Missing Militaria – Now Found – World War Two Australian Boots on the Kokoda Track

Whilst walking the Kokoda Track in 2008;  a comment made by one of my associates has prompted me to elaborate on an issue that is rarely even considered – let alone written about.  

            It concerns footwear – or more specifically; boots worn by Australian troops over the Kokoda Track and later “jungle” campaigns.  Whilst, at face value – it may not seem an interesting prospect to discuss footwear; it is probably one of the most prominent items that any modern day ‘Kokoda Trekker’ will ponder over.  The questions that niggle in the back of one’s mind prior to departure.  Such as “Have I chosen the right boots?”……”Have they been broken in sufficiently” and the big question….”Will they give me blisters??” may come back to haunt you as the trekker begins that climb up Imita Ridge or up to Isurava from Kokoda.  Well, in 1942…….there was no such luxury as ‘choice’ and any questions posed to the quartermaster regarding his boots at the clothing store – no doubt resulted in a colourful “soldier’s” response.

IMAGE LEFT:  The  heel plate from an Australian boot, which for all intents and purposes – looked like a miniature “horse shoe”.

            In July, 2008 we were at the Jap Ladder Campsite (between Ofi Creek and Nauro), looking at a piece of rusty metal with protruding nails.  For all intents and purposes – it looked like a “horse shoe”.  However judging by the size of this item, my trekker came to the conclusion that the ‘horse’ must have had an extremely small hoof to fit a shoe – of this size.  Just short of a Shetland pony, what animal would fit a ‘horse shoe’ this small ???

The item of course was NOT a horse shoe !!!  Rather it was the heel plate from an Australian issue service boot.  Being an avid preserver of Australian Militaria, I had seen countless of these items over the years…..the only difference being – mine were all still attached to their boot.  Indeed in 1942, I dare say that the soldier who was wearing these boots at the time – did not even realise that the plate had come off his heel.  Add exhaustion, injury or sickness and I would say that his care factor was minimised even further.

IMAGE RIGHT:  A pair of Second World War Australian Army boots, made by W.PEATT in 1940.  Without any doubt, it was this style of boot which was issued to Australian troops deployed in the initial stages of the Kokoda Track campaign (39th Infantry Battalion, 53rd Infantry Battalion AMF and the men of the 21st Brigade AIF which comprised of the 2/14th, 2/16th and 2/27th Infantry Battalions)

            When a country mobilises for war, the whole industrial might of that nation goes into full swing.  Production at all levels is doubled and sometimes even tripled – when compared to peacetime output.  You only have to consider how many people enlisted to form the 5 Australian Divisions during the First War (the AIF) – and 4 Divisions during the Second War (Second AIF).  Plus, during World War Two – we had the unique situation of placing a “Militia” army also into the field.  Each and every one of these men needed to be ‘kitted out’ and this meant boots.  Hundreds of thousands of them.

            It always frustrates me – when other collectors or backyard historians claim that leather goods made for the Army all had to be “this colour” or argue blind that “this or that is wrong”.  The fact of the matter is; one single Government factory simply cannot produce sufficient goods on its own – to equip an entire army in a specified period of time.  Especially when a pledge is made – to supply a certain number of troops, to support the Mother Country at the soonest opportunity.  It is quite correct to say that the Government had a certain “standard” or “pattern” so as to make their items of kit conform to a standard uniform.  However, to accommodate such large orders, the Government simply out sourced its demand for items to civilian manufacturers – so long as their product COMPLIED with the standard and passed an inspector’s examination.  Henceforth, boots for Military service had a certain appearance but may have varied slightly from one manufacturer to another.  Civilian companies commissioned to produce Military footwear included Blundstone, W.Peatt, J.J. Whyte, Rossiters Ltd and Slatters; just to name a few.

IMAGE LEFT:  A comparison between the Australian Army boots of the First World War; and those issued to the men of the 2nd AIF during the early stages of World War Two.  As can be clearly seen, the design hardly changed at all.  The boots on the left were manufactured in 1919.  The boots on the right were manufactured in 1941.

In the First World War, historian Charles Bean described the footwear of the First AIF, simply as being like a “workman’s boot”.  Volume 1 of the Official History of World War 1 (Page 63), states that the boots were as pliable as civilian boots and far stouter.  It was also said that in France, countless favours were obtained in exchange for Australian boots, such were their popularity amongst English troops.   This basic design with only minor modifications (i.e. number of eyelets etc) was in military service prior to 1914 and remained so, up until 1941.   The boot upper merely consisted of two (2) pieces of leather stitched together (a toe section and the main ‘body’ of the boot) with  a third piece stitched over the heel – as reinforcing to the back of the boot.  There was no toe cap, subsequently the boot had a ‘soft toe’ appearance.  All of this, stitched onto a full leather sole may – or may not – have been completed with a metal heel plate.  This is clearly illustrated by these two boots produced by different manufacturers.  Those made by ‘W.Peatt’ in 1940 have the metal ‘horse shoe’ and nailed sole whilst the other pair; made by ‘J.J. Whyte’ in 1941 have a clean sole, completely devoid of metalwork. 

