(Supplied by Jack Donnelly (WOGI Rtd)
Do our young sailors of today still spit polish their naval footwear? As Seaman Boys we were issued with 2 pairs of boots, one for working in and the other for guard/ceremonial duties.
The art to spit polishing one’s footwear is very time consuming and requires a lot of patience, concentration, radio, TV or a good ‘talking’ mate. Ensure you have a good comfortable place to sit, and away you go. As for the perfect technique to spit polishing boots/shoes they are many and varied so I will explain how we were taught by our instructors at Tamaki on Motuihe island.
You will require polish, a soft clean cotton rag, water or alcohol and an old toothbrush at the ready. The use of alcohol may well have been a sailors ‘dit’ never bothered to use it. Some personnel even promoted the idea of using a lighter and briefly running it across the footwear so that the heated flame liquefies the polish to settle deep into the grain of the leather to help the polished areas to last longer and produce a far superior shine.
Begin by applying a thick coating of polish all over the boot/shoe. Leave to dry for 2-3 minutes then polish up, do this 2-3 times so that you have a solid base coat on your footwear. Now pour a little water into the lid of the polish tin, prepare your polishing rag wrapped tightly around your index finger, dip into water then a generous bit of polish and with small circular motions begin the process.
When it starts to feel dry, breath over the area you are shining so that it appears fogged up like a window. Continue to add water and polish slowly reducing the amount of polish. Eventually it will begin to shine through. I generally would spend about 30-40 minutes on each of my polishing sessions. Finally, dip your toothbrush into the polish and rub it generously into the welts or ridges of the sole of the boots/shoes and polish off.
Today, like many of the old matelots I still spit polish my ceremonial shoes for funerals, ANZAC, Remembrance Day and special occasions, good habits that were formed and never forgotten.