One of the methods used to help men recover from trauma and injuries caused by war was to encourage them to take up new trades or crafts. For some, a change of employment was necessary – men who had worked in manual occupations before the war were sometimes injured in such a way that made returning to their previous work impossible. Some were trained in a range of clerical roles, while others were trained in light industrial trades. The intention was to give injured men a chance to become productive members of society when they returned to civilian life.
Untitled [portrait of an unidentified WWI soldier with an amputated foot mending a car tyre at Oatlands Park, Surrey, England], 1918, England, maker unknown. Te Papa (O.031466)
Untitled [five WWI soldiers working on cars in a mechanical engineering work shop at Oatlands Park, Surrey, England], 1918, England, maker unknown. Te Papa (O.031483)
Untitled [Alan McMillan and three other WWI soldiers seated at typewriters at Oatlands Park, Surrey, England], 1918, England, maker unknown. Te Papa (O.031489)
Other injured soldiers were encouraged to take up crafts as a way of relieving boredom while in hospital, or retrieving dexterity and coordination after injury. Hospitals in Britain and France often provided instruction and materials to facilitate this.
I am intrigued by the story of Fred Hansen, who embroidered this apron while recovering from tuberculosis.
In 1917, Fred Hansen was a patient at Oatlands Park, the convalescent annex to No. 2 New Zealand General Hospital, a hospital for wounded New Zealand soldiers in Surrey, England. As part of the recuperation process, patients at Oatlands Park were taught needlework. Fred’s ‘fancywork’ was so fine that it reportedly caught the eye of Queen Mary when she visited the hospital with her husband, King George V. The Queen offered to buy the apron from Fred, but withdrew her offer when she discovered that the apron was intended for his mother.
After the war, Fred returned to New Zealand where he continued to produce delicate embroidery. He drew a pension, but was also able to contribute to his family’s income by filling commissions from a wealthy Wairarapa family. He also embroidered clothing and doilies for his mother and sisters.1
Embroidery is just one of the crafts learned by convalescing soldiers. These items from Te Papa’s collection are examples of leatherwork and woodwork by servicemen recovering from injury.
1. Read more about Fred Hansen in Holding on to Home: New Zealand Stories and Objects of the First World War, by Kate Hunter and Kirstie Ross, p204-5.
Holding on to Home: New Zealand Stories and Objects of the First World War, by Kate Hunter and Kirstie Ross. Te Papa Press, 2014.
Tamara Patten, Communications Officer, National Services Te Paerangi