Saturday, 29 November 2014

Knitting in the First World War

If only the book “Knitting for Tommy Keeping the Great War Soldier Warm” by Lucinda Gosling had been available two years ago!  This is a must-read for anyone who loves knitting and will also be of great interest for those keen on the history of the First World War from all angles.   Lucinda has gathered advertisements, postcards, cartoons and photos and threaded in authentic knitting patterns used during that war to end all wars.  Lucinda's book  has been published by The History Press, who have given us some wonderful commemorative publications so far this year, and you can find out more on their website:

Two years ago, when I began researching this commemorative exhibition project, I got in touch with an old school friend who runs a knitting circle.  It seemed to me that we could get together and have an afternoon of poetry reading.  The group warmed to the idea and came up with all sorts of interesting items – gloves, mittens, pullovers, balaclavas, fingerless gloves, tea cosies and so on that would surely have been in vogue back then.  There was even a Land Army girl. 

The afternoon was a big success with 80 people attending, WW1 music, talks about the war and a chance to view some of the exhibition panels with WW1 poets with “Wirral connections”, such as May Sinclair, Wilfred Owen and Geoffrey Wall and the one about Nenette and Rintintin the Parisien urchins who were turned into lucky charms using scraps of wool.  Richard Speed of the Knitters and Natters Group in Louth, Lincolnshire kindly made me some replica Nenette and Rintintin dolls.  (If the name seems familiar it was the inspiration behind naming the American film star dog who was discovered as a puppy in a bombed out kennels in Lorraine during WW1 – see under “Fascinating Facts” for more on that story).

And to let you know that I  haven’t forgotten the main point of this weblog, here – with many thanks to the eagle-eyed Phil Dawes who is researching Great War poetry about knitting - is a poem about knitting written by Nellie Hurst during WW1:

I KNIT, I knit, I pray, I pray.
My knitting is my rosary.
And as I weave the stitches gray,
I murmur pray'rs continually.
Gray loop, a sigh, gray knot, a wish,
Gray row a chain of wistful pray'r,
For thus to sit and knit and pray--
This is of war the woman's share.
And so I knit, and thus I pray,
And keep repeating night and day,
May God lead safely those dear feet
That soon shall wear the web of gray.
Now and again a selfish strain?
But surely womans heart must yearn,
And pray sometimes that she may hear
The footsteps that return.
But if, O God, Not that.
But if it must be sacrifice complete,
Then I will trust that afterward
Thou wilt guide home those precious feet.

Nellie Hurst - published in "The Westminster Gazette".

Photo of the knitted Land Army Girl courtesy of J.Wright.