Australian Mobile Laundry Trailers

In the early years of the Second World War, the United Kingdom was unable to provide Australia with the necessary military hardware to equip a rapidly expanding Australian Army.  The following two articles; For Want of Clean Socks: The Australian Mobile Laundry Trailers and And More Clean Socks: The Australian Light Laundry Trailer by Australian military historian and authority on the technical history of vehicles and equipment,  Michael K Cecil, examine how Australian industry stepped up to provide the Australian Army Ordnance Corps with a Mobile Laundry capability. First published in the Australian  Khaki Vehicle Enthusiasts Newsletter the KVE News of March 2013 these articles are Published with the permission of the author, Michael K Cecil.Copyright Michael K Cecil

For Want of Clean Socks: The Australian Mobile Laundry Trailers

1

Laundry the hard way: scrubbing by hand in a basin of water.

Keeping clothing and bedding clean is only second in importance to good food and clean water when it comes to maintaining an Army’s health and morale. To this end, Laundry Units have been an integral part of the Australian Army’s Order of Battle since the First World War. But the early days of the Second World War heralded a change from the semi-static trench warfare of the First World War to a much more mechanised and fluid war – a war on wheels and tracks where gains or losses might be measured in tens of kilometres in a day. Any unit operating in a forward area had best be prepared to move quickly in response to changes in the tactical situation.

Mobile laundry facilities were first given serious consideration by the 2nd Australian Imperial Force (2AIF) in mid-1940, and by the Australian Military Forces (AMF) later the same year. Initial equipment was to be provided by purchase from Britain in line with the policy of adopting British Army standardised equipment wherever possible. However, Britain was unable to supply the laundry equipment in a timely manner or in the quantities required, so the Army turned to local industry to bridge the gap.

By late 1940, orders had been placed for the supply of various commercially available laundry equipment, in order to assemble a pilot model mobile laundry for trials. Several Australian companies from across the nation were contracted – Robert Bryce for the washing machine, Robert Lilley and Co. for the hydro-extractor and the soap and soda dissolver, Burtons Ltd for the tumble dryer, Cameron and Sutherland supplied centrifugal pumps, and a clarifier was supplied by the Perth-based firm Boltons Ltd. An entirely new device, a continuous drying machine, was being designed by the Land Headquarters Experimental Workshop, who would also assemble the pilot model laundry trailers. Power for each complete laundry was to be supplied by a 25kva, 415 Volt, three-phase AC generator mounted on a four wheel trailer. This was already an issue item, so procuring one for the pilot model laundry did not present a problem.

The equipment had all arrived at the workshop by the close of July 1941, except for the trailers. These were in extremely short supply owing to a higher priority demand for machinery trailers. The workshop went ahead and began assembling the laundry as a static unit – at least the components could be tested and their inter-relationship could be worked out within the trailer’s known dimensions in the interim.

And they were desperately needed. By February 1941, sixteen mobile laundry units were allowed for on the Australian Army’s Order of Battle – six for the 2nd AIF, and ten for a fully mobilised AMF, each one attached to an individual higher formation. Of those for the 2nd AIF, 5 were needed overseas. The 8 th Infantry Division in Malaya were in the greatest need, so the pilot model laundry – still not mounted on trailers – was sent to Malaya, along with some additional commercially available equipment, to provide a static laundry facility. Tropical conditions were already proving to be particularly hard on troops, and regular changes of clothing and bed linen helped keep tropical diseases, particularly skin rashes, in check.

By the time the pilot model’s equipment left for Malaya in September 1941, the mobile laundry design was well advanced. In anticipation of receiving trailers, contracts for the supply of the various major components were issued to suppliers. There was even a contract for the woven rattan trolley baskets, with Lawries Ltd engaged to manufacture enough sets for 11 mobile laundries.

Assembly of the first mobile laundry was to be undertaken by Robert Lilley and Co., but the supply of the trailers was still proving something of a problem. It was overcome by supplying machinery trailers that then had to be converted: hardly an ideal solution, but the only one available under the prevailing circumstances. The stripped machinery trailers were delivered to Lilleys in late April, 1942.

2

A Mobile Hospital laundry set up, with the boiler trailer set at right angles to the other 4 trailers. The trailer sides are dropped to the horizontal and used as the walkways and working area. The boiler trailer is the specially built McGrath model with the stepped bed construction to provide maximum height for the vertical boiler. AWM140751. Copyright expired.

By mid June 1942, good progress was being made on the construction of the pilot model mobile laundry at Robert Lilley and Co in West Melbourne. Trailer brake modifications were well advanced at Patons Brakes, and the McGrath Trailer Co had completed a new trailer specifically for the boiler assembly after the converted machinery trailer proved unsatisfactory. In anticipation of successful trials, contracts had also been placed with various manufacturers for laundry components, such was the urgent need to supply completed laundries to field units. The contractors list was a veritable ‘who’s who’ of the Australian light manufacturing industry at the time: Andrew & Higgs, Gordon Brothers, Lawries Ltd, Johnsons Tyne Foundry, and L Horscroft & Co., to name a few.

A fully equipped divisional mobile laundry consisted of 9 trailers of equipment, each one towed by a 3- ton truck or lorry. There were four washing machine trailers, two boiler and feed water trailers, two trailers equipped with a generator and tumble dryer (the dedicated generator trailer had been abandoned in favour of combining it with a dryer in a more compact layout), and a continuous drying room trailer. They were designed to be parked in a line and interconnected by the various pipe work and electrical cabling. The trailers’ lower sides were designed to fold out horizontally to provide working room and facilitate movement of staff and trolleys laden carrying washing between trailers. The upper wire mesh sides were hinged at the top, allowing them to be raised to the horizontal to provide an all round awning over the workspace.

