BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

BBC Homepage
BBC History
WW2 People's War Homepage Archive List Timeline About This Site

Contact Us

Collapsible beds

by Ron Goldstein

Contributed by 
Ron Goldstein
People in story: 
Ron Goldstein
Location of story: 
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
25 November 2004

Ron, at Rieti, where he was re-trained by the Royal Armoured Corps to be a Loader/Operator

A recent article on this site mentioned that the writer had a collapsible bed dating from WW2. I was immediately reminded of my own experience of this type of sleeping gear.

The time was February 1945 and I was stationed at Rieti in central Italy being re-trained as a loader/operator in the Royal Armoured Corps.
The camp was also used as a transit camp for personnel being posted back to Blighty and there was much selling and bartering of personal equipment.
One such item was a collapsible camp bed, made of slats of wood and canvas and the whole contraption neatly folded into a parcel about eighteen inches long.
I think I must have paid the equivalent of a couple of quid for it and I couldn't wait for a chance to use it in the field.
In March the same year I joined the 4th Queen's Own Hussars who were then in the line near Ravenna.
On my first night with the unit I noticed that neither my tank commander, SSM 'Busty' Thomas, nor the driver, Steve Hewitt, had any form of sleeping gear other than their straw-filled paliasses and I rather smugly unfolded my camp-bed and set it up near the tank.
I was rudely awoken in the early hours by some fairly heavy shelling and so I learnt lesson number one of survival in the line.
One does NOT sleep above ground level if one can help it!
From then on the folding camp bed was consigned to my non-essential kit and was not to be used again until the war finished and I had leave in Austria.

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Forum Archive

This forum is now closed

These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 25 November 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Ron -

I'll bet Sergeant Major Mahony didn't know you had such a would have been on 'fizzer" for impersonating an Officer !..more likely he would have confiscated it for himself, although I spotted his bed when I was scrubbing his floor with a toothbrush, it was a good one !

ex Reiti Armed Car School.


Message 2 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 25 November 2004 by Ron Goldstein


It's not beyond the realms of possibility that I might have bought the offending bed from you.
I seem to remember that the chap I bought it from was rather shifty, spoke with a Scottish accent and was complaining about just having been on jankers.

Didn't we have fun !



Message 3 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 25 November 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Tom Ron,
I reckon you two had a doddle of a war between you. What happened to scooping the mud out for you hips flopping on a ground sheet, head on the drivers cushion and sleeping the sleep of the just, hoping the lads on the other ARV's did not wander over thinking you were a urinal. We also hoped the bloke behind did not pull out early. I am glad though we did not get what you lads got, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik for a lullaby.
Keep them coming


Message 4 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 26 November 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Frank -
Don't ever remember getting much of Mozart for a lullaby... we had mainly Fat Fritzie and his screamin meemies.....just spaced enough to get you when you were dropping off again ! Then you could hear him cranking it up for another go at you !
as Ron says ...we did have fun


Message 5 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 26 November 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

"Ah" but Tom,
Think of that "Elixer" in those stone jars that added life to your dawn cuppa and to your good self, was it worth a bit of "stonking" no? well I can understand that.


Message 6 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 26 November 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Frank -
Can't recall too many stone jars circulating as it was generally too warm and when the frosty stuff came down I was safely esconced in a toasty
bed with nurses running around seeing to my every need - well almost every need !
The Stone jars were frowned on after two W01's hied themselves off to a cave near Cassino and consumed the Brigades ration.... they found them dead in the a.m. !

Ron must have had his share though as he was still at it all through the winter '44/45..... had a couple of rations though in Austria when we were lumberjacking ! God - did we ever need it ! It was worse than digging out the trains at Hexham or High Force and thereabouts !
Happy days tomcan


Message 7 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 27 November 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

How close must we have been in 47 digging trains out. I was with a gang of old soldiers waiting to get out and they taught me how to be miserable in comfort.
Their war cry was any fool can be uncomfortable but not them, they knew how to live. When we got to the site we had food drink one of those Stone jars and stuff to make a fire, "they forgot the shovels." First lesson for raw squaddy as to what to load and what to leave behind.
I wonder about you Tom did your Churchill have TOMCAN Enterprises written all over it. I got your retread dance partners, Ron got your camp bed, I dont know what Peter got but would lay bets as you were still around in his time too I think.
I am with you it was fun, well some of it was.
Regards Frank.


