History of the Winged Boot

Two histories of the “Winged Boot” appear below.  First is an account from the book, “Customs and Traditions of the Royal Air Force”.  It is then followed by a speech by John White of the Air Forces Escape and Evasion Society (AFEES) in which he describes the history of the symbol and how it was adopted by AFEES.

Customs and Traditions of the Royal Air Force

Some call it the “Flying Boot” or the “Winged Boot”, but the Royal Air Force which issued this badge in the Western Desert, June 1941, named it the ”Winged Boot.” The following is an extract from the book, Customs and Traditions of the Royal Air Force, by Squadron Leader P.G. Hering, published in 1961 by Gale & Polden:

“The exploits of aircrew who walked back to their bases after bailing out of their aircraft, being shot down or having force-landed while operating over enemy held territory during the Desert campaigns in the Middle East, were responsible for the initiation of  another highly respected war-time badge. Because their return to their: squadrons was of necessity much later than that of their more fortunate comrades, they were heralded as a new “corps d’lite” and became known as “later arrivals”. As their numbers increased their experiences became legend and eventually a mythical Late Arrivals “Club” came into being and with it a badge.

A winged boot was designed by Wing Commander (later Group Captain) George W. Houghton, who was at the time the Senior RAF Public Relations Officer in the Middle East. He obtained the permission of Lord Tedder (then Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Middle East) to issue each late arrival with the badge to wear on his flying suit or uniform. The innovation captured the imagination of the war correspondents, who enthusiastically reported the origin of the badge and the experiences of its wearers. In addition to his badge, each late arrival was given a “‘club” membership certificate on which was recorded the circumstances making him eligible for membership and the words: It is never too late to come back.”

According to the Royal Air Forces Escaping Society Press Officer, Bryan Morgan, “The membership of this Society was exclusive to the Middle East. It was never available in this country (England) and it doesn’t exist anymore.

In 1943 when American airmen of the U. S. 8th Air Force started to return to England after having been shot down over enemy occupied territory some unknown American evader started to use the Royal Air Force “Winged Boot” as a symbol of his having evaded capture and having “walked home.” This symbol of evasion was never authorized to be worn on U. S. uniforms in the ETO; therefore evaders wore it under the left hand lapel on their tunic or battle jacket. One of the first stops an evader made after being released by Air Force Intelligence in London was usually a visit to Hobson and Sons in London to have them make a “wire badge” “Winged Boot”.

When the Air Forces Escape and Evasion Society was formed in June 1964, it was decided to use the “Winged Boot” as the centerpiece of the AFEES logo. As an extension of this, we approached Hobson and Sons in London to make several items with the original ”Winged Boot” in metallic thread from the original l dies. There is no official Winged Boot organization or club therefore eligibility for wearing it is ill defined. AFEES is the only known organization that uses the “Winged Boot” as a logo or symbol.  (Written By Claude C. Murray and Ralph K. Patton.)

Speech by John White, Treasurer of AFEES

“Here is the AFEES speech I gave in Mol, Belgium this past August 17th at the 75th anniversary of the downing of the “Our Bay-Bee”. The speech describes how the “winged boot” became the symbol for AFEES. We are standing in front of a memorial built by the town of Mol and the VVG-Mol to honor the crew. Holding the AFEES flag are grandchildren of crew member Martin Minnich (E&E #229) Derek Minnich and Emmalee Greiner.

“Good afternoon everyone. My name is John White and my father along with crew members Martin Minnich and Henry Sarnow were the 3 crew members of the Our Bay-Bee who were able to escape capture by the Germans. Through the efforts of the local Belgian resistance and the Comete escape line they were able to travel through occupied Belgium and France and finally over the Pyrenees to Freedom. The other crew members were captured around the Mol area and spent the remainder of the war as POWs.

“In 2010 family members of the Our Bay-Bee crew all met each other in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Through the efforts of Dutch researcher Co De Swart we all attended the annual reunion for the Air Forces Escape and Evasion Society, or AFEES. That year, many of us joined AFEES and have remained active. I am currently the treasurer of AFEES and am joined today by the recording secretary, Jane Binnebose, whose father-in-law, Bill, was also on the Our Bay-Bee.

“The purpose of AFEES is to encourage airmen such as my father who were aided by Resistance organizations to continue friendships with those who helped them evade capture. AFEES held its first reunion in Niagara Falls, NY in 1964. Over the years, hundreds of evaders, helpers, family members, and friends have gathered each year to commemorate, remember, and honor all those who were involved in escaping and evading. AFEES honors both the evaders and the thousands of brave, ordinary people in occupied countries who took extraordinary risks at huge cost to help these airmen.

“The AFEES flag uses the image of the “Winged Boot” as its symbol. This symbol was originally used on a badge issued by The Royal Air Force in the Western Desert in June 1941. The following is taken from the book, Customs and Traditions of the Royal Air Force, by Squadron Leader P.G. Hering:

“During the Desert campaigns in the Middle East, the aircrew who walked back to their bases after being shot down while operating over enemy held territory, were responsible for the creation of a highly respected war-time badge. Because their return to their squadrons was of necessity much later than that of their more fortunate comrades, they were heralded as a new “corps d’lite” and became known as “later arrivals”. As their numbers increased their experiences became legend and eventually a mythical Late Arrivals “Club” came into being and with it a badge.

