For the Empire and her Freedom,
We all must do our bit;
The men go forth to battle,
The women wait – and knit.
One of the ways women at home supported troops overseas was by knitting. Though this sounds like a mundane activity, making socks, gloves, scarves, balaclavas and the like for the men overseas gave those waiting at home a sense of purpose. Soldiers on active service tended to wear out a pair of socks every two weeks, so a steady supply was needed. For the men in the trenches, the arrival of knitted socks from home probably provided both physical comfort and the emotional comfort of knowing they were supported and cared for by those back home.
In March 1915, Lady Annette Liverpool, wife of the Governor of New Zealand, issued a challenge to the women and children of New Zealand to knit enough socks for each member of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force to have two pairs. New Zealanders rose to this challenge – women knitted furiously, and schoolboys and girls even knitted in their classrooms. Six months after the challenge was issued, 30,000 pairs of socks had been made for the troops. Women who knitted the most socks received awards for their contribution. This initiative was certainly patriotic, but also served the practical purpose of filling gaps in the uniform allocation.
Zachariah, Joseph, 1867-1965. Members of the Spinsters Club knitting socks for World War I soldiers – Photograph taken by Joseph Zachariah. Hyams, Peggy (Miss) : Photographs. Ref: 1/2-030986-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand
Lady Liverpool produced Her Excellency’s Knitting Book in 1915. The book contained many knitting patterns for items for soldiers, and was designed to fit neatly into a knitting bag. After the war, Lady Liverpool was recognised for her contribution to the war effort through fundraising and organising initiatives like the knitting push.
Socks knitted to a pattern from Her Excellency’s Knitting Book. Socks and image both by Andrea Hearfield
For more on Lady Liverpool, Great War Story: Lady Liverpool is worth a watch. It was originally screened on 3 News on 4 August 2014, and tells the story of Lady Liverpool’s contribution to the war effort.
Such industrious knitting was not confined to New Zealand. Women and children in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia all contributed to the war effort in this way. The British Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener, also got behind the effort to knit items for soldiers. He is even credited with developing a pattern for socks which included a seamless grafting technique, known in some countries as ‘Kitchener stitch’. It strikes me as unlikely that Kitchener actually invented this stitch himself, but even so, the connection of the famous Secretary of State with a knitting technique highlights the significance of the knitting effort for men at the front.
Tamara Patten, Communications Officer, National Services Te Paerangi