Message 8 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 27 November 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Frank -
I didn't really start my enterprising ways until I got my own company down in the Bournemouth area, when I scooped up Barclays Bank International, Max Factor , Airwork Services and Hamworthy engineering as customers. Talk about giggles - like the manager of a section in the bank
who, frustrated that no one would buy him a step ladder for his high shelves - he ordered one from a catalogue at home - it duly arrived at the bank - 12'o" high - the Doors were 8'o" high ! Or the "engineers" at Hamworthy who called me on a Sunday a.m. to rush with some men to build an enclosure for a new system of outside fans which the neighbours were raising cain about the noise.
We built this thing 24'o" high x 8'o" x 8'o" in woodframe, insulated, and 3/4" plywood covering - I then asked about painting ? - No No cover it with steel sheets - galvanised ! Fine, which we did, and by thursday it was all done and the noise reduced to a respectable level.
The manufacturers man finally arrived from Birmingham - took one look and said " you installed the fans backwards " ! Engineers ! Our invoice was horrendous with five men at double overtime, emergency rates, materials and my designs !
I laughed all the way to the bank !
OR - the time when Max Factor bought out a competitor and we had to arrange transport for Racking in 12'o" lengths from Sussex to Bournemouth - The genius engineer at Max Factor thought saturday would be a good time to do it - so we spent four days loading these low loaders with the racks all tied down nicely, set off at and ran into the 1st Armoured Division en route to Germany via Southampton ! We got to Bournemouth on the Monday ! Again the invoice was horrendous !

It was even more fun although less profitable in the army as you can see from my posting of Tunisia 1943 and Green Envelopes for Tank bde Rimini !


Message 9 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 27 November 2004 by Ron Goldstein

Don't know how we went from collapsible beds to Rum Issue but you've set me remembering again!
My remaining diaries are on my computer so I went into search mode and looked for 'RUM'.Up popped this entry

Friday 27th. October 1944
Still raining and roads must be murder. The Div (78th) is getting a bit of a hammering especially the Irish Brigade. Kit inspection. Rum issue and film show in the billets. "San Demetrio- London" .

Only one other mention of rum issue and that was on the 3rd of November the same year.

I woulg guess that rum issue was tied up with temperature and weather conditions. I do remember that you were not allowed to take your ration away with you but had to drink it on the spot. Horrible stuff!



Message 10 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 27 November 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

With you on that one, I hate rum but the cup of gunfire after a bitter desert night would often be laced with it and I never remember refusing.
I only got a couple of straight issues and it had nothing to do with the weather, it had to be quaffed at the jug as you say. Not the best of my memories, regards,


Message 11 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 03 December 2004 by Deborah - WW2 Team

From beds to rum, and now, if I may gentlemen, onto baths...

I just read a rather amusing story about soldiers having a bath in Belgium (A2725193) and I wonder if any of you have bathtime memories to contribute. How DID you all keep clean? Especially in the desert?

Answers as articles please, and first prize goes to the one who provides a photograph as well :-)


Message 12 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 03 December 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

What have you done, we will have Tom cavorting under his oil drum shower quaffing Italian wine.
Ron in his gladiatorial rig in his Roman bath house with maidens peeling grapes for him.
As for the desert we all sand papered each other after all we were not short of material, the bits with the camel dung were just like shower gel, happy days.
Regards Frank.


Message 13 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 03 December 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

belonging to the 21st Tank brigade ...we were quite civilised inasmuch as in Nth Africa we had a permanent shower room with oodles of the hot stuff through our patented oil drum heaters - - one gallon cold goes in - one gallon hot comes out !NO waiting ! Similarly with our Bengazi Kettles for tea making.The precurser of to-days fancy wall mounted heaters and central heating units. In Italy we were attached to the Canadian 1st Inf.Div which had travelling shower rooms and underwear exchanges, which were regular visitors ! Really we were just simple soldiers and were clean - most of the time. In Austria we were even more civilised as we allowed the village population to bathe on two days per week... with evil intent as one can read in my posting "Strassburg Pt 1".. it was giggles galore ! As Frank notes - we did now and then scrub down with sand, bit like Brillo pads !
This also removed any hard skin accumulating on heels etc ! The Marines always enjoyed that story as I am sure you will! The Belgian escapade was quite elementary really !



Message 14 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 03 December 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Deborah -
Frank was right -- you've got me going.....Once upon a time in the middle of the Gothic Line Battle .. we lost a tank and it was pointed out to us that we were very careless.. and so the next morning, instead of some kind soul delivering a new one for us... we had to hoof it back a couple of miles to the FDS.. a kind of second hand car lot !
While we were awaiting the paperwork ..lo and behold a Canadian Shower unit appeared and we were invited to bathe and have fresh underwear, which we accepted and enjoyed thoroughly. We were then invited to lunch - this gave us pause to think that we were indeed at the wrong end of this mans Army, we were fed a bowl of French Canadian Pea soup, with dinner roll - English style Roast beef with ALL the trimmings - AND Pineapple cubes in Bird's Custard.The whole washed down by a very sweet cup of tea !
Some idiot then delivered our new tank and so it was back to the old M&V
plus spam - 1914 style biscuits which had to be run over by the tank to become palatable, and all the other front line basics ! Apparently there were no vacancies at the FDS !


Message 15 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 03 December 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Deborah my love I told you it would start something you wished you had not. Soldiers learn to bathe at any time they get a chance and I remember coming back from Sinai to Kantara the Canal crossing point. The trucks pulled up alongside the canal the boys stepped out dropped all their clothes and stepped off the bank into the canal where upon a yell went up and we found a bus load of WAAf on the other side waiting to cross. As a ship was coming up the Canal just about touching both sides we had to scramble out red faced and not feeling the least heroic. It was still worth it to feel that wonderful water cooling the skin.