IMAGE RIGHT:  The underside of the boots made by W.PEATT in 1940, showing the metal heel plate in situ …. with a relic heel place recovered from Imita Ridge in 2007.




 IMAGE LEFT:  The underside of the boots made by J.J. WHYTE which were manufactured in 1941.  Note that they are completely devoid of any metalwork at all – when compared to the boots made by W.PEATT.  This clearly demonstrates the difference manufacturing processes employed by varying manufacturers.

The pattern for Australian military boots was altered after 1941.  The main difference being a “toe cap” which was incorporated into the manufacturing process.  This resulted in a line of double stitching being evident on the ‘upper toe’ of the boot and it is easy to discern the difference between the two designs.  Again, variations between manufacturers could result in some items displaying metal heel or toe plates and others having just a plain, leather sole.  Certainly, there are some variations in the colour – from light tan (London Tan) to brown.  Some manufacturers altered the design of the heel plate, so that the plate was complete around its perimeter or circumference – and not open at one end, like a ‘horse shoe’.  A major variation however was the addition of brass “Jungle Cleats” which were added to improve grip in muddy conditions.  A lesson no doubt learnt from experience gained on the Kokoda Track.

IMAGE RIGHT:  The Pattern 10085 Australian Army boot with ‘jungle cleats’.  Note the stitching across the toe cap which was different from the previous pattern of boot.

In the harsh jungle climate, leather boots and shoelaces rotted.  Socks simply disintegrated (it was not uncommon for diggers to cut the sleeves of their woollen jumpers to use as substitute socks) and footwear could remain on one’s feet for up to two weeks at a time.  Laurie Howson of the 39th Battalion once commented “The days go on.  You are trying to survive, shirt torn, arse out of your pants.  Some days you carry your boots because there’s no skin on your feet.”


 IMAGE LEFT (PLEASE CLICK TO ENLARGE):  A comparison of the early pattern Australian Army boot (on the right) to the latter pattern (Pattern 10085) on the left.  As can be seen, the later pattern differs – in that they are manufactured with a toe cap as indicated by the row of double stitching across the toe.  They also have a slightly different “feel” to them …. the Pattern 10085 appear to be more stout and robust in their construction.


 IMAGE RIGHT:  A Pattern 10085 Australian Army boot located at Eora Creek (Japanes Mountain Gun position) in April, 2009.  The leather, though thoroughly soaked from the rain – was soft and pliable.  As can be seen, the mud has perfectly preserved the leather which in places, even retains its original ‘light tan’ colour.  Whilst the boot was seperated in two (see below photo) it was placed “together” to ascertain the size of the boot which was estimated as being a size 10.  The fate of the wearer is unknown.

During the Australian withdrawal, the 2/14th reached the supply base at Myola late on the night of the 3rd and early hours of the 4th September, 1942.  Exhaustion had set in and most simply dropped straight off to sleep in their cold, sodden clothes.  In Peter Brune’s “Those Ragged Bloody Heroes” he details how they woke into a ‘Promised Land’ with all of the luxuries that they had not seen for some time.  The torn and mud stained clothes were removed in favour of fresh, clean uniforms.  Boots and socks were cut away and in many cases the rotten skin simply came off with them.  The men’s feet were exposed to the fresh air and the unit chiropodist (Corporal Clark), set about the task of paring away the rotten tissue and smoothing out the wrinkles.   Few passed up the opportunity to replace their boots at Myola, prior to destroying the remaining stores when the area was evacuated.

IMAGE RIGHT:  The toe cap of the same boot at Eora Creek.  As can be seen, the leather is surprisingly in very good condition.

Lieutenant Hugh Dalby, M.C. (previously from the 2/27th and transferred to the 39th) stated “My condition, feet wise had deteriorated because by boots had worn out.  I had pulpy feet: like crevices; ridges a quarter of an inch thick.  You were soaking wet all the time.  White puffy skin just started to peel off.”

For those of you who have walked the Kokoda Track and then continued on to the beach heads of Buna, Gona and Sanananda – perhaps you share my amazement at the sheer distance involved.  When you consider that ‘B’ Company of the 39th Battalion, AMF with Captain Sam Templeton in the lead; walked from McDonald’s Corner all the way to Buna.  Then, after fighting numerous battles, had to walk all the way back again!   An outstanding effort, on hard soled leather boots! 

IMAGE LEFT :  The underside of a Pattern 10085 boot and the underside of the Australian Army boot located at Eora Creek, that is featured in the previous two photographs.  Note the metal toe plate which is evident on both boots.  These metal plates were incorporated into the sole, so as to reduce “wear” whilst walking on paved services.   Wish to know more about the implementation of metal sole plates on Australian boots?  Please Click Here.

