At some point in time, you may have heard the words ‘Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag’ and you may have wondered “what is a kit-bag?”

Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag

Smile, boys, that’s the style.

And smile, smile, smile,

While you’ve a lucifer to light your fag,

What’s the use of worrying?

It never was worth while

So pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag

And smile, smile, smile.

A ‘lucifer’ was a phosphorous-tipped ‘scratch anywhere’ match and ‘fag’ was the British slang of the era for cigarette.

British-issue Kit Bag

Officially titled Smile, Smile, Smile, the words above are the chorus of another of the popular songs of the WW1 era. Written in 1915 by two Brits, lyricist George Asaf (actually George Powell) and composer Felix Powell, his brother, the ditty wasn’t a success until it was re-scored as a march. Unlike the contemporaneous musical hall favorite Tipperary, this one was clearly about military service. You can read more about the Powells and their song here, and you can listen to a 1918 recording here.

The British ‘kit bag’ was the equivalent of the American duffel bag, a large canvas bundle that could be closed with a tie at the top end and secured with a padlock, in which soldiers would stow all of their clothing and possessions that they couldn’t take with them to front-line service. The kit bags would be stored at a depot pending the soldier’s return.

WW1 American soldiers called the satchels holding their pre-induction civilian clothes and things their ‘kit bags’. In my U.S. Army of the 1960’s these were called ‘B-4’ bags.

James (“Jim”) Patton BS BA MPA is a retired state official living in Shawnee, Kansas and a frequent contributor to several WW1 e-publications, including "Roads to the Great War," "St. Mihiel Tripwire," "Over the Top" and "Medicine in the First World War." He has spent many hours walking the WW1 battlefields, and is also an authority on British regiments and a collector of their badges. An Army Engineer during the Vietnam War, he does work for the US World War 1 Centennial Commission and has memberships in the WW1 Historical Association, the Western Front Association, the Indian Military Historical Society and the Salonika Campaign Society.