Written by Kevin MacLean, Galt Museum & Archives, Collections Technician
Do you know what these objects are and what they were used for?
a. Leg warmers
b. Leather knife rolls
c. A puttee set
If you guessed puttee set, you’re correct…although leg warmers is partially correct as well!
These are Royal Canadian Navy “Gaiters” (1940 – 1945)
These black leather “gaiters” or puttees were worn by St. Clair Balfour, a Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR) Commander during World War Two.
Commander Balfour never resided in Alberta, but he and his gaiters are an important part of Lethbridge’s military history. Hailing from Hamilton, Ontario, he joined the Naval Reserve in 1939 and commanded the HMCS Lethbridge (K160) in the latter half of 1943. The Lethbridge was a military “corvette” ship, sponsored by its namesake city. It and many dozen other Canadian corvettes were put to sea to protect Allied shipping from the peril of German U-boats.
To use his gaiters, Balfour would have fastened them around his lower leg about his calf. According to the British Empire militaria collecting site “Tales from the Supply Depot”, naval officers like Balfour wore their gaiters to participate in “landing parties” – a detachment of a ship’s crew who go ashore for emergency duty – or in inclement weather.
Commander Balfour was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for, “his zeal, energy, cheerfulness and wholehearted devotion to duty” in 1945. He passed away at his home in Toronto in 2002 at age 92.
Donated by Balfour Bowen, Lisa & St. Clair Balfour IV