3

Feeding the laundry boiler to provide hot water and steam for washing, and heat for the continuous dryer. The boiler had the versatility to be fired by wood or, in the tropics where dry wood was not available, quickly converted to a petrol-fed ‘hydra burner’. AWM055382 Copyright expired.

4

Baskets full of linen waiting to be washed. A mobile laundry’s work was never done! The near trailer houses the drum-type washing machine and to its right, a ‘hydro-extractor’ is being loaded from the trolley basket. The hydro-extractor was a machine that performed the ‘spin’ cycle of a modern washing machine. AWM026376. Copyright expired.

The Unit was manned by 3 officers and 118 other ranks, and the washing capacity was 400 pounds weight (181 kilograms) of dry clothing and linen per hour. Manning was based upon a sustained operation of two 8 hour shifts per day, 6 days per week, but greater output was possible if operated with more staff on a three shift rotation. For attachment to hospitals, a Hospital Mobile Laundry Unit was created. This was essentially a ‘half laundry’, consisting of five trailers: 2 washing machine, 1 each boiler and generator/tumble dryer trailer, and a drying room.

By early 1943, mobile laundry equipment manufactured by Australian industry was flowing to field units. Divisional Units were attached to higher formations located across Australia and in New Guinea, and Hospital laundry units were taking over from the older and far less efficient technology being employed at General Hospitals and Casualty Clearing Stations in Northern Australia and New Guinea.

5

A ‘flat head’ V8 working hard to spin the generator to provide all the power needs of the Mobile Laundry Unit. The other end of the same trailer housed a tumble dryer unit. AWM027631. Copyright expired

While these large capacity laundries were hard at work satisfying the never-ending requirements for clean linen and uniforms in larger formations and medical facilities, experience in the tropics during 1942 had demonstrated a need to constantly provide front line troops with clean clothes whenever possible, both for health and morale reasons. But the Mobile and Hospital laundries were just too far in the rear and too unwieldy to be safely moved further into the combat zone. Consequently, there was a desperate need for a lighter, more compact laundry for deployment as far forward into the combat zone as possible. Consequently, there was a desperate need for a lighter, more compact laundry for deployment as far forward into the combat zone as possible. The following article covers the Australian ‘Light Laundry’,

 

And More Clean Socks: The Australian Light Laundry Trailer

While the multi-trailer Mobile and Hospital laundries served the rear areas well, there was still a desperate need for a lighter, more compact laundry for deployment as far forward into the combat zone as possible. Troops operating anywhere need to maintain their clothes and equipment, but suffice to say, combat conditions often preclude anything more than the most basic of attention to this. While troops could survive quite well operating in the dry conditions of the Middle East, Greece and North Africa, the tropics meant dealing with a whole new regime of endlessly wet, muddy and humid conditions, together with the prevalence of some debilitating tropical diseases. Such conditions could rapidly reduce an army’s fighting effectiveness. Hence, the provision of clothes washing and decontamination facilities for front line troops and forward medical facilities such as Casualty Clearing Stations became almost as important as good food and shelter.

To provide washing facilities, the mobile showering unit, wholly mounted in a ¼ ton truck, was invented. To wash and decontaminate their clothes, the Australian Light Laundry was devised. The design work commenced in earnest in December 1942, and a pilot model was put together during January 1943. It was a somewhat radical design, as it dispensed with the steam pressure boiler altogether, opting for a direct-fired water heater to provide the hot water directly to the washing machine. This had the advantage that a qualified pressure vessel (boiler) attendant was not required: the simple system could be operated by almost anyone with a minimum of training. The drying system was also a departure from the conventional, as it too used a system of direct firing to heat the air exchanger that forced heated air into the tumble dryer. The complete laundry was mounted on a single four-wheeled 14 foot x 7 foot flat bed trailer. Initial trials of the pilot model during January and February 1943 proved the rugged simplicity of the design.

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The Light Laundry (Aust) used a radical design to achieve compactness, but not sacrifice efficiency. Built by L. Horscroft, they were an instant success in forward areas. (Image reproduced from the MGO Equipment Memorandum)

The US Forces had also come to the realisation that a light mobile laundry was needed, but when shown the Australian pilot model, expressed some dismay at its unconventional features. The US Army Services of Supply (USASOS) opted for a different, more conventional design much to the disappointment of the Australian authorities. This design, which utilised a conventional 100 psi steam pressure boiler, was to be manufactured in Australia under the Reciprocal Lease Lend agreement. By refusing to standardise, Australian industry would effectively be required to split their efforts and produce two light laundry designs in parallel. Australian authorities considered this division a waste of precious manufacturing resources, but the USASOS were not to be swayed.

The Light Laundry (Aust) was geared toward the washing needs of a small hospital or casualty clearing station of up to 200 beds. With this capability, it could also be used for the washing and decontamination of the clothing of front line units when withdrawn to secure areas a short distance behind the lines. In addition to consumables such as soap and fuel, all the Light Laundry (Aust) needed was a reliable supply of water. Delivery of water to the washer and water heater was handled by a small petrol engine driven pump which was included as part of the laundry’s basic equipment.

The oil-fired water heater provided hot water to the washing machine, with the residual heat used to provide the primary supply of warm air to the tumble dryer. A booster burner was also provided to heat the air-exchanger for times when the water heater was not in full operation. Power to operate the dryer and washer was provided by a 10hp Ford petrol engine connected to a counter-shaft running the full length of the trailer. Flexible couplings enabled any one part of the system to be temporarily disengaged, such as when emptying or filling the dryer or washing machine, and power was transferred from the countershaft by belts and pulleys. The fully integrated system was designed to wash 60 lbs dry weight of clothing per hour, but early trials exceeded all expectations by consistently processing more than 70 lbs per hour, and an experienced crew could complete more than 80 lbs per hour for short periods if needed.

