The Soldiers’ Boots: History tells us that Nero fiddled while Rome was burning. The historian of the present war will tell future generations that when Canada and the Empire were in danger General Sam Hughes outdid Nero’s indifference to the national peril by giving a score or more of the 8,000 “good boys” whom he had placed on the Patronage List huge orders for inferior boots, and that these inferior boots were supplied to the men who went out to face death in order that Canada and the Empire might live. The story of the boots supplied the Canadian soldiers is a disgraceful one, but quite in keeping with the other War Scandals of the Borden Government. Had it not been for the work done by the Liberal Members of the Special Committee appointed by the House of Commons to investigate the Boot Scandal the facts would never have become public.
FIRST BLUNDER WAS FATAL: To fully appreciate the bungling and incapacity of the Government in their failure to provide the most important part of the soldiers’ outfit, it is necessary to know the position of affairs in the Militia Department at the outbreak of the War in August, 1914. At that time there was in the Militia Department an ankle boot made by the Slater Shoe Company which had been sealed in 1905. by the officials of the Department as the Pattern Boot according to which all boots afterwards required for the Permanent Force were to be made. This Sealed Pattern was not an Active Service Boot. In make and shape it was similar to the ordinary walking boot used by civilians in Canada, and was suitable for soldiers only in times of peace and to wear on parade or about the barracks. Neither was it the boot used by the soldiers in South Africa. That fact was proved beyond any doubt before the Special Committee of the House of Commons where the evidence of Assistant Director of Stores McCann established that the boots used in South Africa were supplied by A. W. Reddin and the Vankleek Hill Shoe Company and not by the Slater Shoe Company.
When War was announced in August last and it became necessary to purchase large quantities of boots for active service, several boots made for the Borden Government in 1913 by Gauthier of Quebec, and accepted without proper inspection, were selected from the Ordnance Stores at Ottawa as being in every respect similar to the Slater Sealed Pattern of 1905, and these Gauthier samples were handed around to various manufacturers as models for the Active Service Boots that they were to make under their Contracts with the Militia Department. In no case were specifications furnished the Contractors. It was proved before the Special Committee of the House of Commons that these Gauthier samples were inferior to the Slater Sealed Pattern. Boot of-1~5, and, as has been pointed out, the latter was never intended for an active service boot. Hence at the very outset a fatal blunder was made by the Government in ordering boots that were not fit for active service, and that blunder has been repeated over and over again.
NUMBER OF INFERIOR BOOTS ORDERED: In the month of August, 1914, orders were give £’ for 65,000 pairs of these inferior boots. In September a second order for 32,867 pairs was given. The boots of this second order were to be made from the inferior Gauthier samples and from some samples furnished by the Contractors themselves. On October 8th, 9th and 10th, further orders were given for 30,000 pairs. All the boots were ordered up to this time were to cost $3.85 per pair. On October 24th the Department of Militia made a change in the sample boot by providing a double sole and between October 29th and November 4th, orders were placed for 40,532 pairs of these double-soled boots at $4.00 per pair.
BOOTS BOUGHT FROM MIDDLEMEN: Later on in the month of November under instructions from the Acting Minister of Militia to purchase boots locally in Winnipeg, the Senior Ordnance Officer in that City, bought 3,798 pairs of boots from middlemen. These middlemen had the boots manufactured in different factories in Ontario and Quebec at prices ranging from $3.40 to $3.60 per pair, while they charged the Government an average price of $4.00 per pair. Afterwards several other orders were placed in Vancouver and in other parts of Canada, and in all, the Department purchased 180,664 pairs of boots. These boots sell at retail for from $5.50 to $6.00 per pair.
NO PROPER INSPECTION: The purchases having been made in the manner above stated, it is of interest to ascertain how the boots’ were inspected. Up to the end of the Year 1911 the Inspector of boots in the Department of Militia and Defence was a practical boot and shoe maker. He was dismissed without cause in December 1911 and in his place another gentleman was appointed, who had had no experience as a boot maker or as a tanner, and whose business immediately prior to his entering the Department had been that of a broker. It was because of this dismissal that the boots supplied by the Gauthier Company in 1913 were not properly inspected. Then in August last when the first War Contracts under the inferior Gauthier samples were awarded, five other boot Inspectors were employed, all of whom owed their appointment to political pull, and the majority of them had had no experience as boot and shoe makers. All practical men admit that the only way in which boots can be properly inspected is to follow them through the various processes of manufacture in the factory. In the case of the Government orders, inspection in the factories took place only in a limited number of cases. The general inspection was done by making a superficial examination of a finished boot. Thus it was impossible to tell (what material or workmanship was contained in the interior of the boot, and obviously inspection of this kind was absolutely worthless.
