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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Barber-ism


Skipman

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Researching a 1st Black Watch soldier, enlisted December 1914, KIA November 1917. No service record and very little to go on. Doesn't appear to have been wounded at any time. He was a barber to trade. I know of a WW2 soldier who had a fairly cushy time in Italy far from the front line as a barber yet his brothers had a far tougher time. Could this have been the case in WW1 or would a barber not necessarily have been used as such, or, if he was, it may have been at company or battalion level when out of the line?

 

Edit 6.47, 29/9/2020 He entered theatre France in early May, 1915.

 

Mike

Edited by Skipman
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I'm currently reading The Road To St Julien, being the letters of William St Clair, a barber by trade who served as a stretcher bearer. His family business folded after his remaining brother was conscripted.  He appears to have been called upon to cut hair as and when. 

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I think Michelle’s correct that mostly such men’s skills were made use of when out of the line.  Certainly in the cases I’ve read about that’s been the case.

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Talking of the period of fighting in November 1914, Frank MacFarlane of the 1st bn said:

 

"I don't think I shaved for nearly a month, there was a lot of beards going; if at all possible I got a shave, but shaving in cold water was not up to much. Later, in early 1915, beards and moustaches were ordered off with hair cut to the bone for medical reasons – we laughed at the Germans but they were right."

 

Derek.

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5 hours ago, Derek Black said:

Talking of the period of fighting in November 1914, Frank MacFarlane of the 1st bn said:

 

"I don't think I shaved for nearly a month, there was a lot of beards going; if at all possible I got a shave, but shaving in cold water was not up to much. Later, in early 1915, beards and moustaches were ordered off with hair cut to the bone for medical reasons – we laughed at the Germans but they were right."

 

Derek.


It was when battalions were in the line for extended periods and unable to get out to rest that head hair reached such extremes.  Once out of the line and its unrelenting routine hair cutting was organised whenever possible and there was usually at least one man in each company who could cut hair with some degree of competence.  It was traditional in the infantry for such services to be organised and coordinated by the company quarter-master sergeant.

Edited by FROGSMILE
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 The use of existing everyday skills does pop up occasionally in the memoirs.   The late entertainer Roy Castle once recounted that his father had taught him basic haircutting before he went off to National Service,as there was always a demand and always a way to earn an extra sixpence.

Whether use was made of pre-war skills is unquantifiable for the first part of the war- I suppose it is only when some men start being transferred to the Labour Corps that  any official notice was taken. 

   As for a hairdresser- this need not be out of the line. A pair of hair clippers in the front line and a lot of men could be that much tidier

 

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 The use of existing everyday skills does pop up occasionally in the memoirs.   The late entertainer Roy Castle once recounted that his father had taught him basic haircutting before he went off to National Service,as there was always a demand and always a way to earn an extra sixpence.

Whether use was made of pre-war skills is unquantifiable for the first part of the war- I suppose it is only when some men start being transferred to the Labour Corps that  any official notice was taken. 

   As for a hairdresser- this need not be out of the line. A pair of hair clippers in the front line and a lot of men could be that much tidier

 


My greatest knowledge relates to regular battalions and is based on written memoirs and other accounts, together with understanding intimately the interior economy of such units, that were run like villages or small towns.  Only very rarely would hair cutting take place in the front line, as trench routine was demanding and left little slack to be used for other activities.  Men were usually either, on-duty on a fire step, fully dressed and equipped and required to be observant and alert, or off-duty and eating or sleeping, with short periods spent chatting (de-lousing).  To have a hair cut, or even shave required a degree of relaxation, in order to be able to strip to the waist, obtain water and bowl, and take out a personal hold-all in which the razor, soap and lather brush was kept. When men were in a support trench there was more opportunity to do this, but if in the forward trench there was very rarely any chance to do so if the enemy was close.  Later in the war, when defence-in-depth became adopted by both sides, the dynamic changed, and unless men were in MMG posts in forward saps, where alertness was vigorously enforced, it was possible further back to have some men carrying out personal ablutions, providing there were sentries manning the fire step.

 

It wasn’t necessarily the case that the men who cut hair were trained barbers from civilian life, and in regular battalions they were often men who had learned from trial and error, but who were accepted by their pals as being capable enough in a rough and ready way.  They generally did the cutting in return for tobacco, a tot of rum, or small change that could be used in a local estaminet.

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Checking my spreadsheet of 1914 star men of the 1st black watch, I have occupations for a third of them.
Extrapolating the known hairdressers to the unknown ones gives about 200 per capable scissor wielder. No doubt more men were competent enough to give other soldiers a scalping when required.

 

Derek.

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bruce-bairnsfather-wwi-poster-keep-yer-ead-still_u-l-oramh0.jpg?src=gp&w=300&h=300

 

Capt Bruce Bairnsfather

              "COIFFURE IN THE TRENCHES

Keep yer 'ead still, or i'll 'ave yer blinkin' ear off! "

 

 

Edited by Chasemuseum
speliing errors
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12 hours ago, Chasemuseum said:

 

 

Capt Bruce Bairnsfather

              "COIFFURE IN THE TRENCHES

Keep yer 'ead still, or i'll 'ave yer blinkin' ear off! "

 

 

 

A super and well known cartoon.  Typical of the sort of scene from a support trench.  Thank you for posting it.

Edited by FROGSMILE
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