With the success of the pilot model, and in anticipation of an early delivery of the production equipment, Army Headquarters authorised the addition of 22 Light Mobile Laundry Units onto the Order of Battle in February 1943. The units were designed to operate with any type of formation or unit as required, and were manned by members of the Australian Army Ordnance Corps (AAOC). To equip them, contracts were raised with L Horscroft and Co. for 25 Light Laundries (Aust) in April 1943, which was later raised to 40. L. Horscroft and Co. were experienced in the manufacture of laundry and oven equipment, and were already handling several military contracts for cleaning and drying equipment, including ovens for heating explosives. Within a few months, Light Mobile Laundry Units AAOC were in operation within Australia and on their way to several locations in New Guinea.

The Light Laundry (Aust) was one of the more successful collaborative projects undertaken by Australian industry during the Second World War. From the Army’s articulation of the requirement in late 1942, it took only until mid-1943 to equip, raise and deploy the new units into forward areas. Truly a fantastic effort.

Copyright Michael K Cecil

 

Biographical Details Michael K Cecil

Michael K. Cecil was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1955. His tertiary studies were at Monash University (Clayton campus) where he graduated with two degrees: a Batchelor of Science with Honours and a Batchelor of Arts. He later studied at Canberra Institute of Technology, where he graduated with a Certificate IV in Museum Practice.

Following graduation from Monash University, he held various positions in both the public service and in private consulting. These included research assistant to the ‘Atlas of Victoria’ project, various tertiary teaching positions, and technical administration appointments.

Always passionate about history, he has been researching Australian military history – particularly the technical history of vehicles and equipment – since the early 1970s. This translated into publication of articles in the late 1980s, and his first book in the early 1990s.

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Mobile Laundry and Bath Equipment 1914-1990

Laundry and Bath Units have played a significant role in the ultimate success of many of the conflicts that New Zealand has participated in since the First World War.  Troops from the fighting units, filthy after weeks of chasing the enemy through the desert, muddy fields and primary jungle would find it slightly surreal to emerge in their filth and greeted by a unit offering them a hot shower and a complete change of clothing. Such was the effect on the morale of our fighting soldiers that it is reasonable to assume that on many occasions, the enemy specifically targeted Laundry and Bath units for elimination. The Identity of many Laundry and Bath operators is unknown. This is, of course, for security reasons. Some soldiers got the wrong laundry back. Moreover, as you all well know, when it comes to personal kit, soldiers just don’t forget things like that!

This article will provide some historical context on field baths and laundry’s and examine the primary Mobile and Bath equipment used by the New Zealand Army from 1914 to 1996

The provision of laundry and Bath functions in commonwealth armies was a function that was shared by the Medical and Ordnance Corps. The RAMC would provide facilities and Hospitals and bases and Ordnance mobile facilities for deployment into the field. [1] The Ordnance role of Laundry and Bath Units was to:[2]

  • Decontaminate men and their equipment after a gas attack.
  • Laundry and bath facilities to forward units.
  • Laundry facilities for supported Medical Unit.

First World War 1914-18

Managed as a Divisional unit under the Divisional Bath and Laundry Officer, Divisional Bathhouses were established in facilities such as breweries of fabric processing plants, which with their vats and water supply were easily repurposed. Typically able to provide bathing, washing, disinfecting, drying and repair functions for up to 1200 men a day, the Staff of the Divisional Bathhouse was provided by a combination of civilian staff, medical Corps personnel and soldiers deemed not fit for front-line service.[3]

In the New Zeland Division, the responsibility for the Divisional Bath and Laundry Officer was placed under the Deputy Assistant Director of Ordnance Stores(DADOS) from December 1916.

Despite the availability of Divisional Bath Houses, units would at time make their own arrangements as described by WHA Groom “First of all, we had to have a clean up with a shower bath and clean underclothing, which would however again be lousy within a few hours; so with eager anticipation we marched off and after about a mile we came to the baths. There they were in a field – some baths! It was a corrugated iron compound, almost wide open to the elements and this housed an authentic Heath Robinson or Emmett contraption which consisted of a boiler with the hot water going through a small elevated tank from which the water flowed to pipes having small water can roses at intervals so in groups of twelve we stood shivering and at a signal from the corporal in charge on came the hot water – usually too damned hot and quick was the word as the shower did not last long. The slow ones were left with soap and no more water – a sorry predicament, but damned funny for those not caught”.[4]

 The First Aid Nursing Yeomanry, better known as the FANY’s, attempted to provide opportunities for soldiers to bath by bringing close to the frontline a mobile bath unit nicknamed ‘James’. This unit carried ten collapsible baths and used the motor engine of their truck to heat water so that about 40 men an hour could have the rare luxury of a bath.[5]

will's cigarette cards published in 1916 illustrating military motors

” Every possible care is taken of the health and comfort of our brave soldiers. After being relieved from a spell of duty in the trenches, they are frequently given a hot bath and served out with a clean change of underclothing: their own clothing being dried, cleaned and disinfected in the meantime “.Will’s cigarette cards published in 1916 illustrating military motors

WW1 Equipment

Serbian Barrels

Developed by the British military medical mission to Serbia, the Serbian barrel was developed to heat water to allow the disinfection of clothing and bedding, destroying lice and their eggs preventing the spread of diseases such as typhus.  The initial design used metal barrels that had water on the bottom and were put on fire, heating the water and creating steam. A basket in the inner part of the barrel prevented contact with water on which the clothes and bedding were placed. Given the scarcity of metal barrels, modifications were made to the design with clothing was put in an empty wooden barrel whose bottom had been drilled. A container with water was placed over a fire and above it was placed the wooden barrel. The hot steam from the container penetrated through the barrel holes, disinfecting the clothing.[6] This new invention soon was named “Serbian barrel” and it has contributed greatly to minimize the epidemic of typhus in 1915 and would be widely used by British and allied forces in the Great War. Normally allotted on a basis of four per battalion or unit of a similar size, owing to transport shortfalls they were left behind in base areas and frequently not utilised. Normally allotted on a basis of four per battalion or unit of a similar size, owing to transport shortfalls they were left behind in base areas and frequently not utilised.

