B5 Boots at Shropshire Regimental Museum
While preparing a piece about the British Expeditionary Force’s retreat from Mons, Keith Pybus turned to fellow member of the Shropshire Remembers Consortium, curator Christine Bernáth, for a pair of boots. She explained that few items of clothing or footwear had survived the rigours of the trenches and unfortunately there were none in the collection. This led to a joint investigation and the addition of a pair of B5 replica boots to Shropshire Regimental Museum.
Some years earlier, in The Guardian’s Men’s Fashion, Keith had tripped over a piece by Alexis Petridis wrote “despite the fact that it’s a perfect replica of something designed almost 100 years ago, Lennon’s World War 1 B5 boot … is a thing of huge aesthetic loveliness”
Which is how he came to exchange e-mails with Libs Slattery of William Lennon & Co Ltd. She is the fourth generation of her company established in 1899 to supply local quarrying and lead mining industries with quality work boots.
Christine explained, “The more Keith and I looked at the B5 replica boots made by William Lennon, the happier we felt about their authenticity. The tanner who supplies the leather has been in business for 176 years and the cast segs and protectors, which are hammered into the sole to prolong the life of the boots, were made by another family business set up in 1902.
When we looked at the design we were sure the boots would have met the Army’s demand for hard-wearing boots which would be simpler and quicker to make. We wondered why the specification called for the leather to be “flesh out” until the tanner explained ‘it would certainly take more of a water-proofing dubbin as compared to a grain leather and the wear properties would certainly be improved. By using the flesh side, the cost would have been somewhat reduced too as the flesh side is always going to be somewhat uniform – this would then result in a better yield, lower unit price (as quality is usually all to do with the grain side) and simple availability.’”
Keith added, “When you consider in 1914 the Regular Army was a mere 250,000 men and by 1918 the volunteers and conscripts had swelled the numbers to 4 million, kitting out these men with uniforms and boots was a massive supply problem. During the War some 50 million pairs were made not just for our troops but for the French, the Italian and Russian allies.”
You can read more about the importance of boots to a marching army in Keith’s article “An Army Marches on its Feet” on the stories page of this website.