Saturday, 28 July 2012

The Battle of The Boots

During the war friendly rivalries emerged over different styles and equipment between the allies. Bean in his official ‘Australia in the First World War’ mentions about the ‘Battle of the Boots’ between the Australian and the British Army.

‘There was much controversy among experts as to whether the Australian service boot was inferior to the British boot. An English report confidently stated that the boot supplied to the British regiments was ‘the finest boot in the world.’

An equally confident Australian expert reported that ‘Australian boots are absolutely the most comfortable ever issued, and the men receive comfort and correct fit’ There was a real ‘Battle of the Boots’ between rival experts, whose reports upon the departmental file make amusing reading and testify to the conflicts which can rage even about plain matters of fact and experience among men who are undoubted authorities in their trade. Lieutenant-Colonel Leane was instructed to report upon the reports, especially in view of a complaint that had been made that 3,000 pairs of Australian boots were worn out after two marches.
A non-expert reading these reports with a view of determining what was the probable truth may conclude that the differences of opinion arose from making comparisons between boots that had not endured the same kind of service.

A pair of boots which had been several times saturated, and the wearer of which had to march in them several miles over rough cobble-stone roads, went to pieces. Thus, Colonel Leane found that the 3,000 pairs of which complaint was made were worn by the men of a division which had come out of a sector where their boots had become sodden; and, after they had marched from the Somme to the northern area, there was no repairing material available. Consequently, when a parade was ordered, 3,000 men were ineffective because they were without boots. But the same officer also inspected boots which had covered 250 miles and gave no evidence of undue wear. He compared them with boots which had been clump-soled with English leather over the original soles, and these showed the same conditions of wear.

The best judges were probably the infantry, and among them Australian boots were always at a high premium on account of their comfort. The owner of an English factory, who had repaired more than 60,000 pairs of Australian boots for the A.I.F., and many thousands of British boots, reported that in his opinion the sole leather of the former was more porous than that of the British army boot. But the design of the Australian boot was considered generally to be very good, particularly in respect to the pliability of the upper leather during the campaign in Sinai and Palestine there was never any complaint about the pattern or material. On the contrary, the boot was lighter in weight than the British service boot, and was perfectly adapted for hard wear in a dry climate.

The difference of opinion arose when the wet conditions of winter warfare in France imposed on footwear a strain which was extraordinarily destructive. The boot was probably too light at first, but the thickness of the sole leather was afterwards increased and the watertight tongue made higher. These improvements gave the Australian soldier a boot which satisfied the officers of the A.I.F. and more than satisfied their men.’

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