Selous and a Housewife on the battlefield

You’d be forgiven for thinking this post was about a woman who looks after a house, but as you’ve guessed from this opening sentence, it’s not.

In a list of FC Selous’ possessions being recorded after his death (TNA WO 339/24672), I came across Housewife. This seemed rather odd given the items were surrendered by men and that the item was listed between weapons and other non-living things (including a Matabele war medal ribbon). Asking a few people of a generation I thought might know yielded confused looks and a shake of heads. Reverting to the Internet, I finally discovered what a Housewife is.
You can either see the picture or read on.

A housewife is a portable sewing kit, something I always take with me on trips today. Little did I realise that soldiers serving in Africa had a similar little pack, although one wonders what uniforms the men had which could still be repaired given some of the comments and the sketches by AW Lloyd(p43, 49).

I also wonder, given the labour/gender divide of the day, who (if anyone) had taught the men to use the items in the housewife. During South Africa’s years of conscription mothers would often show their sons how to sew buttons on and do other basic repairs. Was Selous one of a limited number of men to have such kit, or was it standard uniform allocation of the day? Perhaps there were sewing classes on board ship as the men were being transported between home and their allocated port for military service? Or was it that working class men were quite comfortable with a needle and thread?

Frederick Selous was killed by a sniper bullet on 4 January 1917 at Beho-Beho in southern German East Africa. The spot today is in the Selous National Park in Tanzania. Selous was 64 years of age when he was killed and a year later to the day his son Frederick Hatherley Bruce Selous died after his plane was shot down on the Western Front. near Pas de Calais. Some interesting snippets on the 1914-18 Forum.


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