The Falklands War had highlighted just how inadequate British Army footwear was compared to most other armies in the world. In the early 1980s most men were still issued ankle high DMS boots, worn with a short puttee. This design was barely waterproof and men suffered from trench foot during the 1982 conflict. The problems of DMS boots had been noted before this point of course and experiments had taken place in Northern Ireland during the 1970s with issuing hi-leg type boots with sewn in tongues to prevent feet being soaked when walking through water. It was to be the mid 1980s though before the hi-leg combat boot, known offically as the ‘boots, combat, high’ began to see universal issue:
Still made of leather, these boots had a directly moulded sole like their predecessors, but were far higher and came a good six or more inches above the ankle:
As high boots were more difficult to get on or off than ankle height examples, the boots incorporated a leather loop on the rear to give a point of purchase when tugging them on or off:
The boots featured a deep criss-cross pattern in the sole for grip, and the ‘tyre tread’ pattern was welcomed as being easy to keep clean:
The tongues of the boots were sewn in to prevent water entering the boot, and a long set of laces went all up the front of the boot:
In many ways the hi-legs were welcomed as being far more practical than the old DMS boots. Unfortunately they also came with very poor manufacturing standards and were quickly nicknamed ‘boots, cardboard, horrible’ by fed up squaddies. They fell apart easily and were also reputed to be responsible for a rise in knee and ankle injuries from men unused to the new design.
One veteran recalls:
BCH (boots, combat, high) did not appear until around 1985 and the first version lasted until the early 90s…..but were not as well made as initially hoped with seams splitting and soles falling off….they were also rather painful to break-in….prior to that, there were few alternatives available to the DMS ankle boots that were any good…..
At a time when most issue kit was just about adequate, and having suffered in freezing and wet weathers in DMS, initially these were gratefully received.
On breaking in though a problem in the design possibly coupled with the type of leather became apparent. See the deep crease in the ‘backstay’ (piece between the heel and the pull loop) immediately above the heel? Well when wearing the boots that pressed in on the achilles tendon and prolonged wearing of the boots coupled with physical activities caused tendonitis, which I can attest was very painful.
As is always the way, not all boots including paired boots, seemed to be susceptible to this, and initially there was some scepticism from the chain of command with replies about breaking in and getting used to them to complainants. In my experience boots made with harder leather on the backstay seem to cause the problem.
Initially, diagrams showing alternative lacing methods were produced for display on notice boards as most were still lacing the boots using the old method for DMS/ammo boots, and also neatsfoot oil was recommended to soften the leather, as individuals had in desperation started applying their own expedients of breaking the hard heel using a blunt object and/or cutting the leather or stitching of the backstay. Of course you ran the risk of being charged for carrying out your own modifications!
Eventually there must have been recognition of the continuing number of cases of tendonitis that official or personal attempts to address the problem were ineffective, and the MK II BCH produced without a stiff heel which (for me at least) was more comfortable, although the new boot, in my experience, was only issued on initial kit issue, or when MK I boots wore out.
The Mk I did however soldier on for sometime after the arrival of the Combat Assault Boot as preferred ‘best boots’ for those without ammo boots, for they not only bulled up better, but the harder sole produced the necessary ‘crunch’ when marching and performing drill movements.