A network of Serbian Barrels ©The National Museum of Valjevo

A mobile thresh disinfector left, on wheels and Serbian barrel delousers, used by the 2nd Australian Sanitary Section to kill lice in uniforms, blankets and so on. Neither of these methods were adequate for speedy, large-scale disinfection, which required high-pressure steam. Lice infestation was heavy among troops in the desert, opportunities for washing were limited. AWM A02718.

Disinfecting-clothesEDITED

Men of the Army Ordnance Corps disinfecting clothing in improvised disinfectors, known as Serbian barrels. Imperial War Museum

 

Thresh Disinfector Delousing Chambers

The Thresh Disinfector Company took out a patent for a Disinfector in 1904. The disinfecting device utilised low-pressure steam to disinfect bedding and clothing. Hot air was also created within the appliance. enabling the drying of the contents to also take place.  These disinfectors were allocated to Divisions on a basis of one Foden steam wagon variant (Two Thresh chambers) and two horse-drawn variants (One Thresh chamber).[7]

Both variants of the Thresh Disinfector consisted of a horizontal steam chamber around which there was an outer jacket which is assembled as a unit with a boiler. Clothing was placed loosely in a basket so that the steam was able to penetrate. After the clothing, was placed in the disinfestor, the doors were shut and sealed and a vacuum of 10 to 15 inches [254 to 381 mm of Mercury] created, after which the steam is turned on until a positive pressure of 15 pounds [6.8 kg] was attained [corresponding to a water temperature of 165 °C], this would be held for about twenty minutes. At the end of this time the steam is released and a vacuum of 10 to 15 inches is produced in order to dry the clothing. This vacuum is held for about five minutes.

1970-61-Advert-Pagepost-63666-0-82077200-1423056199_thumb

Horse-drawn Thresh Disinfector Delousing Chambers

The horse-drawn variant was a single thresh disinfector chamber mounted on a single axis horse-drawn wagon. Fitted with a self-contained burner unit under the chamber, the horse-drawn variant could generate its own heated water to power the unit.

campanglais1

British Soldiers with a horse-drawn unit at L’Etuve. http://beamishtransportonline.co.uk

 

disenfector

US Army Horse Drawn Disinfector. Historic Military Vehicle Forum

Foden Steam Wagons ‘Thresh’ Disinfector Delousing Chambers

Used by many of the allied forces including the United States and Australia 100 Foden Steam Wagons were each mounted with two ‘Thresh’ Disinfector Delousing Chambers. The Foden Steam Wagon provided a supply of steam from its engine, dispensing with the burner unit found on the horse-drawn variant.

Both variants of the Thresh Disinfectors were well suited to deal with the delousing of lice infections which were an unfortunate by-product of trench warfare and with the added advantage of mobility able to be deployed thee proved invaluable to maintaining the fighting forces health and hygiene.

Foden steam wagon with Thresh disinfector at Langres, France Jun 2, 191post-63666-0-85967000-1404653615_thumbpost-63666-0-68498500-1404652730_thumb

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This Foden steam delousing vehicle is unit marked YD, the US 26th Yankee Division. The crew is assisted by German prisoners in one of the pictures. The 101st Sanitation Train was part of the 26th Division which arrived in France on September 21, 1917. Historic Military Vehicle Forum

Q 29222

Foden Steam Wagon with two ‘ Thresh ‘ Delousing Chambers in Corbie 1917. Copyright: IWM (Q 29222)

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Australian troops are seen using the Foden Delousing Wagons, note the extension fitted to the funnel of one of the Foden Steam Wagons. AWM This image is reproduced strictly for non-commercial research and private study purposes as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, as amended and revised.

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American servicemen from the U.S. ‘ Yankee Division ‘, using a Foden Steam Wagon fitted with ‘ Thresh ‘ Disinfectors. LF This image is reproduced strictly for non-commercial research and private study purposes as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, as amended and revised.

Disinfector Delousing Chamber Videos

  • Work of the NZ Medical Corps: In June 1917, when this film was shot by NZEF Official Photographer Lt H. A. Sanders, the New Zealand Division was in the line south of the River Douve with the front line forward of Ploegsteert Wood, in Northern France.  At 15.38 on the video, it shows the operation of the New Zealand Medical Corps sanitary section. Men are seen entering the Divisional baths and handing their clothing and blankets to men running Fodden Lorry Disinfector with two Thresh Chambers which could each deal with thirty blankets an hour (twenty minutes in heating, twenty minutes in steaming and twenty minutes in drying). This was to kill the lice which infected most front-line soldiers and which were responsible for much of the disease and scabies found in the trenches. View Here
  • US troops having their clothing deloused by steam during World War: Viedo clip showing  Foden Lorry Disinfector with two Thresh Chambers in use with US Troops. View Here

 

Second World War 1939-45

As New Zeland did not have a large peacetime army, there was a reliance on the use on the use of contracts with commercial laundries to mee the laundering needs of the forces, a system which the British army referred to as “Dhobies”. With the arrival of the Main body units of the NZEF at Maadi Camp on the outskirts of Cairo in Egypt in 1940, responsibility for the base laundering requirements of the NZEF was provided by civilian contractors or “Dhobies”, in facilities constructed within Maadi camp under the supervision of the NZEF Hygiene Section. The downside of the Dhobie system was that it did not extend to them following the units into the desert and alternative laundering solutions had to be found.[8]

1941-42

Structured along British lines, the NZEF included as part of its organisational structure and war establishment Laundry and Bath units. An unfamiliar capability that the New Zealand Military Ordnance leadership had no experience in, there was much uncertainty if this was even an Ordnance responsibility of a Medical Corps responsibility leading to delays in the formation of the Laundry and Bath units. Confirmation that it was an Ordnance responsibility was received from the NZEF liaison staff in London on 15 November 1940. Discussion continued for much or 1941on the formation of the Laundry and Bath units, with the main concern being whether the units be formed, equipped and trained in New Zealand and then sent to the Middle East or formed from within the existing structure of the NZEF.[9]

As the decision in the formation of the Laundry and Bath units continued the NZEF Order of Battle was updated on 17 April 1941 and included as part of the NZEF, a:

  • Divisional Mobile Laundry and Forward Decontamination Unit, and a
  • Divisional Mobile Bath unit.

