Walking a Mile in a Soldier’s Boots: A Brief History of the Trench Boots of WWI

WWI Boots

Today (7/28/2014) marks the 100 year anniversary of WWI, also known as The Great War in older literature. Because I spend a lot of time reading vintage books and stories, WWI comes up quite a bit and I am always confronted with the realization that I know very little about the war itself. I am also taken aback by just how quickly the weapons of war evolved, because many of the generals in WWI also fought against the Indians on the American plains. These guys went from ridding horseback, firing rifles, and dodging arrows, to commanding tanks and planes. When I really began to get that perspective, I can just start to imagine how a world war would have seemed to that generation: like the end of times.

You Can Thank WWI for Your Comfortable Boot

One of the many changes to carry forward from the war is the boots we wear. The common style of footwear most guys own actually came out of a pretty dire problem called Trench Foot. Trench Foot is essentially necrosis of the foot due to prolonged exposure to moisture and cramped conditions. In a nutshell, men’s feet were rotting off, losing skin and toes, exposing bones, and eventually leading to gangrene which is not something you ever want to get.

trench foot ad vintage

Trench Foot Advertisement WWI

Making a Boot for Soldiers

In January of 1918, nearly a year after the U.S. had officially declared war on Germany and entered into the war, General John Pershing approved a series of changes to the current shoe. That’s right, it was called a Russet Marching Shoe, not a boot and it looks like something women still wear. The new boot was outfitted with thicker leather, waterproofing, and a thicker sole among other changes. The Trench Boot was born and was often referred to as the “ Pershing Boot“.

marching shoe 

Russet Marching “Shoe” is what soldiers wore prior to the Trench Boot.

oakstreet boot

Oak Street Bootmakers creates a great looking Trench Boot

Checking Your Trench mate’s Feet

Even after the Trench Boot became standard issue there were still procedures that had to be followed to avoid Trench Foot. Each soldier had to check his buddy’s feet each day and soldiers would rub their feet down with whale oil. It was thought that a soldier would likely forget to check his own feet but would be more likely to check his trenchmate’s. That alone is an interesting perspective on how we men operate!

The Next Time You Lace Up

Give a little thanks for the men that lost their feet in defense of the freedom you now enjoy. Most of society now thinks about boots in terms of fashion and whether it looks good with their jeans, but I can tell you this for sure: A new pair of boots never looked so good to us as it did to the soldiers fighting in the trenches of WWI.

Also, If you are looking for a solid boot, check out Oak Street Bootmakers. I have never tried them out myself, but they look pretty solid and are made in America.

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