“War Surplus”

Yesterday our church bulletin mentioned a need for blankets and sleeping bags to hand out to people who come to our doors. Winter in Hartford challenges us all, but none more so than those who are without homes. Since we are an urban church known for hospitality, such ones come for help.

I remembered Andy and Bax where we bought our blankets and sleeping bags and their title “war surplus.” Then I stopped my time travel and realized that we bought those items in the early 1950’s, in Portland, Oregon, and that I was in Connecticut in 2020. So I would definitely need another source.

But for a brief time I could remember everything about those blankets: their drab color, their scratchy surface, and their warmth. Then I thought of those “mummy” sleeping bags, left over from the Korean War, which released feathers every now and then but were incredibly warm. I took one to camp each summer and stayed toasty. The only challenge was waking up with my face anywhere but in the small opening in front. Trapped backwards in a “mummy” bag was not for the faint of heart.

I never thought about the phrase “war surplus” when I was a kid, but most of our camping gear from the pup tents to the sleeping bags was in fact left over either from World War II or the Korean War. The combat was recently over when I was growing up, and I thought of those soldiers in the freezing winters in Korea when I climbed into my “mummy bag.” I pondered if they ever woke up like me in the night, backwards in the bag, and wondered if their end had come.

17 thoughts on ““War Surplus”

  1. I remember sleeping in those “mummy” bags fully clothed in case we were called out in the middle of the night to defend against an attack, only allowed to take off our boots. It was impossible to get out in a hurry if you were not facing the right way! (Cold War exercises only thank goodness)


  2. There is a store in a town nearby that is called Army Surplus. They of course have items from all branches. I first went in the 70’s and it seemed like a sad place to go to. I believe it is still there on the outskirts of a run down neighborhood. It just feels sad to me.


  3. When I hear of Surplus stores I’m reminded of the one near the Pike Place Market in Seattle where we got our Navy bellbottom jeans and dress pants, back in the sixties and seventies. Those were fun.


  4. My first ‘strong boots’ were from the ‘Army Surplus’ shop. Conscription had ended, and they probably no longer neeed so many pairs of black lace-up boots. I later bought some thick wool gloves there, but they were useless in rain or snow. Made me wonder what good they had been to soldiers in a winter war zone.
    Best wishes, Pete.


  5. Wonderful memories, Elizabeth. Isn’t it funny how a 1950-ish memory can seem much the same as today? We didn’t get to have sleeping bags at summer camp. We had bedding, and boy do I know how to make hospital corners! Those wool blankets we had must have been Army surplus.


    1. Thanks. I have at least printed my posts out in little books for my grandchildren. Others have commented on my memory, so perhaps I should actually write a memoir. Thanks for the nudge.


  6. I think the Army Surplus stores now are actually manufacturing gear – as it’s got to be trendy among the younger folk. But I did hear that sometimes they are actual gear that has been upgraded to a new style…so maybe they are still “Army surplus” just that when they changed the style they found they had 10,000 pieces on hand!

    I know that here in NZ they have regularly a charity that hands out blankets…not directly to the those in need but through the social welfare system. Not only blankets but things like PJs for the kids. a Friend of mine helped out and she would get a list to make a parcel with F / M and ages – so she would be in a room sorting out the packages…

    Every now and then there would be a call out for knitted slippers or beanies as well…

    Another organisation provides raincoats and gumboots for school children…and then there are the hot lunch brigade…


    1. How odd to think of military gear being manufactured without being needed for combat. I love the idea that they just found a way to market the old stuff too. I just sent ten blankets to our church to hand out. Just not those warm wool khaki colored ones of my memory.


  7. Your post reminded me of my days at NMMI, my high school. The dorms were called barracks and opened to a stoop that was exposed to the weather. The doors and windows stopped little of the New Mexico winter winds and dust. We had bunks with a thin mattress and a single army style blanket. A second blanket was neatly folded at the foot of the bed. The rooms were equipped with two desks (there were two cadets to a room) two built in closets and a sink with cabinet above. As the radiator supplied little heat. We would run hot water in the sink for extra heat, it was not effective but made us think we were getting some warmth. Spartan but oh how I loved the place albeit with fifty + years of hindsight.


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