Authority for the formation of these units as part of the New Zealand Ordnance Corps (NZOC)[10] was granted on 31 August 1941, with the formation of the Mobile Bath unit set for 3 September 1941 and the Mobile Laundry and Forward Decontamination unit formation set for 22 September 1941.[11]

bath 42laundry 1941

With available equipment drawn from British Army stocks, equipping of the laundry unit would drag out until March 1942 when the balance of its transport and trailers were received. Finding the required number of personnel to man the units was a challenge, with available personnel drawn from the NZOC reinforcements and Training Group reinforcements. Remaining under the command of HQ Maadi Camp the Laundry and Bath Units undertook their training and familiarisation with the new equipment and when ready, were transferred to the command of the New Zealand Divison.

On 27 March 1942, it was suggested by the 2 NZEF DDOS that as the title of the NZ Divisional Mobile Laundry and Forward Decontamination Unit was rather long-winded and considering that the decontamination function of the unit was not functional, the units name be shortened to the NZ Divisional Mobile Laundry. The name change was published soon afterwards as NZEF order 935.

rename mar 42

NZ Division Mobile Laundry (1941)

Vehicle Tactical Sign, NZ Division Mobile Laundry (1941)

The Mobile laundry would have its operational baptism when it was deployed to support the New Zealand Division which was at the time deployed to Syria. Establishing itself at an old flour mill adjacent to the small village of Burj al-Arab in northwestern Syria, the Mobile laundry Unit would spend a week in May 1942 coming to grips with the new equipment it had only received two months previously. The unit was working with three shifts a day washing and drying over 7000 blankets and all the division’s winter clothing. By the end of the week’s operations, the unit was easily able to process two thousand five hundred sets of battle dress a day, with the assistance of three hundred and fifty locally employed civilians to carried out mending and ironing duties., By the end of this initial operation, the capacity of the unit had increased markedly.[12]

NZ Division Mobile Bath Unit (1940)

Vehicle Tactical Sign, NZ Division Mobile Bath Unit (1940)

Working in support of the NZ Division the Mobile Bath an Laundry units would deploy forward to assist in the control of typhus in Lybia,[13] and would also provide welcome relief to soldiers in the forward areas such as a Whangarei soldier in the NZ Divisional Cavalry who wrote home in a letter to his parents that.  “We are now back out of the firing line at long last. We were up there far longer than any other New Zealanders, and from all accounts have done a good job of work. We did not think we had done much ourselves, but we have had several letters from different Generals congratulating us on our work—and they ought to know. Yesterday we had a hot shower from a mobile bath unit. It was grand and a lot of dirt was shifted: that was the first real wash we had had for just on nine weeks. I had a couple of rough sponges in about a mugful of water at different times but that was all. I didn’t have any clothes off for over five weeks”[14]

In June 1942 the necessity of the decontamination functionality was questioned as finding the additional fifty-two Other Ranks was proving to challenge and unless the unit would be required for service in the near future, that the enabling of this capability be delayed. In August 1942 the utility of both the Bath and laundry was questioned. It was felt that the effectiveness of the units was dependent on the location of the Division and the availability of water. Since the unit’s inception, they had only provided four months of service to the Divison, and the indications were that they would be no more effective in the future. Given the narrow front found in North Africa, it was decided that laundry services could be provided by RAOC facilities or local contracts. Bath services could also be provided by RAOC assets, natural sources, existing or temporary installations constructed as required and the NZEF laundry and Bath units would be disbanded.

The Laundry equipment due to its specialist and technical nature was intended to be returned to British Ordnance for a full credit to the New Zealand Government for its full cost. The Bath equipment would be retained as a New Zealand assets and stored at the NZ Base Ordnance Depot in anticipation of future employment in other theatres.

Forty-Seven other ranks from the Laundry Unit and eleven other ranks from the Bath Unit were transferred back to their respective Depots on 22 August 1942. The two Officers and twenty-five Other Ranks of the laundry Unit and the Other Ranks of the bath unit were to be transferred to other branches of the NZOC, with the understanding that if the capabilities were to be regenerated, they would be released to train personnel and have the unit functioning in a matter of days.

The NZ Divisional Mobile Laundry Unit, and NZ Divisional Mobile Bath unit were both formally disbanded on 30 Sept 1942.

disbamdment sept 42

1942 -1943

With wartime conditions causing difficulties in obtaining new stocks of battledress, blankets, greatcoats, shirts and woollen underwear it was considered utilising the mobile field laundry to provide economies by renewing part worn articles. Therefore, on 30 Sept 1942 as the NZ Divisional Mobile Laundry Unit was disbanded the NZ Bas Laundry was established as a unit if the NZEF.[15]

base launder forming

Taking over equipment of the disbanded Div Mobile Laundry unit the NZ Base Laundry was located at Maadi camp in Cairo Egypt,[16] with an establishment of one officer and 20 Other Ranks. It was estimated the over a twelve-month period the following items could be processed through the Base Laundry for Non-Divisional and Divisional units of the NZEF;

  • Battledress – 120000 pieces,
  • Blankets – 100000pieces,
  • Greatcoats 20000 pieces,
  • Shirts and swollen underwear – 180000 pieces.

