November is nearly upon us and that means that in a couple of weeks time we will be pausing to remember. November 11 invites us to take time to think about all those who served our country. Did you know knitters were an important part of the war effort in the first half of the last century?
When Britain and Canada went to war in Europe, it became clear that wool socks were crucial to the soldiers. Wool was warmer and better than any synthetics which existed at the time. Trench foot was a serious illness and could lead to amputation or death. The best way to prevent trench foot was dry, warm, wool socks.
The Canadian Red Cross put out the call. Support our troops! Knit socks.
Yarn companies too were keen to aid the cause, producing patterns and even special yarns.
And women did knit those socks. Canada and Australia sent over a million pairs of socks overseas during the First World War alone. Often with a note tucked into the toe, telling the soldier a little about the knitter or offering words of comfort or prayer.
American knitters also joined the effort, as noted in this piece from The Seattle Times.
“ I’ve knit fifty pairs of socks. Has anyone knit more?’ is a favorite question at the knitting department at Red Cross headquarters. The number may vary, but the question never. But Mrs. G. S. Dudley has a record which any one of the 6000 individual knitters will have to try hard to beat, because she has knit 108 pairs of socks for the Columbia Auxiliary to the Red Cross, besides numerous personal articles for the soldiers” (October 18, 1918).
Knitting was everywhere. Knitting for the troops was seen not as an act of charity, but of national duty. Even children knit bandages, garter stitch strips of white cotton. When wool grew scarce, old sweaters were unraveled with great care to be used for war effort knitting.
When the war ended, many women continued this good work, knitting for the soldiers who remained in active service as well as the wounded. This leaflet included a pattern for amputation covers.
When the Second World War came, women in Canada and the U.K. took up their needles once again and were again joined by their American sisters.
This was a different war, as well as socks, women were encouraged to knit balaclavas and shooters mitts for airmen and those at sea. Long bombing runs over Europe in unheated and sometimes open aircrafts required layers of woolens to stay warm. These knits were not luxuries, but necessities. The knitters on the home front were providing crucial support.
Knitting took another role in World War Two – as code. The Belgian resistance had older ladies, who could sit out knitting without attracting much notice, use their knitting to code the Nazi train schedules. Plains and purls in different combinations indicated the type of train and the time it passed.
The UK was keenly aware of the possibilities of code in knitting – during the war it was illegal to send a knitting pattern overseas, the government was concerned it would be too easy to hide coded information within the pattern.
In this time of remembrance why not remember the spirit of these knitters and make something for someone who really needs it?
To see full PDFs of some of these wartime knitting patterns, visit Wartime Canada here.
Happy knitting. – Alana Baig