Another thing that made the inspection a farce was the fact that all the, Inspectors used the same stamp so that it was impossible to identify the man who had passed defective boots. The Inspector who was dismissed in 1911 had a special stamp bearing the initial letter of his name, and thus his work could be traced in every’ case. Under the Borden Government no such useful record was desired and the incompetent Inspector could stamp bad boots without any fear of being detected. In the case of the first order given in August last, 13,926 pairs of boots were delivered at Valcartier without any inspection whatever. This was the case also with the boots purchased months afterwards at Winnipeg and Vancouver. Under all the circumstances, therefore, it is not surprising that so many bad boots were accepted and paid for by the Government.
BOOTS CONDEMNED: The boots issued to the soldiers in different parts of Canada had not been worn for a month when complaints regarding them began to come in to the Department. These complaints grew in frequency and number and in time became the subject of comment in the public press. An attempt to head off the rising storm of indignation, was made by the Minister of Militia when in December last he appointed a Committee composed of Colonel W. Hallick, Theo. Galipeau of Montreal and E. A. Stephens of Ottawa to hold a Departmental inquiry. This Committee did not examine any witnesses under oath, but they expressed a unanimous opinion as to the unfitness of the Gauthier sample-boot, according to which the boots supplied the soldiers were made. That opinion was in these terms: That the boot was of unsuitable shape and make and that the leather contained no water-resisting medium: That the heels and soles are unprotected and sole-fitting is often poor quality: That the boot was unsuitable for the soldiers and for that particular work for which they were provided’, because:
(a) The shape is such that the enrage foot has not room for the free movement of the toes and is thus not suitable for marching:
(b) The leather is dry, containing no grease, and consequently quickly absorbs the water:
(c) Soles and heels not being re-enforced with “metal, soon wear down, especially when wet.”
This condemnation of the sample boot was confirmed by practically everyone of the 87 witnesses, who appeared before the Special Committee of the House of Commons. That being the case, it is not surprising that the boots manufactured from these samples failed so miserably, even under ordinary weather conditions in Canada.
ALDERSON AND PERLEY CONDEMN THE BOOTS: Shortly after the First Expeditionary Force reached England, General Alderson, the Commander of the Canadian Troops, cabled the Government as follows: The boots now being issued to the Contingent are not suitable for rough wear in wet weather. Please cable instructions for purchase of boots here if we can obtain them.” Instead of cabling General Alderson the instructions for which he asked, the Minister of Militia, General Hughes, at once purchased 48,000 pairs of overshoes from a few of his “good boys” and then sent General Alderson this cablegram: “Reference your cable re boots 48,000 pairs over “shoes already shipped. Will these meet your requirements?” To this idiotic message General Alderson sent the following sarcastic reply: “It has been found that overshoes do not compensate for faulty construction of boots. Some pairs are useless after ten days wear. Special report is being made.”
Having failed to induce the Minister of Militia to do what any man of ordinary common sense would have done under the circumstances, General Alderson evidently had a conference with Sir George Perley, Minister without Portfolio in the Borden Government who is Acting High Commissioner in London. On 1 November 24th, 1914, Sir George Perley cabled Sir Robert Borden at Ottawa as follows: “Authorities consider boots too light altogether; say only heavy marching boots adapted to campaigning; find general complaint on this account regarding boots given our Canadian Contingent; stated they “will not stand mud and water and heavy work. “Consider overshoes impracticable as they are heavy to walk in and will only last short time on hard roads. In my opinion next contingent should be “provided with boots made on regulation army pattern.”
To this message no reply seems to have been sent. Failing to get any satisfaction from the Government at Ottawa, General Alderson ordered the 33,000 pairs of Canadian boots supplied the soldiers of the First Expeditionary Force to be thrown away and in their place he issued an equal number of British Army Boots.
MILITARY BOARDS CONDEMN BOOTS: Equally weeping in their condemnation of the Canadian Boots were the 90 or more Regimental Boards of Inquiry that sat in England and in Canada and reported the result of their findings to the Government at Ottawa. The majority of the Reports of these Boards were dragged out of their pigeon-holes by the Liberal Members of the Special Committee of the House of Commons, I and many of the witnesses mentioned in the Reports were examined under oath before the Special Committee. It is important to cite a few extracts from their evidence so as to show the opinions held by the soldiers themselves regarding the boots supplied them by the Borden Government.
