he was a member of the Welsh Regiment.

The Khaki Colonel Logo

WW2 Razor and razor blades

This razor breaks down into three pieces and the blades slot into the head when in use. This 1943 dated aluminium razor is priced at £20.

Razor - WW2 British Army.
The three pieces separated. Note the WD arrow and date on the top.

Razors were issued to British servicemen and they needed to have their blades changed regularly so they were bought privately from regular shops. They are now quite difficult to find. This set of original 1945 dated KLEEN brand razor blades are for sale from Britton at War priced at £10. 

WW2 British Army Razor Blades.
1945 dated KLEEN razor blades. Interesting that they are dated on the blade and not on the paper packet.

Wash roll and contents

And finally, a complete Wash Roll in clean condition. The contents include a 1945 dated soap dish soap, a 1941 dated button stick, foot powder and a water sterilising tin. There is also a toothbrush, a toothbrush, a cut-throat razor and shaving brush.

WW2 Army Wash Roll.
A complete WW2 British Army wash roll.
WW2 Wash Roll.
Close up of the contents of the wash roll.
WW2 British Army Soap Tin.
Close up of the date on the soap tin.

CS Militaria

Are you interested in WW2 German Medical Items? If so, CLICK HERE

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