One of the most iconic images from all the campaigns, battles and fronts of the First World War is that of Great Britain’s Tommy’s puttees.
As with other socio-military items of the British armed forces during the period, the puttee had its origins in British India during the 19th Century.
Puttee, also spelt puttee, is adapted from the Hindi word ‘patti’ which means bandage/strip of cloth for covering the lower part of the leg from ankle to knee. The puttee consisted of a long narrow strip of cloth which would be wound tightly and spirally round the leg. This piece of clothing was worn as both protection and support, and was especially worn by riders.
For all the armies of the world at the beginning of the 20th Century, knee length boots were the fashion for soldiers.
Despite this, the British Army had to work to a budget since Great Britain’s military prowess was her Navy. Thus, instead of tall knee length boots, the British soldier wore ankle boots and puttees.
The traditional puttee was 9 feet long and made of wool serge which was wrapped from ankle to knee for the infantry and the opposite way for the cavalry. The puttee also had a length of cotton at the top which was wrapped around the leg and tied to secure the wrapping.
In 1914, the British soldier wore curved puttees that were bent in opposite directions which would conform to the soldiers left and right leg. In spite of this, many manufacturers replaced these with straight cut puttees which were much quicker to produce which then had to be worn in by the troops.
The most common brand of puttees at the time were ‘Foxes’, which were better made than army issued pairs and could be easily identified by small brass discs at the bottom edge which marked the puttees ‘L’ and ‘R’.
There was no formal colour for puttees as the colour appears to have varied between drab browns and greens.
The British Army standard Boot which went well with the Puttees was the B5 ‘ammunition’ boot. These boots were made of thick roughside leather with wooden pegged soles and were ankle length.
Whilst stationed in England, British Army units were issued pairs of the boots in black, whereas whilst on active service they were issued cheaper brown pairs. As an interesting note, the Royal Artillery was issued with black pairs throughout the war.
In terms of looking at wrapping puttees, this exercise can be tricky and frustrating.
Firstly, before putting on the puttee, make sure that your breeches are comfortable and snugly laced at your calf (see figure 1 of how to wrap puttees)
Secondly roll up the puttees and start by rolling the cotton tape gradually towards the wool strip and roll that up as well. Ensure you roll up the puttees in so that the cotton tape is in the centre of the roll. The loose end of the rolled puttee is the starting point and as you unroll and work up the leg, the tape will be exposed last and at the top of the calf.
Thirdly it may be wise to prop your foot on a bench. Take your rolled puttee and find the loose end of the roll. Starting with around 6inches, place it against your shin and unroll towards your boot top (see figure 2 of how to wrap puttees)
Thirdly, at the top of the boot, fold the puttee so that you can start wrapping it around your leg. Importantly, start with the material over lapping the top of your boot and make two passes around the top of your boot and pull the wrapping tight (see figure 3of how to wrap puttees)
Fourthly, once you have wrapped the puttee around the top of your boot at least twice and pulled it tight, continue to wrap the puttee around your leg with each pass overlapping the previous wrap, until you reach the top of your calf below the knee (see figure 4 of how to wrap puttees) At this stage you should have come to the end of the wrap and ended with the cotton tape. Unroll the cotton tape, wrap it snugly around the top of the puttee to hold it in place (see figure 5 of how to wrap puttees)
Finally, when wearing puttees they should be snug, but not too tight. It must be noted that the leg of the breeches should be pulled up enough so that they are laced at the calf. If this process is not undertaken, the wearer will notice uncomfortable tugging on the leg of the breeches.
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smnmcshannon (author) from England on May 26, 2011:
In terms of the durability of puttees they were one of a soldiers best comforts in the trenches. The only problem being that when completely soaked through they had to be dried (of course this was often an issue in the muddy landscape of flanders). One interesting note is that when the 'DoughBoy' Americans arrived in France, their soldiers were clothed with fabric gaiters and due to the wet conditions, these often deteriated. From then on American soldiers wore puttees
Artist-For-Hire from Western Australia on May 25, 2011:
Awesome info yet again. Never gave much thought to military clothing until now - learn something new each day. I can almost picture new recruits trying to figure out how to wear puttee's comfortably! Would have been a most troubling bother in the trenches - were they often neglected, do you know? I'm guessing no because they would have been valued for their warmth as well. Voted and enjoyed.