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MERLINV12

Were Boots Repaired ?

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MERLINV12

It may sound a strange question, but did the British Army have a repair section/depot in France for boots, or were new ones just issued ??

 

TIA.

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A Lancashire Fusilier by Proxy
Posted (edited)

I can only speak from the experience of my grandad as reported in his diary. On 8th January 1916, when his unit (then the 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers) were in billets at Metigny, he says:

 

"Had Kit Inspections, clothing, boots. We needed refitting very badly."

 

Then on 20th January 1916 this:

 

"The boots were still in a very bad state, but we had tremendous difficulty in getting new ones. Many of the men were almost walking on their socks."

 

Then on 1st May 1918 (by which time he was with the 1/5th Lancashire Fusiliers) when they were in billets at Coigneux, he says:

 

"Battalion cleaning up and training – refitting clothing – Boots particularly."

 

From this it seems to me that they were getting new ones rather than having them repaired, though I suppose that they might be getting them patched up in between times.

Edited by A Lancashire Fusilier by Proxy

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MerchantOldSalt

Very much were boots repaired, for example at the Army boot Repair shop in Calais and in Britain at the Army Boot repairing Factory in the Old Kent Road London.  If you go on the IWM photographic site there are loads of photos of boots being repaired at many locations.  Here is one of them at Calais from the IWM collection.  French ladies doing the repairing

 

Tony

Calais IWM .jpg

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Moonraker

In March 1916, William George Buckland, aged 29, single, boot & shoe maker and repairer, self-employed of Maryport Street, Devizes, received two months' exemption from military service; his brother had enlisted 12 months previous and was now in France. "Business depended on him. Carrying out repairs for men at the Depot, Wireless Station and the National Reserve Troops in the area." In March 1917, Buckland was given a qualified exemption. The depot would have been that of the Wiltshire Regiment and presumably would have been well-stoked with new boots.

 

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Steven Broomfield

Frederic Manning, in The Middle Parts of Fortune (an essential read) makes mention of the Battalion 'snobs' - the boot repairers within the unit. Minor repairs would, I assume, be done in-house; Manning particularly mentions the snobs putting leather bars on the soles of the boots in preparation for the forthcoming assault in the Ancre battle at the end of the Somme - the ground was in an appalling state and the leather additions were intended to add grip.

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healdav

Of course, repairing was routine in the Peninsular War. See The Recollections of Rifleman Harris - he was battalion cobbler.

 

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MERLINV12

Thanks for all the replies, my reason for asking was that my Aunt joined the WAAC, and served in France, her civilian occupation was as a Fitter (assembly of parts of boots before stitching ) in a Boot & Shoe factory.

 

As it seems that most women in the WAAC did the same or similar jobs in France as they did before joining up, I thought I would ask the question.

 

I have a problem in that in the draft that she arrived with in France, there is no mention of her type of skills, they were:

 

10 Worker Cooks

10 Worker Clerks

4 Worker Storekeepers

1 Worker Motor Mechanic

2 Worker Motor Drivers

5 Worker General Domestics

4 Worker Shorthand Typists

2 Worker Messengers

1 Worker Orderley

2 Worker Waitresses

1 Worker Housemaid

 

So whether she did leather/boot work, or performed other duties will probably remain a mystery (no service record).

 

Any further comments in light of the additional info welcome.

 

Thanks again.