“The winged boot was designed by Wing Commander George W. Houghton, who was at the time the Senior RAF Public Relations Officer in the Middle East. He obtained the permission of Lord Tedder then Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Middle East to issue each late arrival with the badge to wear on his flying suit or uniform. The innovation captured the imagination of war correspondents, who enthusiastically reported the origin of the badge and the experiences of its wearers. In addition to his badge, each late arrival was given a “‘club” membership certificate on which was recorded the circumstances making him eligible for membership and the words: It is never too late to come back.”

“According to the Royal Air Forces Escaping Society Press Officer, Bryan Morgan, “The membership of this Society was exclusive to the Middle East. It was never available in this England and it doesn’t exist anymore.”

“In 1943 when American airmen of the U. S. 8th Air Force started to return to England after having been shot down over enemy occupied territory some unknown American evader started to use the Royal Air Force “Winged Boot” as a symbol of his having evaded capture and having “walked home.” This symbol of evasion was never authorized to be worn on U. S. uniforms in the European Theater of Operation; therefore evaders wore it under the left hand lapel on their tunic or battle jacket. One of the first stops an evader made after being released by Air Force Intelligence in London was usually a visit to Hobson and Sons in London to have them make a “wire badge” “Winged Boot”.

“When the Air Forces Escape and Evasion Society was formed in June 1964, it was decided to use the “Winged Boot” as the centerpiece of the AFEES logo. As an extension of this, we approached Hobson and Sons in London to make several items with the original “Winged Boot” in metallic thread from the original dies. AFEES is the only known organization that uses the “Winged Boot” as a logo or symbol.

“The Air Forces Escape and Evasion Society flag, with its distinctive image of a winged boot, is used in ceremonies memorializing members of the Resistance who aided Allied military personnel and commemorating the Liberation at the end of World War II. The organization’s motto is “We will never forget”

“According to AFEES past President Larry Grauerholz “Our organization perpetuates the close bond that exists between airmen forced down and the Resistance people who made their evasion possible at great risk to themselves and their families.”

“Today, many of the members of AFEES are second and third generation family members. We still meet each year to honor and preserve the memories of our family members. Although they have gone on before us, their actions live on and our duty is to uphold their memory.

“Please join me in reciting the AFEES motto: We – will – never – forget.

“Thank you.”  –John White

For an article on the subject in the AFEES newsletter Communications, see also the June 1996 issue, page 1.  Click here to go to the archive of newsletters.

7 thoughts on “History of the Winged Boot

  1. I would like to know if some of those “wing boot” medals are still around. My uncle was an airmen in the WWII and received such an award, but he died in a fire destroying the medal he wore always on his neck. I would like to get 2 medals or the replicas to give to my two cousins in memory on that fine uncle !!!

    1. eBay has a number of replicas available, and every now and then you find a real one – originals are insanely expensive though. Grateful for your uncle’s service – my uncle was a CBI Hump Pilot and my dad a Vietnam FAC.

    2. Contact Hobson and Sons in England (they have a web-page). My late father in law got his there after escaping from a POW camp.

  2. I have a “Winged Boot” that I found in my father’s effects. Unfortunately there is no certificate with it. He was a flight electrician on Bristol Bombays and Vickers Valentias of 216 Squadron Heliopolis (Cairo). He never talked about his wartime experiences, but I know that he used to travel on planes at least from Cairo to Khartoum and possibly the South Sahara Route as I have two photos of Takoradi. He also has a photograph of the “Rescue Party” which looks like a small group of Dinka tribesmen in Darfur. He was with 216 Squadron from 1940 to 1942 when he was hospitalised in Cairo and evacuated via Durban. He was virtually deaf and blind in his left ear and eye after the war. His name was Sam Sidebotham. I live in Australia. Is there any way I can find out if the boot is genuine, and belonging to my father? He never flew again in unpressurised aircraft. Did the Late Arrivals keep records? One late arrival at Khartoum resulted in being accommodated in the Officers Mess. That must have been special as he kept his “admission ticket” I’d love to hear from anyone who may be able to confirm or suggest how I can find whether he was a “Late Arrival”

  3. My father Col. Allan MacPherson (Joe) Ogilvie RAF (WW2), later joined the RCAF. He was born in Newfoundland. He was with the 83rd Squadron 5th Bomber Group, and 8th Pathfinders Group (1941-1943). He was shot down March 11 1943 in occupied France, evaded to Spain with the help of the French Resistance.
    He has the Winged Boot and the caterpillar club (for parachuting from his Avro Lancaster “Lancaster ED313 OL-B”.
    When my dad passed away, unfortunately his winged boot, caterpillar clasp and card were lost.
    http://aircrewremembered.com/ogilvie-allan-macpherson.html

  4. I found this site while looking for information on the ‘winged boot’ badge. My Mom flew C-47’s in Maulden Missouri with 1st. Lt. Charles B. Thrasher. Chuck wore a winged boot badge under his lapel. He had made an emergency landing behind Nazi lines in Albania in late 1943. His crew and a load of nurses and medics were guided by partisans and
    by British officers to a secret British naval base in early 1944 and evacuated by boat to Bari Italy. They spent several months in the snowy mountains of Albania, dodging rival partisans and Germans before they all made it out in two groups.

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