“Just a few lines to thank you for the parcel I received from you. We are always pleased to receive Australian sox, and especially from the Knitting League of dear old Broken Hill. We know that the ladies of Australia are working hard for the soldiers at the front … We were on Gallipoli 14 weeks, and under fire the whole time. You never knew the second when you might be in the way of a shot. I had one or two close shaves, and am glad to have left it. We badly needed a spell, but we are fit and well again now, and ready for any old thing that comes along. I will end with best wishes to the ladies of the Knitting League …”
– Lance-Corporal Andrew, February 18th 1916, No. 250, B Company, 27th Battalion, A.I.F, Egypt in a letter to Mrs. Wearne published in the Barrier Miner, Broken Hill, April 23rd 1916*
Imagine the sound of thousands of knitting needles clicking in unison across a nation. They are knitting much-needed socks for the diggers, whose perpetually wet feet in the trenches in worn and rotting socks are one by one being affected by trench foot and gangrene.
Women in Australia knitted tirelessly to provide an incredible number of socks, particularly during the First and Second World Wars. This news clip from the Pakenham Gazette and Berwick Shire News in Victoria on the 17th of June, 1917 tells of just one appeal which asked for 100,000 pairs.^
To this day there are not many remaining examples of the patterns these women followed, however there are a couple that have emerged which you can see and read online. Two intact copies of ‘The Grey Sock’ booklet were bequeathed to the State Library of NSW. They belonged to Irene Read, a knitter who went to Egypt with her doctor husband during WWI. Here you can see the tiny booklet, along with a sock knitted following the pattern:
You can view Irene’s copies of ‘The Grey Sock’ booklets on the State Library of NSW website here.
The more advanced sock knitter could follow a pattern such as the Lady Mayoress’ League ‘Directions for Knitting Two Socks at Once: For our Men on Active Service’ – preserved by the Australian War Memorial. You can access the PDF featuring scans of the original pattern via links on this site.
The socks knitted were worn with a uniform like this one to the left worn by Private H. J. Wright – a soldier who served in Gallipoli in 1915. Accounts such as that of Lance-Corporal Andrew tell us of the appreciation of soldiers for the knitting efforts of women back home. Thanks to snapshots from the media, we can gain a little insight into the lives of these knitters.
With resources being so scarce during war, especially in such circumstances as the rationing of many items during WWII, it is clear that they had to make the most of what they had, and yarn was no exception. Sharp-minded knitters figured out ‘knitting economies’ such as this one below, published in The Mercury in Hobart on July 8th, 1940.**
These women – like the ones in the 1916 picture to the right – were not only keen to share their knowledge and tips with each other; they were a picture of dedication. The following is from the obituaries column in The Ballarat Courier, Victoria on September 15th, 1915`:
Mrs. Lavinia Rhys, whose death took place at St. Kilda on the 12th inst., was within a month of the advanced age of 90 years. She retained all her faculties up to the last, and shortly before her death was busily engaged knitting socks for the soldiers.
Knitters have continued to provide needed items for our defence forces. A recent appeal to knit skull caps for troops serving overseas which fit under helmets was so successful that the entire need was met, and to the best of our knowledge no more are required.
As tomorrow marks ANZAC day, we would like to bring our reflections to a close by directing our thoughts beyond the knitters of the wars to those they were knitting for. This post has been focused on knitting, however it is far better to follow the example of the knitters themselves and fill our minds instead with the remembrance of the service and sacrifice of our defence force; past and present.
*Article from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article45342735
^Article from http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/92153530
**Article from http://trove.nla.gov.au/ndp/del/article/25812599
`Article from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article75148904