Late last year the Memorial received a pair of Second World War escape and evasion (E&E) boots as part of a donation. We already held two pairs of 1943 Pattern E&E boots in the collection which were designed so that if an airman baled out or crash landed over enemy territory, he could cut away the suede upper with a concealed knife. This would turn his boots into 'civilian' style shoes to help him evade capture by the Germans. Neither pair held by the Memorial had their original knife (they often get separated from the boots), so I hoped this new pair might. When I first saw the new boots I thought they looked a bit strange. They were similar to the 1943 Pattern boots, but were of a different design to the boots already held. The fleece lined calf section was not suede, but instead was polished leather. The zipper was located at the front of the boot, not to the side and the strap at the top looked different.
I knew prototype versions of the 1943 Pattern boot had been made in 1941 and 1942 and when I looked into it further, I was thrilled to discover that the new boots were indeed a pair of the rare version 1 prototypes! This version was made in relatively small numbers in 1941 and early 1942. They were issued to select air crew by MI9 to test their functionality. This particular pair is well worn and appears to have also been used after the war. Due to their rarity, these boots are special, but what makes them even more special to the Memorial is that they were issued to, and used by, a known Australian airman – Flight Lieutenant Daniel Joseph Reid, DFC.
When this prototype proved useful, a second version was developed later in 1942, this prototype also being rare. The main difference between the two protoypes was the movement of the zipper from the front of the boot to the side so the shoe laces would not get caught in the zip. As a result of this change, the strap along the top was shortened. The new zipper placement remained as a feature of the official 1943 Pattern boot. Recently the Memorial was fortunate enough to acquire a pair of version 2 prototype boots. This pair has no known service history, but they illustrate the development of the escape boot that was issued to Australian air men.
Both pairs of boots are very welcome additions to the Memorial's collections. You may be wondering if either pair included the original knife. Unfortunately not, but hopefully one day we will get one!