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Gebhard Leberecht von BlücherWellington’s were not the only stylish boots on the ground at Waterloo. Somewhat overshadowed by the Iron Duke – at least in the popular English retelling of the story of Waterloo – is the gallant Prussian field marshal Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, whose timely intercession late in the afternoon swung the battle decisively in Wellington’s favour.

Despite being wounded two days earlier in a heavy Prussian defeat at Ligny, von Blücher, fortified by brandy, rallied his troops and convinced his generals not to withdraw, that it was not a lost cause but to go to the aid of Wellington, who was relying on the Prussians for reinforcements. This they did, completing a march eighteen miles along muddy paths to arrive on the scene with the battle hanging in the balance. “We must give air to the English army,” Blücher is reported to have said, and he proceeded to do just that. His vanguard drew off Napoleon’s reserves while the main body of his army crushed French resistance and supported Wellington’s badly weakened flank.

That the Prussians were able to march so effectively to the aid of their English allies can be said to be due, at least in part, to the boots their commander had designed for them some years earlier. Like many another general, Blücher took an interest in the boots and clothing his men wore and commissioned a new style of boot for use in the field. Known today as the Blücher boot, it was designed with side pieces lapped over the vamp which allowed for a snug adjustable fit, easy-on, easy-off and far more comfortable for long marches. The stylish and useful pattern was swiftly adopted by armies throughout Europe.

Field Marshall von Blücher, already a colourful old man by the time of Waterloo, lived only another four years, dying in Poland in 1819 and remains to this day (alongside von Hindenburg) the most highly decorated Prussian/German soldier in history. His legacy boots have never gone out of style, and have seen service all over the world. Indeed the 19th century Australian poet Henry Lawson, who spent many years tramping around the outback, wrote an ode to his worn-out pair of Blucher boots:

Old acquaintance unforgotten

Though you may be ‘ugly brutes’

Though your leather’s cracked and rotten

Worn-out pair of Blucher boots

‘Tis the richer man before you

Dearer leathers grace his feet

‘Twas the better man that wore you

In the tramps through dust and heat

Oft rebuffed by “super’s” snarling

When I asked him for a “show”

On that long tramp to the Darling

In the days of long ago

Tell me, if you know it, whether

As I sadly tramped away

Bore I heavy on your leather

Worn out pair of Bluchers, say?

Though your leather’s cracked and rotten

Though you may be ugly brutes

I’ll preserve you unforgotten

Worn-out pair of Blucher boots