Slang of the First World War
"Blue Puttee"

“Brothers All”
With only greatcoats supplied by Canada, the rest of the Newfoundlanders’ early uniforms were made up of a variety of civilian and military clothing.
Credit: The Rooms. Collection MG 110, Item A 8-85, 1914.

In honour of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment’s role in the Cambrai offensive from 20 November – 6 December 1917, today’s slang term is “Blue Puttee”.

Following the outbreak of war in 1914, Newfoundland suddenly found itself needing to clothe hundreds of volunteers, without having a stock of uniforms, nor even the proper fabric to make their own. In desperation, the Patriotic Association’s Equipment Committee hired local clothing manufacturers to create uniforms, underwear, ground sheets and blankets as quickly as possible (Nicholson, The Fighting Newfoundlander, p. 110). Without any khaki wool available for making puttees, navy blue fabric was used instead.

“Soldiers practicing first aid, Pleasantville.”
Initial clothing shortages resulted in a myriad of uniforms in 1914.
Credit: The Rooms. Series, Item E 19-25, 1914. Holloway, Robert Palfrey, 1887-1917; Holloway Studio (St. John’s, N.L.).

As a result, the five hundred troops of the Newfoundland Regiment’s First Contingent left St. John’s in October 1914 wearing blue puttees. They would be the only Newfoundlanders to be equipped with puttees in this colour and thus, it became a badge of honour.

Consequently, ‘to be a “Blue Puttee” was to be a member of the famous First Five Hundred’ (Nicholson, The Fighting Newfoundlander, p. 110).

For many years after the war, veterans of the Newfoundland Regiment – proud “Blue Puttees” – gathered annually on 4 October, marking the anniversary of the First Five Hundred’s departure from St. John’s in 1914.