With the fall of Tripoli in January 1943, the NZ Base Laundry Unit received an additional ten personnel and deployed a laundry section from Maadi to Lybia, a distance if 1600Miles (2574.95 Kilometers). The forward section would wash and replaced much of the NZ Divisions clothing and bedding. It had just become established when the division was hurriedly moved to continue the campaign. However, many men of the NZ Division had been re-equipped with clean battle-dress which had been brought forward to do this, and the withdrawn battle-dress was washed and mended ready for further use.[17] The Base Laundry Unit would continue to support the NZ Division as it went into a period of refit and reorganisation following the Axis defeat.

The NZ Base Laundry Unit was disbanded on 30 September 1943,[18] and the following day the NZ Mobile Laundry was formed as a unit of the NZEF. During October 1943 the NZ Division, including the NZ Mobile Laundry Unit moved secretly from Egypt to southern Italy, and on the 18th of October 1943, the NZ Mobile Bath unit was formed in Italy as a unit of the NZEF.[19]

Mobile laundry 1943

1943-1945

2 NZ Mobile Laundry and Bath Unit (1944)

Vehicle Tactical Sign 2 NZ Mobile Laundry and Bath Unit (1944)

In November 1943 the NZ Division ADOS stated his intent to place the Mobile Bath Unit under the Officer Commanding of the Mobile Laundry Unit, allowing both units to be administered economically.

NZ MLBUThe NZ Mobile Bath Unit was disbanded on 16 February 1944 with the NZ Mobile Laundry Unit renamed as the NZ Mobile Laundry and Bath Unit. The New Zealand organisation of its Laundry and Bath units brought the New Zealand organisation into line with British Army War Establishment II/293/1 of December 1943, as a Type B: Mobile Field Laundry and Bath Unit, and became known as 2NZ Mobile Laundry and Bath Unit (2NZ MLBU). 2NZ MLBU served with distinction in support of the NZ Division throughout the Italian campaign, often with detachments providing support to units on the front line.[20] 2NZ MLBU was disbanded as a unit of the NZEF on 8 December 1945.

MLBU dec 1945

Mobile Laundry Equipment

Mounted on 9 Trailers, the mobile equipment of the laundry consisted of;[21]

    • Four Trailer Type A – This was the washing trailer which carried the following equipment;
      • 1 X Bradford Rotary washing machine,
      • 1 X hydro extractor,
      • 1 X soap boiler,
      • 1 X ventilation fan,
      • hot and cold water, steam and electrical equipment.
    • One Trailer Type B – This was a drying trailer and carried the following equipment;
      • 1 x Rotary Dryer,
      • steam, condenser and electrical equipment.
    • One Trailer Type C – This was a drying trailer and carried the following equipment;
      • 1 X continuous drying machine -The continuous drying machine was a line which went through a series of pulleys. Items to be dried were pegged to the line which was slowly pulled through a chamber which blew hot air in one end and extracted it at the other. No ironing was done,
      • steam, condenser and electrical equipment.
    • Two Trailer Type D – With two of these per unit these trailers provided hot water and hot air. It carried the following equipment;
      • 1 X Clarkson steam boiler,
      • 1 X calorifier,
      • 1 X cold water tank,
      • 1 X feed water tank,
      • 1 X oil storage tank,
      • 1 X centrifugal pump,
      • 1 X feed pump,
      • piping, fittings and electrical equipment.
    • One Generator Trailer – This was a standard generator trailer with;
      • 1 X Fowler Sanders or Lister 22/24Kw Fowler Sanders diesel Generator
      • 1 X switchboard
      • 2 X distribution boxes
    • Distributed amongst all the vehicles for water supply and disposal was;
      • 2 X 205 litre (45 gallons) per minute pumps with motors
      • effluent tanks
      • piping
      • water testing apparatus

The Washing machine and Dryer trailers were positioned back to back alongside another pair. Platforms were mounted between the trailers, with a canvas canopy over the top, this can be seen in the picture below.

ww2 brit laundry

For operation the Mobile laundry required;

  • firm standing with an area of 19 meters (60 foot) by 19 meters (60 foot)
  • a water supply of 163659 litres (36,000 gallons) a day
  • a good access road
  • as much cover as possible although the laundry section was designed to operate in the open air

The Mobile laundry could wash 16000 blankets or 12000 sets of personal clothing a week.

ordnance laundry at work

RAOC Mobile Laundry at work 1944/45 (RAOC,public domain)

Mobile Laundry Video

  • Canadian Army Newsreel No.3: A short video showing a Canadian Ordnance Corps Laundry unit in action in Northwest Europe 1944/45.   View Here

Mobile Bath Equipment

The Mobile Bath Unit consisted of two pieces of equipment;

  • The Mobile Bath equipment, and
  • The Disinfestor equipment.

Bath Unit

The Bath Unit was mounted in a 1 ton 2 wheeled trailer, and consisted of the means to heat water and pipe it to the showers, and included;

  • Hot water boiler,
  • oil burner,
  • semi-rotary pump,
  • couplings and fitting

The showers consisted of;

  • tubular metal shower trestles,
  • five or six shower heads,
  • pipework and fittings

The capacity was based on each man taking five minutes to shower,

  • A Subsection could bathe 60 to 70 men in an hour,
  • A section could wash 120 to 140 men in an hour,

The shower equipment was designed to be used in the open, but tents were provided for the showers, and for changing rooms if necessary. Commonly showers would be sited where changing could be in a building. A bath section requires a firm site 18 meters (60 foot) by 12 meters (40 foot) and a water supply of 38641 litres (8,500 gallons) of water a day.

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Canadian Army mobile bath. Wouenhaus, 8 April 1945. Photo by Alexander M. Stirton. Department of National Defence / National Archives of Canada, PA-198131.

