Knitting for Tommy and Jack

By Judith Phillips

As volunteers have worked through copies of the Teesdale Mercury for the war years, they have found many instances of local groups sending parcels to men on service abroad.  In many cases the parcels would have contained garments knitted by family and community members.  Not so many people knit these days but perhaps you do or know someone who does) and would be interested in helping us.

‘Knitting for Tommy: Keeping the Great War Soldier Warm’ by Lucinda Gosling is a fascinating book, showing how knitting came to be seen as a practical way in which people – especially but not exclusively women – could help the war effort.  There’s a copy of the book in the small (but growing) WWI-related collection of books we’ve accumulated for the project which are available for reference in the Museum’s Reading Room.  As a patriotic activity, knitting featured frequently in propaganda – posters, cartoons, stories.  It was an intimate way for family members to give practical support to their loved ones and also offered people with no direct connection to men (and nurses) on active service an opportunity to feel involved. 

Wool manufacturers weren’t slow to exploit these opportunities and Gosling includes several patterns produced to help the civilian population provide extra knitted comforts.  We’d like to hear from knitters (and crocheters) who’d be interested in trying out some of these patterns.  It’s many decades since I was taught to knit at school and by my grandmother – an inveterate sock-knitter – but I reckon I could still manage some plain knitting and, with a bit of practice, perhaps get to grips again with knitting on four needles.  Patterns include straightforward items such as scarves, body belts and mittens, as well as more complex items such as balaclava helmets, gloves and socks.  There’s even what looks like a rather complicated spencer – sort of a cardigan – for a nurse.

As well as knitters, I’d welcome suggestions about where we might source 4-ply and double knitting wool, particularly in khaki, navy, white and grey – preferably at very reasonable cost!