Monday, November 25, 2013

Knitting for Victory

As an historian, I've often thought that World War I has to a certain extent faded from public consciousness, obviously due to the horrors of the war that followed and the length of time that has passed since the battles at the Somme, Ypres, the Marne, and the tragedy of the Lost Generation.

Modern warfare is often at a distance.  With the use of advanced technology, a soldier can sit at a work station, do their job from 9 to 5, and be home in time for dinner.  And unlike past conflicts, the general population is usually not part of the war effort.

With the United States' entry into World War I in 1917, aid agencies such as the Red Cross appealed for help to clothe the men at the front, and the country's knitters leapt into action.  Terrible conditions in the trenches created a huge need for woolen socks, both for warmth and to prevent the dreaded trenchfoot.

As soldiers mobilized, even schoolboys began to knit for the troops, and almost everyone did their bit to support the war effort.  Radio was in its infancy, and methods of mass communication differed greatly from those available today.  Popular songs rallied the country behind the troops and conveyed propaganda to the public.

    "In May 1918 the Seattle School Bulletin printed this patriotic knitting song:

Johnnie, get your yarn, get your yarn, get your yarn;
Knitting has a charm, has a charm, has a charm,
See us knitting two by two,
Boys in Seattle like it too.
Hurry every day, don’t delay, make it pay.
Our laddies must be warm, not forlorn mid the storm.
Hear them call from o’re the sea,
‘Make a sweater, please for me.’
Over here everywhere,
We are knitting for the boys over there,
It’s a sock or a sweater, or even better
To do your bit and knit a square."
Patterns, yarn and needles were distributed to those on the Home Front and the entire country prepared to do their bit.

Thanks to the internet, knitters (and history geeks!) can knit up these historic patterns today (scroll down for knitting patterns).

 For more detailed information on war relief knitting during World War I, check out this excellent article from

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