Article from Stand To! Number 38, 1993
War is the most wasteful of all human under-takings and it made sense for the British armies in France to make every effort to mitigate as far as possible the inevitable waste by salvaging and re-using as much material as practicable. If this reclamation could be done in France, material savings would be matched by economies in transport which was always under great, and at times very acute pressure.
As early as the winter of 1914-15, therefore, the first steps were taken in the BEF when operations to clean and repair used clothing, blankets, boots, etc. were started. Soon workshops were springing up all over the rear areas for repairing anything from gas masks to guns. The repair of guns was, of course, undertaken at Ordnance workshops (see ST/25, p26) but much of the less-skilled work was performed by French civilians, mostly women. The salvage of material from the battlefield was, however, done by military personnel as shown in IWM photograph Q1795 taken near Bapaume in January 1917. Salvage operations as a whole were under the direction of a Controller of Salvage at GHQ with the rank of brigadier general.
In addition to repairs undertaken in France, considerable quantities of salvaged material were shipped back to the UK where more complicated processes could be performed. One British railway workshop, for example, designed a special machine for rectifying the many thousands of mis-shapen used shell cases it was sent for reclamation.
A salvage depot known as the Clothing Reception Depot was also established in England where used garments were either cleaned, repaired and re-issued or, if unfit for further use, disposed of to a rag market or cloth manufacturer. Between 1 October 1918 and 31 March 1919 alone, the depot handled 3,669,161 unserviceable or surplus garments.