Disinfestor equipment

The disinfestor’s purpose is to kill lice. In the austere base and field conditions field that soldiers had to live in the risk of infestation by lice was a constant problem. Bathing and the laundering of underwear was not sufficient to handle infestations and disinfecting of outer garments with steam was necessary to kill the lice and their eggs.

Mounted on the deck of a ton 4 X 2 lorry with drop sides, the disinfector equipment consisted of two disinfecting cylinders with an oil fired heater and a water supply mounted between the cylinders.

The disinfecting cylinders were designed with a hinged at their centre, allowing them to be pivoted 90 degrees to allow them to be loaded and unloaded while horizontal and then rotated until they were vertical for the disinfecting process.  Clothing would not be wetted but placed into the cylinders dry, and when the process was completed was ready to wear almost immediately.

disinfector

Truck 3-ton 4 x 2 Disinfector (Morris commercial)

Mobile Bath Video

  • Mobile Bath Unit (Western Desert): A short video showing a Mobile Bath unit in action in the Western Desert. View Here

Postwar the 1950’s

The postwar New Zealand Army was committed to providing a Division for service in the Middle East, the RNZAOC Commitment to this was the provision of Ordnance Divisional Troops commanded by the Chief Royal Army Ordnance Corps (CRAOC).

The Order of Battle of the NZ Army in 1953, details that under the NZ Division HQ CRAOC  the Ordnance organisation was;

  • an  Infantry Division Ordnance Field Park, and
  • a Mobile Laundry and Bath Company, consisting of;
    • An HQ,
    • Five Laundry Sections and
    • Five Bath Sections.
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Org Chart from “Org & Duty of RNZAOC in NZ Div” CRAOC 5.1 of 1 Sept 1959.  National Archives of New Zealand

The Mobile Laundry and Bath Company intended to provide bathing facilities and wash soldiers underclothing. The laundry function was supported by carrying a stock of underclothing from which a set could be issued to each man after bathing. Cast off underclothing was then washed and returned to stock for subsequent reissue. Sewing machines would be provided as part of the Company’s equipment to allow “Stich in time” repairs as part of the clothing exchange process.

The Company was structured to allow the use of double shifts. Apart from the normal considerations of accessibility to troops and hard standing then main siting consideration was accessibility to water. the Bath subsection as a requirement of 400 gallons (1800 Litres) per hour and a Laundry Subsection a requirement of 300 Gallons (1360 Litres) per hour.

At this stage, it unknown what equipment was used but some assumptions would be that it was either equipment from the 2nd World War or locally manufactured material.

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Members of 1 Battalion, Wellington Regiment enjoying a field Shower, Daba Camp, Waiouru, Summer 1952-53 (7WnHb Regt, Public domain)

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Showering in Korea, May 1952. Alexander Turnbull Library

The 1960’s and 70’s

In the 1960’s 1st Composite Ordnance Company (1 Comp Ord Coy), RNZAOC had two dedicated platoons for Laundry and Bath services;

  • 5 (Laundry) Platoon,  and
  • 6  (Bath) Platoon.

Laundry unit, single, trailer-mounted. M-532

1 Comp Ord Coy, 5 (Laundry) Platoon,  was equipped with the American  Laundry unit, single, trailer-mounted. M-532.  The M-532 was a self-contained trailer mounted unit which consisted of ;

  • A 2½-ton capacity, 2-wheel trailer;
  • A washer-extractor,
  • A Tumble Dryer,
  • A  water heater,
  • An electric generator,
  • An air compressor, and
  • water pump.

The unit was able to furnish a complete (wash and dry) laundering cycle at a capacity of 120 pounds (54kg) per hour.

Two M-532 units were used by the New Zealand Army, of which one unit is now held by the National Army Museum at Waiouru, New Zealand.

LAUNDRY UNIT, M532

LAUNDRY UNIT, M532 (US Army, public domain)

m532 Laundry Trailers

LAUNDRY UNIT, M532 (US Army, public domain)

Laundry 3

Sgt Brian Quinn instructing National Servicemen on the Laundry Unit in the mid-1960’s. Photo taken in Kuku Valley Ammunition area, Trentham Camp. RNZAOC School.

Bath Unit, Portable, 8-Showerhead M1958

1 Comp Ord Coy, 6 (Bath) Platoon,  was equipped with the American Bath Unit, Portable, 8-Showerhead M1958. The M1958  was a compact unit that included;

  • A 20-gallon (75 litre) water heater,
  • A 3/4-horsepower water pump,
  • Two shower stands with four nozzles each,
  • A 3-k.w. generator set,
  • A 55- gallon (209 litre) fuel drum,
  • moreover, all the necessary ancillary equipment including hoses and fires extinguishers.

The M1958 used approximately 960 gallons (3600 litres) of water per hour, which could be drawn from a tank, mains or a water source such as a river or pond. It is capable of providing continuing support for 3,000 troops.

m1958 layout

M1958 Bath Unit Equipment layout (US Army, public domain)

The January 1972 edition of the RAOC Gazette made mention of the M1958 in service with the ANZUK Force.

” ANZUK Ordnance Depot” The unit has raised a Field Support Detachment, and under the command of Capt J Clarke supported by SSgt’s Ashdown and Shepard, it is supporting 28 ANZUK Brigade in the Mersing area of Malaysia.

The bath unit of the detachment is using an amazing American equipment which requires a brave man to peer through a peephole until combustion. Fortunately, the unit has such a man in Corporal Smith of the RNZAOC”

and this from the February 1972  issue of the RAOC Gazette:[22]

” The Bath section apparently run by Corporal Smith RNZAOC, succeed in bathing all comers and, in spite of water shortages, operated almost nonstop for twelve days.”

