From supplying kit for soldiers in the Second World War to creating special brushes to help the secret service, Kent Brushes has had an illustrious journey!
Kent Brushes has a long and distinguished relationship with the British military, having provided hundreds of thousands of brushes for soldiers’ kit during the Second World War.
Each soldier heading to the front was provided with a standard supply kit, which contained seven brushes by Kent for hair, teeth, shaving, clothing, shoes and buttons.
But did you know that Kent also made brushes for the secret service which contained hidden compartments designed to conceal maps and compasses?
These were then sent to British prisoners of war, to assist them in returning home in the event of escape.
The work began when Kent Brushes was approached by Charles Fraser-Smith of MI9, a department of the War Office whose work involved creating various gadgets and escape aids. Charles was said to be the inspiration for James Bond’s Q character, thanks to his nifty innovations appropriating everyday objects.
Charles had been tasked with persuading hundreds of manufacturers to support the war effort through creating modified items which could be sent to the front without raising questions. As well as
hairbrushes, he worked with factories making pencils, matches, cameras and lighters.
The work was carried out in a locked and windowless room at the Kent factory. Only five people from the workforce of hundreds had any idea what was going on.
Terence McGuire was one member of staff entrusted with the project. Having joined the company at 14, he rose through the ranks and eventually became a manager. “We did the work in complete secret,” remembers Terence. “We worked out of an unused department and all of the work was done by hand, by three people.”
“One of the main things we produced was a wooden brush that had a shallow cavity in the back – about 1” square. It was otherwise completely identical to the other brushes on our production line.”
However, given the scrupulous investigation that was inevitable with any package, this wasn’t just any secret compartment. The brush was created in two halves, and underneath a couple of bristle holes were
tiny, indented screws which allowed the back to be released and the cavity to be revealed.
“The two rows of bristle around the outside were fixed,” explains Terence. “But on the middle rows, there were a couple of spots which hid the secret – tiny pins at the bottom of a bristle indent, with normal bristles inserted on top and adhered in place. To the untrained eye, it looked just like any of our brushes. The agent and the manufacturer were the only people who knew which bristles covered pins.”
Despite the technical skill involved in making such a device, only a handful of people in the office knew what was happening. Terence says that even the women whose job it was to fit bristles in the holes had no idea what lay beneath. “Everything is constructed in individual parts,” he reveals. “It was only when the brushes came back to us in the secret department to assemble that the final product was finished.”
Owing to the highly secretive nature of the work, there are no records of how many Kent Brushes were sent overseas and the stories of those who escaped with them remain a mystery.
However, one thing is for certain; Kent’s contribution to the war effort went above and beyond mere male grooming.