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State papers: Margaret Thatcher boots MoD up backside over Army's footwear

By Adrian Rutherford

Margaret Thatcher was infuriated after learning of problems with soldiers' boots during a Christmas visit to Northern Ireland.

Troops complained that their footwear was lacking in quantity and quality.

The Prime Minister was so concerned that she took the matter up with the Ministry of Defence a day after returning to London.

But she was far than satisfied with the MoD's curt response, suggesting that it should be sent to the writer of the Yes, Minister sitcom.

The PM's visit on December 22, 1982, amid a volatile period in the Troubles, was codenamed Operation Piston.

Her trip included a stop-off with the Coldstream Guards at Bessbrook Barracks.

During the visit, Mrs Thatcher was informed of problems with soldiers' boots.

A letter sent the following day to the MoD by her principal private secretary Robin Butler refers to the complaints.

"The Prime Minister was told that there was not as many as one pair of overboots for each man, and also that the overboots wore out very quickly," Mr Butler wrote.

"Mrs Thatcher wondered whether anything could be done about this."

It took MoD officials nearly six weeks to respond. In a letter dated February 4, Jane Ridley wrote that the complaints over serviceability of the overboots were "rather surprising".

"Before the Prime Minister's visit there had not been a single report of poor durability," she wrote.

"We believe that if this were a real problem, reports to this effect would have emerged before now".

But the reply left Mrs Thatcher furious.

At the top of the letter she remarked: "Seldom have I received a more unsatisfactory letter.

"A bureaucratic gem. I will show it to Antony Jay."

Mr Jay was co-author of the political comedies Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister.

She instructs officials: "Send the letter back. The answer won't do."

Mr Butler's second letter to the MoD reports that Mrs Thatcher doesn't find the MoD's explanations satisfactory.

The MoD responded a second time to say the overboots were supplied as needed, and were "excellent for keeping feet dry and warm".

Mrs Thatcher was still not satisfied, writing on a memo from Mr Butler: "May we have a word? The slackness revealed by this incident is appalling."

The file also contains a letter sent to Mrs Thatcher's office noting how a young man was disappointed not to see the PM.

Officials suggested sending the fan, Mr Adair from Bangor, a signed photograph.

Belfast Telegraph


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