Leslie's Guiding History Site


First Aid at Camp

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The 1912 Handbook gave advice on camp health and hygiene.  As the handbook advised: "Many parents who have never had experience of camp life themselves look upon it with misgiving as likely to be too rough and risky for their girls; but when they see them return well set up and full of health and happiness outwardly, and morally improved in the points of practical helpfulness and comeradeship, they cannot fail to appreciate the good which comes from such an outing."

Bathrooms were dealt with under the heading of 'drains' - "do not neglect to dig a long trench to serve as a latrine.  Every camp, even if only for one night, should have a sewer trench two or three feet deep, quite narrow, not more than one foot wide, with screens of canvas or branches on all sides.  Earth should always be thrown in after each use, and the trench must be filled up before leaving the place.  Even away from camp a small pit should always be dug and filled in with earth after use."

Water supply was generally drawn from a spring or stream, with the water being filtered or boiled.  

For rubbish disposal, the suggestion was to prepare two rubbish bins, one for threads, matches, paper, hair and general rubbish, the other for egg shells, banana skins, bones, etc - this rubbish could then be buried or burnt.  

For camp beds, the recommendation was "to have some kind of covering over the ground between your body and the earth, especially after wet weather.  Cut grass, or straw, or bracken are very good things to lay down thickly where you are going to lie, but if you cannot get any of these and are obliged to lie on the ground, do not forget before lying down to make a hole the size of a teacup in which your hip joint will rest when you are lying on your side; it makes all the difference for sleeping comfortably.  If your blankets do not keep you sufficiently warm, put straw or bracken over yourselves, and newspapers, if you have them."  "To make a bed, cut four poles, two of seven feet, two of three feet - then lay them on the ground, so as to form the edges . . . cut four pegs, two feet long, and sharpen, drive them into the ground at the four corners to keep the poles in place.  Cut down a fir tree, cut off all branches, and lay them overlapping each other like slates on a roof till a thick bed of them is made, the outside ones underlapping the poles.  Cover with a blanket.  

At this time, battery torches weren't common, so lighting was provided by candles.  Suggestions were given for candlesticks, make from bent wire, split cleft sticks, or a bottle with the closed end cut off.  This, naturally, involved a certain amount of fire risk, and is the reason why most camp timetables were based around rising shortly after dawn, and heading to bed whilst it was still dusk.  

1921's 'Notes on Camping', the official Guiding publication advised:

"1) How to Construct a Latrine.  Dig a trench from 8 ft. to 4 ft. deep, 8 ft. wide at the top, and 2 ft. wide at the bottom.  Long enough to accommodate 10 per cent. of the campers, allowing 3 ft. to each compartment.  Pile the earth from trench behind, but leave room for the screening.  Sugar boxes, about 2 ft. square, with oblong holes in the bottom, reversed on poles, make the best seats.  Be sure to have the holes large enough, and no wood in front of the seats.  Poles put across trench (not lengthways).  Have latrines situated at least 60, and not more than 100 yards, from the camp.  

If latrines are very far from the Camp, have a pail latrine in the centre of Camp for night use only.  It must be removed before breakfast.

2) Pail Latrines - If the ground is too rocky for digging, these must be used.  Put up screening in the same manner as for trench latrines.

3) Urinal Latrines.  Dig a shallow trench 18 inches wide, leading into circular pit 1 1/2 ft. deep, and 3 ft. in diameter.  Fill the pit with stone and bricks, not tins or bottles, as these might hold up any liquid.  Allow 5 per cent.  Trenches may be dug all round the pit if necessary.


1) Tell Campers that neglect of personal sanitary discipline means expulsion from Camp.

2) For the safety of all, excreta must be covered with earth at once.

3) Sanitary Patrol must always be on duty.

4) Latrine seats must be scrubbed twice a day with lysoll and water.

5) A liquid form of disinfectant should not be used.  Chloride of lime thrown down twice a day is best.  Fill in all along the trench to 1 in. twice a day.  N.B. This should be done by the Captain.

6) In each compartment there must be placed a box filled with earth fine enough to pass through an 1/2 inch sieve, and in each box a small trowel or tin for throwing earth into the trench.

7) Keep the sanitary paper in tins.  If possible get round tins and make a small hole each end and a slit in one side; then pass a string through the holes at each end and through the roll of paper.  The paper should then pull out through the slit in the side.

8) Always have a roof to your latrines, and provide each seat with a cover of American cloth attached to the back of seat.

9) Never use a latrine within 1 ft. of the top of the trench.  Fill in and mark plainly with L for future campers.

10) Sanitary Patrol must always be on duty; they should not have anything to do with food on the same day as they do sanitary work.

11) Latrines must be situated to leeward of the Camp, in a down stream direction, and on ground sloping away from the camp."