WHAT SOME SOLDIERS SAID: Private McGarvie of the 6th Field Ambulance, Montreal, who had served 7 years in the Royal Scotch Fusiliers and whose occupation is that of a shoe maker described the boots served out to his Company as “rotten.” Quartermaster Sergeant Wainwright of the 31st Battalion, Calgary, who had served 12 years in the Imperial Army and who also is a shoemaker, described the boots as too light and flimsy, and said that out of 1,093 boots that came under his inspection there were not a dozen pairs as good as the inferior Gauthier sample. Of the boots which he examined and found defective he said that the biggest percentage was made by Gauthier of Quebec, and Ames, Holden & McCready of Montreal. Officers and privates stationed in different parts of Canada, testified that the defective boots resulted in men contracting colds, and otherwise becoming ill and unable to follow the prescribed training, as a result of which much delay and inconvenience was caused at many training points. On this score the most damning evidence against the Government was given by, certain witnesses from Halifax.
TIED SHINGLES AND BAGS ON BOOTS: Major F. W. Doane of the 63rd Regiment testified that after about a fortnight’s use the boots issued to the men of his Regiment were worn through so that the men’s feet were on the ground. He added that “they had to tie shingles and bits of board and “pieces of bag across the bottoms of their boots to keep their feet off the ground.” Captain F. C. Kaizer of A Company, Halifax, gave evidence to the effect that in his Company there were three or four men who went around for week or ten days with canvas bags tied to the soles of their, boots, so as to prevent their feet coming out on the ground, and that it was a common occurrence to see men with their feet in, this condition going up and down on the boat that had plied between Halifax and the Camp on McNab’s Island in Halifax Harbour.
MEN BECAME TUBERCULAR: Captain C. A. Mumford, also of Halifax, was another witness who in the course of his evidence said that the health of his men had been affected through the failure of the boots supplied to them, that three of the men had contracted heavy colds, had become tubercular, and had been put out of the Regiment Particulars regarding these men, will be found on Page 377 of the Printed Proceedings of the Boot Committee.
OTHER EXPERIENCES: Evidence as to the rapidity with which their boots went to pieces, was given by a large number of other soldiers, some of whom testified that their toes came through their boots, when wet and after only a few weeks’ wear. Colonel Hughes, the brother of General Sam Hughes, told the Committee that the boots supplied the men of his Regiment, then stationed at Kingston, Ontario, looked more like moccasins than boots when they were wet. In the case of the men of the 25th Battery and Ammunition Column, 7th Artillery who were mobilized in Ottawa in the month of March, 1915, it was sworn by Lieut. Anderson that the boots supplied to his men went to pieces in less than 2 weeks, although the, men were stationed at the armouries in Ottawa and had/undergone no hardships whatever. Instances such as the above could be multiplied, but as they are all contained in the Printed Record of the Proceedings before the House of Commons Boot Committee, it is not necessary to repeat them here.
CONDEMNED BY THEIR FRIENDS: In view of the evidence given by the men who wore the boots as to their absolute unfitness for, active service, special who appeared before the Committee. Mr. N. Tetreault of the Tetreault Shoe Co., Montreal declared that it was ridiculous to put on a soldier’s foot such a boot as had been supplied by the Militia Department. Mr. W. S. Matthews of the Ames, Holden, McCready Co., of Montreal stated that the boots were never meant for foreign service and that when they were issued by the Government the latter fully realized that they would not stand any hard wear. Mr. Alfred Minister of the Minister Myles Shoe Company, Toronto, swore that when he was asked to supply boots similar to the inferior sample, he declined to do so as he “did not want “to make any money out of a man’s life.” These men are friends, of the Government and are on the patronage list. In the light of their testimony there is no escape for the Government. But it is urged by some apologists that the Government may be excused on the ground of urgency. That excuse is of no avail for Mr. Tetreault swore that the Government could without much trouble or delay have provided a proper boot suitable for soldiers on active service and that they could have got all the new lasts they would have required in a week’s time. It is thus clear that the delays, the discomforts and the illness that befell the soldiers as well as the enormous loss of, money to the public are directly attributable to the incapacity and inaction of the Government.
