In this photograph rows of men can be seen sitting on benches, repairing army boots. The standard issue boots had steel toecaps and heels and hobnailed soles. They were of little use in the waterlogged trenches, when heavy balls of mud stuck to them.
The army boot-repair factory in Calais employed over 800 staff by 1917 (including German prisoners and local women) and had grown to be the largest boot-making organisation in the world. Uniform details suggest photograph taken 1917-1918.
Original reads: ‘OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN ON THE BRITISH WESTERN FRONT IN FRANCE. Where Tommy’s footwear is repaired. This big shop on the Western Front renovates 30,000 pairs a week. A corner of the shop.’ The most evocative reference to army boots is in Wilfred Owens’s poem, ‘Dulce et Decorum est’, in which he wrote, ‘Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots but limped on, blood-shod. All went lame.’
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