A puttee, also spelled puttie, is the name, adapted from the Hindi patti, bandage (Skr. patta, strip of cloth), for a covering for the lower part of the leg from the ankle to the knee. It consisted of a long narrow piece of cloth wound tightly and spirally round the leg, and serving to provide both support and protection. It was worn by both mounted and dismounted soldiers, generally taking the place of the leather or cloth gaiter.
The puttee was first 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.
The puttee was subsequently widely adopted by a number of armies including those of the British Commonwealth, the Chinese National Revolutionary Army, the Dutch Army, the French Army, the Imperial Japanese Army, the Italian Army, and the United States Army. Puttees were in general use by the British Army as part of the khaki service uniform worn from 1902, until 1938 when a new Battle Dress 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 Japanese and some other armies until 1945.
In 2013, the remains of two teenaged Austrian 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"
At the outbreak of World War I the Dominion of Newfoundland raised a regiment to fight. Lacking a local militia or garrison of soldiers, there were no military stores; uniforms had to be fashioned from scratch. Lacking khaki broadcloth, puttees were fashioned from blue broadcloth. The Newfoundland Regiment was thus nicknamed "The Blue Puttees".
During World War II, 1 Brigade of the 1st Canadian Division was being inspected by King George VI; there were not enough regulation khaki puttees for issue, so the 48th Highlanders made do with unofficial blue ones. 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, p158 "The Indian Army", ISBN 0 7137 1074 8
- R.M. Barnes, p282 "A History of the Regiments & Uniforms of the British Army", First Sphere Books 1972
- Smith, Digby (1977) The British Army 1965-80, Osprey Publishing, ISBN 9780850452730 (p. 12)
- Laura Spinney (13 Jan 2014). "Melting glaciers in northern Italy reveal corpses of WW1 soldiers". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved Jan 2014.