1921's Notes on Camping also advised on Wash Houses:

"2) Wash Houses. - Dig a trench 18 in. wide and 1 ft. deep, leading into a shallow soakage pit 4 ft. square.  Allow 4 ft. for each compartment, and have enough compartments to accommodate 8 per cent of the campers.  Have one double-sized compartment for use as a bath-room.  If making more than three wash houses, make them back to back, as this economises in both material and ground, and is equally convenient.  In this case dig two parallel trenches 18 in wide, with 1 ft. between them (to allow for screening, and soil dug out of trenches), let the trenches join and flow into pit as before.  If your wash houses are not situated on a natural slope, it will be necessary to dig the trench about 6 in. deeper at the pit end.


1) Have a table over the trench in each compartment, and let it be large enough to take sponges, etc.

2) Have a towel rail in each compartment.

3) Have a wooden footboard in front of each wash table.

4) Have a clothes peg or rail in each compartment.

5) Let the Guides make string bags to keep their sponges in.

N.B. - Soil is most injurious to both skin and ears, therefore be sure that there are foot boards, towel and clothes rails in each compartment, and that the Guides are using them.  If possible, let each Patrol have their own wash house, and be responsible for keeping it clean and tidy.

3) Waste Water Pit.  Have two biscuit tins, a large one and a small one.  Cut a lip in the large one, and cover the bottom with stones.  Make holes in the bottom of the small one, and place inside large tin.  Fill small tin with bracken, & c.  From the lip of the large tin cut a small channel 4 in. wide and 2 in. long, leading into a shallow pit 1 ft. square, from this dig another channel 6 ins. wide and 9 in. long, leading into a soakage pit 3 ft. square.  Fill the small pit with bracken, leaves, etc., and in hot weather lay branches over the large pit.  The bracken in both tin and pit must be burnt and replaced twice a day.  

4) Refuse Pit.  Make this large enough and deep enough to take all tins, etc.  Disinfect with chloride of lime each day, and fill in 1 in. with dry soil.  Burn out all tins in the incinerator before putting in refuse pit.

5) Beehive Incinerator.  Make four air holes with bricks, tins, etc., and build up between these with soil and sods; on top of this place a grid of some kind - old bicycle wheel, iron bars, etc., anything fine enough and strong enough to hold up the rubbish.  Then make a wall of sods on top of the grid to a height of 18 in., (from the grid).  Put earth over the sods, and, if possible, mud, making the whole as round and tidy as possible.  Have at least one of the air holes large enough to rake out the ashes.

Stone Incinerator.  Hollow out a saucer, the deepest part being 18 in.  Make a wall of sods and perch round the saucer to keep out rain and water.  Line the inside of the saucer with stones.  Build a cairn of large stones in the middle 2 ft. high.  Must have something dry to start the fire with.

Brick Incinerator.  Build in the same way as the beehive, only dig the air holes out to a depth of 18 in. in the middle. Make the wall 2 ft. high."

One can't help but think that all this excavation in his good grassed-over fields must have been of some concern to the farmer or landowner . . . !

1933's "Campcraft for Girl Guides" recommended that the latrine trench should be "three feet deep, one and a half feet wide, and six feet in length, for each cubicle.  This sized trench will last for a week, an extra foot in depth will serve for a fortnight.  Digging a trench for even a small camp is a very big job; it is therefore strongly advocated that a man be employed to do this, and to help with the erection of the screening."  The latrine screening would be of hessian or cheap quality sheeting, and "a thrifty Company will buy its screening, make it last from year to year, and so save the cost of hire.  This is generally about sixpence per yard per week."

As can be seen from the diagram, at the start of the camp the toilet seats would be situated at one side of the cubicle, with the rest of the trench in each cubicle covered by boards, if the screening did not incorporate a fabric roof.  Each cubicle would have, in the corner, a supply of earth dug from the trench and a trowel, so that after using the lat, each camper could 'cover her tracks' and leave a fresh earth trench, with no sign of previous usage, ready for the next camper.  Each morning, the toilet seat units would be moved along to the opposite side of each cubicle, and the boards switched round if used - so that the trench would be filled in fairly evenly over the week.  It was advised that any spare ashes from the kitchen fire should be added to the trench as a disinfectant, and Chloride of lime added to the trench daily, "A 3d. packet will generally be sufficient to 'dress' three cubicles.  Remember that too much chloride is as bad as too little."

Each cubicle would be provided with toilet paper, often stored in a tin with a slot which could be hung up from one of the poles to act as a dispenser, and with a vacant/engaged label or equivalent sign at the door, to avoid users being disturbed.

"Guiders always have a separate latrine, either near the one used by the girls or equally out of sight.  If the Guides are of very mixed ages, it is advisable to apportion the latrines for the use of older and younger girls, according to numbers.  As nothing in the shape of rubbish must be thrown down the trench, it is suggested that a portable incinerator be kept in the cubicles allocated to the older girls, as a receptacle for soiled towels.  The incinerator can be made of a 7 lb biscuit tin, fitted with a moveable wire netting basket inside.  This can be taken out and the contents set fire to, once or twice daily as necessary."