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ANZUK Ordnance Depot, Forward Ordnance Detachment, setting up a shower unit, Malaysia 1972 (Copyright © Robert McKie 2017)

Shower Schematic

Schematic view of shower equipment from 1 Field Supply Company, RNZAOC, Standing Operating Procedures, December 1984

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M1958 set up receive water upstream of the unit, with the wastewater disposited downstream of the unit. (practice long discontinued due to environmental concerns). The two buried bucket like items in the foreground were known as ‘Chufffers’. Chuffers were a Diesel/Kerosene fuelled device for heating water in this case probably for shaving purposes. Robert Mckie Collection

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The 1980’s and 90’s

With the retirement of the Laundry unit,  M-532 in the early 1980’s, leaving the Bath Unit M1958 to although in need of replacement due to support and maintenance issues, soldier on until the later years of the 1980’s. The last time I saw one in action was on the Triad Exercise of 1984 when I was operating on at Baggush Camp at Waiouru under the tutelage of WO2 Smith.

FW-37 Trailer Mounted Field Laundry Unit

Laundry 2

FW-37 Mobile Laundry Equipment. RNZAOC School

Laundry 1

FW-37 Mobile Laundry Equipment. RNZAOC School

The Replacement for the Laundry unit,  M-532 was purchased in the early 80’s, it was the West German FW-37 Trailer Mounted Field Laundry Unit.

The FW-37 was a self-contained field laundry unit mounted on two trailers;

  • Washer Trailer, the washer trailer consisted of;
    • Two washing machines,
    • Hydro extractor,
    • Water pump,
    • Two Diesel/Oil Burners,
    • Hoses, electrical cables and other ancillary connections
  • Dryer Trailer, the Dryer trailer consisted of;
    • A single drying machine,
    • One Diesel/Oil Burner,
    • 3 Phase generator,
    • Hoses, electrical cables and other ancillary connections.

The FW-37 and could be run by either mains power or by its own generator, Water could be supplied from a mains supply, water tank or local water supply such as a river or a pond.

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Suggested Layout 1984

The suggested layout of Laundry Unit from 1 Field Supply Company, RNZAOC Standing Operating Procedures, December 1984

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Kerrick Shower Unit

As the M1958 Bath Units became worn out in the mid-1980’s, a replacement item was provided by Kerrick Industries. Utilising many of the M1958 Bath Units components, such as the hoses and shower stands the Kerrick was an electric powered, Kerosene fed unit.

 

Karcher Shower System

In the early 1990’s the NZ Army procured several Karcher Multi-Purpose Decontamination Systems (MPDS). Essentially a high tech Steam Cleaner the NZ Army systems were configured as either a;

  • A shower system, or
  • A decontamination System (used only by RNZE units, not RNZAOC).
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Karcher MPDS (Karcher, public domain)

The Karcher-fieldshower 15 Person, was designed to give a shower for personal hygiene or decontamination for 15 persons at the same time. The  Karcher-fieldshower was an entirely self-contained system, powered by its own engine and able to suck water from a local source such as a river or from a holding tank fed by mains water. The shower system was capable of showering 15 persons at the same time.

Karcher

General Plan of Karcher Fieldshower. Karcher Fieldshower Operating Instructions

 

Copyright © Robert McKie 2018

Notes:

[1] The War Office, Ordnance Manual (War) (London: His Majestys Stationery Office, 1939), Appendix 1.

[2] “Administration within the Division,” in Administration in the Field (London: War Office, 1951).

[3] A. D. Carbery, The New Zealand Medical Service in the Great War, 1914-1918: Based on Official Documents (Uckfield, East Sussex: Naval & Military Press, [2006?], 2006), Bibliographies, Non-fiction, 176.

[4] W.H. Groom, Poor Bloody Infantry: A Memoir of the First World War (W. Kimber, 1976).

[5] C N Trueman, “First Aid Nursing Yeomanry,”  https://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/the-role-of-british-women-in-the-twentieth-century/first-aid-nursing-yeomanry/.

[6] “History of the Great War, Medical Services, Diseases of the War, Vol. I,” American Journal of Public Health (New York, N.Y. : 1912) 13, no. 6 (1923): 138.

[7] Gregory M. Anstead, “Historical Review: The Centenary of the Discovery of Trench Fever, an Emerging Infectious Disease of World War 1,” The Lancet Infectious Diseases 16 (2016): 168.

[8] A.H. Fernyhough, History of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps 1920-1945 (Royal Army Ordnance Corps, 1958), 121.

[9] 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field Item Idr20107590 Record No  Da 1/9/Sd81/21 (Wellington: New Zealand Archives, 1941).

[10] The New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps was the permanent Corps in New Zealand and the NZOC the tile of the Expeditionary Force Ordnance Corps.

[11] 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field

[12] “Mobile Laundry,” Auckland Star, Volume LXXIII, Issue 109, 11 May 1942.

[13] “Fit Division,” Otago Daily Times, Issue 24908, 6 May 1942.

[14] “Divisional Cavalryman’s Adventures,” Northern Advocate, 25 June 1942.

[15] 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Base, Item Idr20107591 Record No  Da 1/9/Sd81/22 (Wellington: New Zealand Archives, 1941).

[16][16] Major J.S Bolton, A History of the Royal New Zealand Army Ordnance Corps (Trentham: RNZAOC, 1992).

[17] “Clothing for NZ Troops,” Press, Volume LXXIX, Issue 24011, 28 July 1943.

[18] 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Base.

[19] 2nzef – Organisation and War Establishments – Ordnance – Field

[20] Robin Kay, “From Cassino to Trieste,” in Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–45 (Wellington: Historical Publications Branch, Department of Internal Affairs 1967).

[21] WWIIReenacting, “Mobile Bath and Laundry Unit Raoc,” in WWIIReenacting (2006).

[22] RAOC, “Anzuk Ordnance Depot,” RAOC Gazette, January 1972.