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voltaire60

The quality of boot repair for the first 2 years of the war depended quite a lot on what the great rush of volunteers had done in peacetime.  Thus, one battalion of the New Armies might be far better clad than another simply if the CO had the sense to ferret out out the tailors in the ranks.Some of the London battalion histories mention that looking for skills from within paid dividends. I have a local casualty for Wanstead, Charles Runagle (KIA Gommecourt 1/7/16)-who was a bootmaker in civilian life. His entry in De Ruvigny showed he was popular for doing boot repairs for his comrades:

 

image.png.a168a6a297e6e90b20de31d268b641bb.png

 

With the more regularised division of the army into the fighting men and the camp-followeres with conscription, those with practical skills-especially the less fit or more elderly conscripts-were put into labour battalions and  there might be a whole company of,say, bootmakers.  My man Runage, I have specualted, may well have survived had he held ot until conscription rather than  volunteer in 1914:

"Charles Runagle  volunteered for the army  at Walthamstow on  22nd October 1914.  By then, the family were at 60 Norman Road, Leytonstone. He need not have volunteered as a married and with a newborn son at that.  Had he held out until conscription was introduced, he might have survived.  When in the army he was popular with his fellow men for his skills in boot repairing-and a married man with children  in his 30s might have seen out conscription from 1916 doing his  normal job  in one of the new labour battalions of the Labour Corps. As it was, he was assigned to the Royal Fusiliers."

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Tomo.T

My Gt. Grandfather Sgt. William Thompson repaired boots at Etaples and Woolwich. He suffered from arthritis in his finger joints and was discharged in 1918

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mancpal

John Readitt VC was a cobbler/clogger from East Manchester though I doubt earned his medal by repairing boots. He (and his father) secured a contract to repair the boots for Manchester United for 10yrs after the war.

East Manchester has generally been a Manchester City area, I wonder how many old comrades called in the shop offering a shilling for him to put the studs on the inside. I certainly would have tried. Up the blues.

 

Simon

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A Lancashire Fusilier by Proxy

Lots of interesting stuff here, especially the leather bars to try to get to grips with Somme mud. I wonder whether they worked, or just made the boots uncomfortable to wear.

For the experts among you, would I be right in surmising that when my grandad refers to "refitting" in post #2 he is probably generally talking about, if not new, nevertheless reconditioned boots? In other words, apart from  minor running repairs, would damaged boots generally be collected in, and new or reconditioned ones be issued, while the damaged ones would be sent off to depots such at the one in Calais shown in the photo in post #3, to be refurbished if at all possible, on the footing that, if it was possible to refurbish them, they would then be re-issued to a different soldier in due course?

And, again for the experts, is it possible that MerlinV12's aunt could have continued using her trade under the designation "storekeeper"

 

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MERLINV12
Posted (edited)
17 hours ago, A Lancashire Fusilier by Proxy said:

And, again for the experts, is it possible that MerlinV12's aunt could have continued using her trade under the designation "storekeeper"

 

The same question I was about to ask :thumbsup:

 

IWM Photo Archive has quite a few photos of the Calais Depot, but all show men cobblers, and French women, but no WAAC"s, so maybe she worked in the Boot Store ??

Edited by MERLINV12

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Ron Clifton

In 1914 the establishment of every Regular infantry battalion included a sergeant-shoemaker, confirming that minor repairs could indeed be carried out within the unit. This might not have applied to Territorial or New Army battalions, but it is not improbable that such men could be found within their ranks too.

 

Incidentally, my father, a schoolteacher and WW2 veteran, maintained his hobby of repairing shoes in my childhood. Putting rubber soles on shoes, and occasionally re-soling the leather as well, were regular occurrences at the time, and I well recall visiting a leather-worker's stall in our local market to buy the materials. I also remember his small, rather rusty last.

 

Ron

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Don Regiano

At a slight tangent, there is an interesting comment under "Means of identification" in the burial return for 2Lt L Ashby 2/5 Lancashire Fusiliers who died on 20 10.1918:

 

doc1815462.JPG

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Matlock1418
4 minutes ago, Don Regiano said:

At a slight tangent, there is an interesting comment under "Means of identification" in the burial return

I too have seen this reference to boots many times as an aid to identification - especially within concentration reports

Elsewhere in Divisional Orders I have seen reference to the looting of casualties before the graves teams had processed them and the prohibition of such - it is likely boots could have been a valuable reclaimable resource, either immediately by troops in the field or as an approved reclaim.

