In wartime, animals were a valuable commodity, their carcasses being used to make everything from food to explosives. Nothing was wasted, particularly their hides
Military use of leather may seem an anachronism on the 20th century battlefield given the developmentelopment of webbing and other machinemade materials.als. However, during World War Two, it was used on every front: land, sea and air. Wartime leather was not exclusively derived from cow hide, but many different types of animals – some more surprisinging than others.
Before the war, two-thirds of Britain’s cattle hides came from the Americas, Europe, Africa, China, Australia and India. Axis blockade posed a threat to these imports, so the Ministry of Supply’s Leather Control department apportioned the limited stocks. Different types of leather were also adapted for new uses.
Tanning, the process of treating and fortifying animal skins, is a hazardous and messy business involving acids and several toxic chemicals. However, for British manufacturers, it was the tanning additives that proved more of a problem. Pre-war, gambier was imported from Borneo for use in vegetable tanning, chestnutwood extract came from France and Italy, acorn cups – valonia – came from Turkey, as did ore used in chrome tanning, while eucalyptus originated from Australia and sumac from Sicily.