Update: My thanks go to Rich for providing us with some reminiscences of actually wearing these socks, and his impressions of them.
In the early post-war period polyester was seen as something of a miracle fibre. It was easy and cheap to produce, didn’t crease and was completely rot proof. The British army recognised these traits and quickly adopted polyester for army issue socks:The army had already been using rot-proofed socks in the jungle, but these were never very effective and polyester seemed an affordable and workable solution. These socks date from 1966 and are made from knitted dark-green polyester thread. The base of the socks have the date, foot size, stores number and /|\ mark printed on in white lettering:These socks have clearly never been issued or worn as this lettering would very quickly flake off with wear and washing. The design of the socks are entirely conventional, with an elasticated top to them to help hold them up:It is fair to say that these polyester socks were never popular. Soldiers complained that they were hot, scratchy and made the wearer’s feet sweat excessively. Indeed many accounts of footwear in the sixties and seventies comment on the likelihood of getting athletes foot from wearing these socks in combination with DMS boots!
If of questionable utility in their original guise, the humble sock was repurposed by squaddies for a variety of things. The tops were often cut off them and sewn into the ends of the sleeves of a combat smock to create a knitted cuff to keep the draughts out. I also have an example of a commando bergan where old army socks have been used to make padding over parts that might dig into the soldier’s back.
And they never wore out. I still had three pairs in the early 1990s, although this in part was due to my discovery of Socks, Men’s, Arctic in 1984, and then shortly afterwards civilian ‘Commando Socks’ prior to their issue. They were too warm for summer use, and didn’t provide any insulation in winter; this, combined with a strange sliding effect of your feet in the boot caused by ‘shredded wheat’ insole which was also nylon (informed that this was to reduce blisters), meant that they were consigned to barracks only use when alternatives were unavailable.
There was no worse feeling than having slept in these socks in an issued down-filled sleeping bag to find after donning your DMS boots and puttees that some of the feathers had migrated from the bag and worked their way into the weave of the socks; meaning that the shaft of the feathers would scratch your feet all day with no chance of respite by removing your boots.
Another use I have seen for one of these socks was as a ‘cosy’ for a 44 pattern water bottle. Purpose? To deaden noise; camouflage; insulation or to aid cooling; to use as a hot water bottle – who knows?
The other failings for these socks were: the stitching used at the heel and the toes was quite abrasive; the socks never really took to the shape of your feet which meant that they tended to ruck especially when wet or sweaty; provided no cushioning whatsoever, and when wet the top of the sock chaffed your lower calf badly. The only ‘positives’ were they were fairly quick to dry, and were extremely hard-wearing which is probably why they were procured; that and possibly the hope that you would seek to purchase alternatives, thereby saving the government money.
These socks are now starting to get quite rare, especially in a nice unissued condition like this pair. Most have been worn and thrown out so if you do come across a pair it would be well worth picking them up to add to a Cold War load out- just don’t bother trying to wear them!