The problem that has challenged me, and undoubtedly has caused problems over the years and may have been on the mind of the divisional commander, is that boots could be marked with a Regtl. no. but if unofficially reclaimed [possibly even if officially reclaimed] such a number might cause the loss of identification of a casualty or end up on the wrong casualty when it came to later identification of a soldier already in a earlier dead man's boots.

[this would seem to be a potential problem for any numbered reclaimed kit]

Does anyone have any detailed info on the approved process for reclamation of boots?

[or other equipment]

:-) M 

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mills-bomb

Surprised nobody has mentioned the Boot Bonfire in North Wales yet, a site I have passed many times and to my shame know not much about.

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mills-bomb
19 hours ago, Moonraker said:

That’ll be me told then.

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GWF1967
On 14/06/2020 at 09:53, Ron Clifton said:

In 1914 the establishment of every Regular infantry battalion included a sergeant-shoemaker, confirming that minor repairs could indeed be carried out within the unit. This might not have applied to Territorial or New Army battalions, but it is not improbable that such men could be found within their ranks too.

 

Ron

IWM photograph showing Seaforth Highlanders repairing boots in the field. 

0E6734C5-621A-4B3E-BEB4-C5A2D29F7C23.jpeg

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A Lancashire Fusilier by Proxy
On 14/06/2020 at 09:53, Ron Clifton said:

minor repairs could indeed be carried out within the unit. This might not have applied to Territorial or New Army battalions

The 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers' War Diary for 31st January 1916, while the unit was at Longpre, reads:

 

The difficulties of obtaining ordnance stores from the newly formed 55th Division gave rise to considerable anxiety especially in the case of boots. A very large number of men had entirely worn out their boots and the general disorganisation of ordnance services made it almost impossible to repair or replace them.

 

It is always reassuring when I find that my grandfather's diary accords exactly with the War Diary for the Battalion (which I am pleased to say it does for 99% of the time).

 

Anyway, the point here is that the 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers, a Territorial unit, appear to have been relying on the Divisional resources for both repairs and replacements.

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wainfleet

My great-uncle Clarence Garnett, in the Essex Yeomanry then MGC from early 1915, told me that at first they were issued new boots when they wore out, then about halfway through the war "we got repaired boots, and we didn't like that!"

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Dave1418
5 hours ago, GWF1967 said:

IWM photograph showing Seaforth Highlanders repairing boots in the field. 

0E6734C5-621A-4B3E-BEB4-C5A2D29F7C23.jpeg

An excellent image including the very rarely seen cobblers bag. I’ve only ever seen one in private collection which was 1915 dated. Unfortunately he wouldn’t let me open it as the leather is brittle but he did let me measure it so I made a copy. A nice roll of thick some leather also which is far harder than you usually find

117A6882-DB81-4188-837D-50B47711B90A.jpeg

7E59006F-1D1A-45F6-807E-A216827D88AB.jpeg

48E552C8-DDE7-4904-96FD-6E52574C8A54.jpeg

762BE675-A693-4332-BE6D-17735D4471E9.jpeg

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mancpal

A load of cobblers !

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MERLINV12

Some informative posts, many thanks, however as the OP I feel the topic has wandered a little, maybe my fault for not originally making it clear.

 

I was looking for facts, opinions, as to whether a woman in the WAAC would have performed her civilian job, assembling and making boots.

 

IWM Photo Archive has quite a few photos of the Calais Depot Boot Repair Shop, but all show men cobblers, and French civilian women, but no WAAC"s. As the general consensus is that they used their civilian skills in France,  so maybe she worked in the Boot Store as a Storekeeper ??

 

Is there likely to be a War Diary or documents for Calais Depot ??

 

TIA.

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T8HANTS

Just found this photo of army cobblers, armed the bomb proof Singer 29K, boot patching machine.

As I am fettling one at the moment, I thought I would share.

soldier29_4.jpg

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