Soldiers having their boots cleaned

This week’s snapshot dates from the Second World War and depicts a pair of soldiers in Egypt having their shoes shined by local shoe shine ‘boys’ whilst walking out in a local town:

The shoe shine boys are dressed in traditional garb and have the tools of their trade around them; a small box to raise the client’s foot up to make it easier to clean his shoes, tins of polish, brushes and rags, all of which can be fitted into the box to carry and allow a young lad to run a business wherever he can find a corner of the street to set up:

The shoe shine trade was usually the preserve of young men and this scene could be observed across the world, even in the UK boys who left school at 14 might set up in the shoe shine trade as a way of earning a wage. Even today the profession continues in the poorer parts of the world as a way for a boy to earn money for his family, particularly after the death of his father as the main bread winner.

The soldiers themselves are wearing battledress, suggesting that the weather has turned and it is too cool to wear KD which one would expect in these more tropical climes:

As they are relaxing and walking out, they do not wear anklets and the battledress is simply worn with boots and FS caps:

It is hard to assess the impact of the British military on the local economy when overseas, however it is clear that they brought in a lot of welcome employment and income for the locals in the region with jobs available supplying army bases with supplies, providing entertainment in the form of bars and brothels and acting as servants for the soldiers and fulfilling duties like laundry, sweeping out barracks and general housekeeping. None of these jobs were skilled or particularly highly paid, however they were employment and the work and money was steady which was a great boon for those at the bottom of the ladder in these societies whose very existence was precarious and for whom employment opportunities would otherwise be limited.

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