WHAT DID THE GOVERNMENT DO? With incompetent Ministers in the Council Chamber and a horde of hungry followers without, it is not surprising that the policy which the Government pursued with regard to the request of General Alderson, has continued to be its policy up to the present time. In January, 1915, it looked as if practical action would be taken to rectify the bungling of the previous five months. I About the date mentioned, the Government had taken the letting of Contracts away from General Hughes and had appointed a Sub Committee of the Privy Council, presided over by Hon. J. D. Hazen, to superintend the purchase of War supplies, including boots. This Sub-Committee of Council held interviews with representatives of boot manufacturing firms and adopted a sample of Active Service Boot and a specification which these representatives had prepared and submitted to the Government. Mr. Hazen informed the representatives of the boot manufacturers, that the Government would order 110,000 pairs of these Active Service Boots. Before this order could be carried into effect, General Hughes came on the scene again and prevented any action from being taken by appointing as Chief Adviser on boots a Toronto tanner who admitted under oath that he had never made any boots and that he was going about seeking information as to the proper kind of Active Service Boot to recommend to the Department. In this way months of time have been wasted and the inferior boot as manufactured in August last, has continued to be supplied to the members of the Second and Third Expeditionary Forces.
Extraordinary and criminal as their conduct must appear to every man not blinded by party prejudice, the Government did not cancel one contract, nor in the face of the evidence in its possession and of the statement made by General Sam Hughes at Calgary and at Edmonton that he would shoot the men who made the bad boots if he could find them, did it make any effort to stop the delivery of the inferior boots, although some of them were delivered as late as the month of March, 1915. But, this is not by any means the worst feature of the Government’s criminal neglect in its treatment of the Canadian soldiers. While Sam Hughes’ Chief Adviser on boots has been drawing $10.00 a day as well as travelling expenses and reasonable living expenses, since the month of January last without making a report or coming to any decision, requisitions for boots have been piling up in the Department without any attempt being made by the Government to procure boots of any kind for the soldiers who were in urgent need of them. Giving evidence before the Special Committee of the House of Commons, Colonel J. F. Macdonald, the Director of Clothing and Equipment, swore that in the month of April, 1915, there were requisitions at Headquarters in Ottawa for 20,000 pairs of boots, which the Department was not able to fill. No attempt was made to explain or contradict this statement before the Committee or before the House, and thus the Government stands convicted not only of gross incompetence but of the most callous indifference and neglect.
As every man who has been on active service insists that the boot is the most important part of the soldiers’ equipment and that the soldier is rendered inefficient by inferior boots just as surely as he would be if supplied with an out-of-date rifle, it needs no argument to illustrate the fact that the Government not only failed at the outset to adopt the most elementary principle that applies to the equipping of an army, but that it has failed to grasp that principle even after the experiences of the last nine months. The sufferers are the brave men who have gone to France and Flanders to defend Canada and the Empire and the beneficiaries are the friends of the present Government, to whom fat contracts were given and who were allowed to equip the men of the Second and Third Expeditionary Forces with boots that had been condemned by General Alderson, Sir George Perley and a host of military authorities.
SOME OF THE GRAFT: Among the beneficiaries are the Winnipeg middlemen whose rake-off varied from 40 cents to 60 cents per pair on all the boots they sold to the Government. Then there is also Mr. Charles E. Slater, the middleman who was placed on the patronage list by General Sam Hughes and whose rake-off on the Contracts given the Gauthier Company of Quebec amounted to $15,275.00. Weeks after these revelations had been made public, Sir Robert Borden had the audacity to allege in Parliament that the total loss to the Country from the war-grafting of his political friends would be only $3,000.00 Is such a man fit to be Prime Minister of Canada?
Another method of helping their friends was devised by the Government when they allowed several contractors to substitute a cheap side leather for the more expensive calf leather from which the boots were supposed to be made and these contractors were paid at the prices quoted for calf boots. It was sworn that the change in the leather made a difference of at least 20 cents per pair in the price and a refund on this basis was asked from two contractors who had made the change without permission from the Department. But in the case of the Ames, Holden, McCready I Co., it was proved that they had been· allowed to substitute the cheaper for the more expensive leather and had not made any refund nor had they been asked to do so.
If fuller details regarding the boots supplied the Canadian soldiers are required they can be obtained by reference to the Printed Record of the Proceedings before the Special Boot Committee of the House of Commons, to,the speeches made by the Liberal Members of the Special Committee, viz:-Honourable Charles Murphy, M.P., E. M. Macdonald, M.P., and E. W. Nesbitt, M.P., and published in Hansard of April 12th, 1915, and to the Minority Report of these gentlemen as contained in Hansard of the same date.
In spite of the foregoing the Borden Nationalist Conservative Government, planning a Khaki election, has flooded the country with literature bearing the flagwaving slogan “BORDEN BACKS BRITAIN.”