Message 16 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 03 December 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Deborah -
Once upon a time as we were "conning" the Germans that we were going to attack at Florence, we doubled back near Siena and through Spoleto on our way to Fabriano to really start the Gothic Line battle at Jesi - near the east coast - picture the scene - 180 Churchill tanks and assorted vehicles all following each other through village after village...but at Spoleto was a most inviting pool surrounded by many trees affording shade to the sweaty soldats...suddenly our tank broke down... and there was nothing for us to do but peel off and plunge into this most inviting pool, which was fereeeeezing... as our heads popped up at the surface.... we noticed a proper soldier guarding our clothes..
on further examination it was discovered that he was the Brigade Commander !!!


Message 17 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 08 December 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

What a delightful thread! Tom just directed me to it.

I went through the Suez Canal four times on my way there and back to the Far East twice. The side banks looked formidable to me and the water none too clean. I wonder if it was in the adjacent Sweet Water canal on the western bank, alongside the salt water shipping canal down to Ismailia, that you took your dip.

My bath as a lad was usually a swim in Lake Maggiore, or in a mountain pool, with just a rub down from a bucket in winter. It wasn't all doom and gloom and I remember some happy times swimming.



Message 18 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 09 December 2004 by Deborah - WW2 Team

Well these caused a few chuckles!

When we started this project many of us had a lot to learn about how the army worked during WW2, and were amazed to find out about Mobile Bath Units and the like. To the layman (and even the historian), war is all about military campaigns and battles, but there is such an enormous amount of organisation that goes into mobilising so many people. It still amazes me that people could send and receive letters from anywhere in the world!

As promised, first prize (it's a virtual prize, of course) goes to Ron for his story A3365273 and picture, which will feature on the front page in the New Year :-)



Message 19 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 09 December 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Sorry folks,
It was the Suez canal we all swam in, we only drank the Sweetwater canal.
A boat going up the narrow part of the canal sucks the water up under the keel so from the boat it would look as if the sides were steep, not so. Once the boat passed and the water settled back it was not much diferent to a swimmimg pool, you could grasp the side and pull yourself out
The Sweetwater canal was running alongside the Suez canal within a couple of miles at some points. The Arabs washed in it, watered their animals in it and we all know what they do while drinking, they also used it for washdays and toilet. It ran through large towns and villages so you can imagine that it was anything but sweet. We were warned before we got off the boat not to swim in the Nile or the Sweetwater canal if ever we wanted to see England again.
There was a large filration and pumping station on the sweetwater canal and after being involved with the changing of some of the filters with the crane one day decided only to drink the beer in future, massive head aches made me return to water reluctantly.
You can see from this you did not even dip your booted toe into the Sweetwater canal where as salt being the basis of all disinfectant the canal was "A" OK, it was very salty water indeed.
Regards Frank.<schooloffish>


Message 20 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 09 December 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Many thanks for putting me right Frank, although the main canal didn't look too salubrious to me from a troop ship :)



Message 21 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 09 December 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

Live and work in a desert and any water looks salubrious. After long patrols, on getting back to the canal like the old joke the wife was in the bath, we just walked in as we were, boots gaiters rifle pausing for nothing.
Water is the most wonderful commodity on this earth bar none and my wife still plays war at the time I stand in the shower letting it flow over me. Better than sex? it comes close.


Message 22 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 09 December 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Sex on a water bed? :-D


Message 23 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 09 December 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Deborah -
Now I am really disppointed in you for giving first prize to ron wassisname...face it.. he was swimming and cavorting around at leisure camps in Carthage - Augusta - Termoli - Cairo - and no doubt other venues like Rimini - Venice and Trieste, while the rest of us were fighting our socks off... as some friends of mine would say's no fair jimmy !


Message 24 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 09 December 2004 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Hear, hear!


Message 25 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 09 December 2004 by Ron Goldstein

Dear Tom

In the interests of Anglo/Canadian goodwill and to stop any virtual Hari Kari on the site I have decided to split the magnificent BBC prize with your good self.

Let's see.... half of niente is (I suppose) niente so expect this amount from me anytime within the next few years.

As for Peter..... well, I always knew he would butter up his Canadian friends. Just wait until he's put up for a KCB and needs my nomination !

Corporal Ron Goldstein
ex 4th Queen's Own Hussars
now resident in Cockfosters


Message 26 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 10 December 2004 by Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper

Dear Ron,
I will accept your most generous offer .... after all .. half is better than nothing !

Trooper Tom Canning
ex 145th R.A.C. &
16/5th Lancers !!!
now resident of British Columbia


Message 27 - Collapsing beds

Posted on: 10 December 2004 by Frank Mee Researcher 241911

SILENCE in the ranks it sounds like a W.I. knitting circle. Take their names Corporal.

Sex on a water bed??? Speaking from experience are we??
Frank Mee

Archive List

This story has been placed in the following categories.

British Army Category
Italy Category
icon for Story with photoStory with photo

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy