A puttee, also spelled puttie, is the name, adapted from the Hindi paṭṭī, bandage (Skt. paṭṭa, strip of cloth), for a covering for the lower part of the leg from the ankle to the knee, alternatively known as: legwraps, leg bindings, winingas, or wickelbander. They consist of a long narrow piece of cloth wound tightly, and spirally round the leg, and serving to provide both support and protection. They were worn by both mounted and dismounted soldiers, generally taking the place of the leather or cloth gaiter.
Worn since antiquity, the puttee was adopted as part of the service uniform of foot and mounted soldiers serving in British India during the second half of the nineteenth century. In its original form the puttee comprised long strips of cloth worn as a tribal legging in the Himalayas. The British Indian Army found this garment to be both comfortable and inexpensive, although it was considered to lack the smartness of the gaiter previously worn. According to the British author and soldier Patrick Leigh Fermor, infantry puttees were wound up from ankle to knee, but in cavalry regiments they were wound down from knee to ankle.
The puttee was subsequently widely adopted by a number of armies including those of the British Commonwealth, the Austro-Hungarian Army, the Chinese National Revolutionary Army, the Belgian Army, the Dutch Army, the Imperial German Army (when stocks of leather long marching boots ran short during WWI), the French Army, the Imperial Japanese Army, the Italian Army, the Portuguese Army, the Turkish Army and the United States Army. Most of these armies adopted puttees during or shortly before World War I. Puttees were in general use by the British Army as part of the khaki service uniform worn from 1902, until 1938 when a new battledress was introduced, which included short webbing gaiters secured with buckles.
Puttees generally ceased to be worn as part of military uniform during World War II. Reasons included the difficulty of quickly donning an item of dress that had to be wound carefully around each leg, plus medical reservations regarding hygiene and varicose veins. However the cheapness and easy availability of cloth leggings meant that they were retained in the Italian, French, Japanese and some other armies until various dates between 1941 and 1945.
When the British Army finally replaced battledress with the 1960 Pattern Combat Dress, ankle high puttees replaced the webbing gaiters. These continued to be worn until the 1980s.
In 2013, the remains of two teenaged Austrian First World War soldiers were found on the Presena glacier. One of them carried a spoon tucked into his puttees, apparently a common practice amongst soldiers eating out of communal pots.
"The Blue Puttees" and "The Glamour Boys"
Two current Canadian infantry regiments were given nicknames based on non-standard leg wear: the Royal Newfoundland Regiment and the 48th Highlanders of Canada.
At the outbreak of World War I the Dominion of Newfoundland raised a regiment for active service. Lacking a local militia or garrison of soldiers, there were no military stores; uniforms had to be fashioned from scratch. In the absence of khaki broadcloth, puttees were fashioned from blue broadcloth. The Newfoundland Regiment was thus nicknamed "The Blue Puttees". This distinctive feature was retained for several months until the regiment was issued with standard British Army uniform and equipment upon arrival in England.
During World War II, 1 Brigade of the 1st Canadian Division was being inspected by King George VI. By this date the traditional knee-length puttees had been replaced with short ankle-length leggings worn with battledress. There were not enough khaki leggings for issue, so the 48th Highlanders made do with unofficial blue ones reportedly cut down from stocks of blue cloth found in regimental stores. The King inquired as to why the 48th wore different "puttees" from the rest of the brigade. Upon being told of the shortage, the king replied that he liked the blue puttees better and that they should keep them. The 48th Highlanders continued to wear blue puttees until the regimental service dress was eventually phased out. Reportedly other regiments nicknamed them as "The Glamour Boys" for this distinctive form of legging.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Puttee". Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- Boris Mollo, p128 "The Indian Army", ISBN 0 7137 1074 8
- Boris Mollo, p158 "The Indian Army", ISBN 0 7137 1074 8
- Quoted in "Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure" by Artemis Cooper, London 2012, page 37
- Ball, Stephen. World War One German Army. p. 85. ISBN 1-85753-271-6.
- R.M. Barnes, p282 "A History of the Regiments & Uniforms of the British Army", First Sphere Books 1972
- Jewell, Brian. British Battledress1937-61. p. 10. ISBN 850450-387-9.
- Smith, Digby (1977) The British Army 1965-80, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 9780850452730 (p. 12)
- Laura Spinney (13 January 2014). "Melting glaciers in northern Italy reveal corpses of WW1 soldiers". Daily Telegraph.
- Rene Chartrand, p46 "The Canadian Corps in World War I", ISBN 978 184603 186 1