"Suggested rules for Latrines.  1) Shovel plenty of earth into the trench after using.  2) No rubbish of any sort to be put down the trench.  3) Wash hands after using latrines.  4) Make use of latrines before bathing."

Facilities within the cubicle often included a seat - despite "Campcraft" stating "It is entirely a matter of choice whether seats are used at all.  I would, however, suggest that they are provided in a camp of novices, young or nervous children."  The alternative would be for the user to stand astride the trench, though one could understand some younger Guides especially, not having the same stride-length, would have concerns about falling down the trench.  

One of the most popular seating options was the 'sugar box' - at that time, sugar was supplied to grocers in large sturdy wooden boxes.  These were reckoned to be of an ideal size when upturned to make a latrine seat.  The centre one of the three planks in the bottom of the box was removed, and some of the wood cut away from the boards at either side in order to widen the hole, then the top surface sanded smooth.  A cover made of american cloth was attached, to prevent the seat becoming damp, or rainwater getting into the latrine trench, in inclement weather.  The box was mounted on a couple of spars, which stretched beyond the trench on either side to ensure the box was securely positioned over the trench and could not fall in - a refinement was to add a 'footboard' at the front to help the user keep her feet (and her lowered clothes) clear of the ground.  Some commercial companies supplied folding stools which had a suitable hole in the seat, which could be positioned over trenches, although their shorter height could make them a less convenient perch than the sugar box option.  

Regarding wash tents, 1933's Campcraft advised "If the campers are fortunate enough to get bathing, it must be made clear to them that this does not dispense with the use of the washing cubicles, nor may they make the daily swim an opportunity to use soap and a scrubbing brush!  Washing accommodation may be provided either by curtained cubicles, tents, or some part of a barn or out-house.  In every case, the minimum accommodation is one cubicle per patrol (more if possible), and one cubicle for the Guiders.  Those who have camped with Guides, know how difficult it is to make then even take off their jumpers to wash, if there is a chance of anyone seeing them; therefore, for the sake of cleanliness it is necessary to make each cubicle or partition as private as possible."  

The design suggested was for cubicles of six foot square, with the two trenches ending in a shallow pit, 3 ft. square and 1 ft. deep.  If the ground is sloping towards the pit the trench can be level, otherwise the trench should be sloped slightly towards the pit.  "Each cubicle must be equipped with towel rail, small grid on which to stand, foot-bath, bucket, basins, and stand or rack for sponges, flannels, etc.  These should not be allowed to be kept in the sponge bags or wrapped up in towels.  The furniture used in a washhouse can be made by the Guides themselves on arriving in camp."

"All campers have not the chance to bathe, but everyone should be able to stand a cold sponge down every morning.  The pores of the skin, to be kept in healthy working order, must be cleansed daily from accumulations of dirt and sweat.  This can be done best at night, when in most well-regulated camps, hot water is available.  A cold sponge in the morning is of use more from a refreshing than a cleansing point of view.  Patrol Leaders can be of great assistance in seeing that the Guides in their Patrols do not stint their ablutions.  Special hints on hygiene may be given at the Court of Honour and the Leaders made responsible for seeing that they are carried out."

"Garments worn next to the skin should be changed at the very outside twice a week in camp, and more often if possible.  In cases where the organisation of the camp programme does not allow of sufficient time being given to the proper routine of a washing day, undergarments and stockings may be washed quite easily in cold water, and stockings may be washed quite easily in cold water, to which weak lysol has been added, with the help of a very little soap."

In addition, refuse pits were dug (2 ft. square by 3 ft. deep) for rubbish which could not be burnt or put in the 'pig pail' for the farm animals.  Incinerators were set up on turfed ground, a grease pit ((about 3 ft. square and 18 ins. deep), and a waste water pit.

"General Hints of Camp Sanitation.  1) Everyone is responsible for the tidiness of the camp; not only the Patrol on duty.  2) All dirty and greasy water to be emptied into its proper place.  3) Look after screening and guy lines of the latrines and washhouse.  4) Shots at the incinerator generally miss!

Duties of the Sanitary Patrol.  Sprinkle chloride of lime into latrine trench and cover it with earth to depth of two inches, twice a day if necessary.  Scrub seats with disinfectant soap putting a little lysol in the water.  Burn out latrine incinerator, and empty night latrine (if bucket) or fill in hole.  Move seats up the trench when necessary.  Be responsible for screening and roofing of latrine, adjusting when necessary.  See that there is a plentiful supply of earth and paper in each cubicle.  Dig fresh grease pits when necessary.  Re-thatch lattice of grease pit every morning and burn up greasy leaves.  Burn out incinerator and old tins; hammer the latter flat and put in refuse pit.  Cover the day's refuse with earth and ashes, 2 in. deep.  Scrubbing the stools seems to come at an awkward time in the morning; arrangements might be made to scrub them after dinner when 'traffic' is less heavy."

"A careful Captain will find out before she starts for camp whether the heads of the Guides intending to go to camp are clean.  If there is any doubt a special inspection should take place.  An outsider, more especially a trained nurse, will often undertake this duty."