So – how does all of this relate to me as a trekker on the Kokoda Track?  Well one merely has to compare our modern apparel with that of a soldier in 1942.  Consider the condition of the track on the ‘Golden Staircase’ of Imita Ridge- or the 3500 odd timber steps cut into the ‘ascent’ towards Ioribaiwa by Australian Engineers.  If you can imagine, wearing boots with a flat leather sole.  Make those boots soaking wet and then negotiate uneven steps.  Add 20 to 30 kilos worth of kit, a reduction in concentration levels due to a poor diet and exhaustion and then place your leather sole on the slimey timber.  One can only imagine how many ‘bloodied shins’ were the result.  Or clamber down the muddy slopes towards Menari, with a Battalion of men in front of you – and see just how much grip our 1941 boots gave us in the tortuous conditions.  In modern times, we can certainly ‘experience’ the rigorous terrain of the Kokoda Track. 

IMAGE RIGHT (PLEASE CLICK TO ENLARGE):  Despite the improvement in footwear since 1942, certain hardships can still strike down the unwary trekker on the Kokoda Track.  These blisters are testimony to the fact that a good pair of trekking boots (well  broken in) are a must – but despite our best efforts …. problems still occur.

However, we can never fully appreciate just what it was like for a digger in 1942 – no matter how hard we try.   There is an old saying – that you should never judge a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes.   Well, the more I learn about the men of this era….and the type of equipment made available to do what was expected of them (which was built for war use – not for the comfort of the wearer)   I judge their efforts to be nothing short of ‘extraordinary’.   When we think of the words inscribed on the Isurava Memorial – then without a single doubt in the world, these men definitely put the “E” back into the word “Endurance”.

IMAGE LEFT:  An Australian Pattern 10085 Army boot which is on display at the Alola Museum.  This museum houses a number of very interesting artefacts and is one of the better museums on the track.  Please Click Here to see a very rare object in the form of a Type 92 Machinegun (Japanese Lewis Gun) which is on display at the Alola Museum.




 IMAGE RIGHT:  Another Heel Plate, this one located on the “Bert Kienzle track” which was cut by this Kokoda stalwart to join Myola 2 with Templeton’s Crossing.


    IMAGE LEFT:  The Pattern 10085 boots as they looked when issued in late 1942.





IMAGE RIGHT:  A Pattern 10085  Australian Army boot after 60 years in the jungle.  This particular relic is on display at the Sanananda Museum which is run by Ananius Mongagi on the south side of the inlet, Sanananda – Papua New Guinea.  Note the dried out condition of the leather, when compared to the “moist” leather of the boot found at Eora Creek where the rainfall is much higher.



  IMAGE LEFT:  Not a pretty sight!  The waterlogged feet of Medals Gone Missing Administrator (Gary Traynor) after trekking from “Dump 1” to Alola in 2008   As recorded in the narrative above, the 2/14th Battalion chiropodist (Corporal Clark)  “set about the task of paring away the rotten tissue and smoothing out the wrinkles”. I had the luxury of taking my shoes off  every evening before this photograph was taken.  Many soldiers on the Kokoda Track during 1942 had NOT taken their shoes off for over a week, whilst in action.   Something for the modern day trekkers to ponder over; if ever they experience wet and sore feet. 


WISH TO SEE A COMPLETE INVENTORY OF UNIFORM & KIT ISSUED TO AUSTRALIAN TROOPS DURING WORLD WAR TWO?  Please Click Here to view more pictures of Australian Army boots and related paraphernalia.

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About gary

Gary Traynor is the volunteer Administrator of the Militaria based website MEDALSGONEMISSING. The aim of this "NOT FOR PROFIT" website is to reunite families, with lost War Medals and other items of militaria. Anything from medals to items of uniform. What Gary refers to as their "lost heritage". He has been actively involved in the Militaria world and researching of Military History for well over 30 years. As a result, Gary also conducts valuations and offers advice on all items of militaria. He has acted as advisor to a number of television and Foxtel productions; including Sir Tony Robinson's "Tour of Duty" series which featured on the History Channel. Gary is a field historian and conducts tours to Gallipoli, The Western Front, Kokoda and many other major battle sites around the world. He was a member of the Australian Army Reserve (UNSWR & 4/3 RNSWR) and served for 23 years with the New South Wales Police Force. He is perhaps the only person who has been employed at the Australian War Memorial in all three capacities .... as a volunteer, part time and full time employee .... starting as a qualified tour guide, working in the public galleries as an Information Assistant and finally Assistant Curator in Military Heraldry & Technology. Medalsgonemissing is a website that will assist you in locating your family's lost war medals and other awards. If you have an ancestor who served in any of the British Commonwealth Armed Services at any time - and whose medals are lost/stolen or simply missing....then so long as the medals are out there - this site will help you to locate them. However the site also contains articles of interest in relation to Military History, War Memorials & Uniforms / kit. Please explore our website as there is sure to be something of interest to you.
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One Response to Missing Militaria – Now Found – World War Two Australian Boots on the Kokoda Track

  1. “Missing Militaria – Now Found – World War Two Australian Boots on the
    Kokoda Track | Medals Gone Missing” was indeed a terrific article.
    In case it had even more photos it would likely be quite possibly even better.

    Take care -Herman

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