Frostbite and Flying Boots

When putting the photograph of Donald Margach with a Lancaster crew on the website (see Donald Margach and Guy Gibson) my eye was drawn to the fact that the gunners were wearing their flying boots. As four of the crew are wearing parachute harnesses, it is probable that this photograph was taken immediately before or after flying.

Donald Margach with lancaster crew

In fact, the wearing of flying boots now seems to be a fairly good indication of whether such photographs were taken very close to flying operations or practise flights. A whole new perspective on the wearing of flying boots is gained by reading a medical report written after the war about the physical dangers confronting aircrew (leaving aside, of course, the main threats – flak, fighters, and bad weather), one of which was frostbite of the feet. The medical report makes it obvious that aircrew were expected NOT to wear flying boots casually around the camp.

It is not only the gunners who wore flying boots, but in their case frostbite of the feet was a major peril, given their unheated turrets. This is what the medical report has to say:

A frequent source of trouble in this area was the tendency for all air crew to wear flying boots about the camp, from the messes, etc. The waiting before take off resulted in sweating, or alternatively the socks put on were not properly dry, which greatly increased liability to frostbite.

The writer says that ‘every effort was made’ to correct this, but Medical Officers had a very uphill job in getting aircrew to listen to them.

Another complaint in the same report is that there was ‘considerable laxity on the part of all aircrew’ in keeping their oxygen masks clean and in good condition.


Medical report: Investigations and Observations Made during Operations by PFF at RAF Wyton from August 1943 to August 1945, by Wing Commander K G Bergin

See also: Lancaster Gunners: ‘Hotting-up’

Palmer Crew, 97 Squadron – The pilot, Robert Palmer, (centre), is wearing flying boots

Palmer crew
Palmer Crew – (L-R) unknown, unknown, Harris, Palmer, Datta, unknown, King


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