‘No woman should be seen just sitting, she should be sitting knitting.’
Knitting warm clothing for ‘our boys on the frontline and at sea’ became a moral duty soon after the outbreak of the Great War. The movement was spearheaded by Queen Mary who, through the Needlework Guild, appealed for comforts for the troops. The Queen’s Guild had groups located overseas as well as at home.
It became a common sight to see women knitting on the underground, in the cinemas, on trains and in every living room in the country from the smallest farm worker’s cottage to the grandest drawing rooms of the aristocracy.
The Archbishop of Canterbury allowed people to knit during the sermon throughout the war years and Lord Kitchener developed a seamless finish for socks for soldiers suffering from trench foot.
Knitting patterns for soldiers’ comforts were widely available and often included in magazines. In 1915, the British Journal of Nursing suggested dimensions for mufflers for soldiers. Each should measure 58 inches by 10 inches, be made on no 7 needles, using 10 oz of thick khaki or drab wool. The Graphic newspaper published instructions for making mittens from old socks or stockings, devised by Dr George Cathcart of Harley Street.
In London, in St James’s Palace, the handmade articles were sorted and packed at Friary Court. The Queen frequently arrived to inspect the work and asked for daily reports. Cardigans, sweaters, socks, mittens, rifle gloves, balaclavas, mufflers, abdominal belts, pneumonia vests and blankets were presented to the Queen’s Guild and the Red Cross. Once collected, the garments had to be sorted, packed and sent to the recipients.
175,000 items were donated in the first five months of the war and by 1918, nearly sixteen million knitted or sewn garments had been made and delivered to soldiers and sailors.
Any soldier, knee deep in mud during a bitterly cold winter in the trenches, must have been happy to receive a knitted waistcoat, a muffler or a pair of gloves. Such a gift brought not only physical warmth but also the knowledge of the army of women at home doing what they could to support their menfolk at the battlefront.
To read about the Great War – ‘The war to end all wars’ click here
1914 Spindrift House, Cornwall
Edith Fairchild’s good-for-nothing husband, Benedict, deserted her when their children were babies. Now the children are almost adult, Edith and Pascal, her faithful lover of two decades, are planning to leave their beloved Spindrift artists’ community in Cornwall and live together in blissful sin in France.
But an explosive encounter between Benedict and Pascal forces old secrets into the light, causing rifts in the happiness and security of the community. Then an assassin’s bullet fired in faraway Sarajevo sets in train a chain of events that changes everything.
The community left in Cornwall struggles to eke out a living, while the younger generation enlist or volunteer to support the war effort, facing dangers that in the golden summer of 1914 would have seemed unimaginable.
When it’s all over, will the Spindrift community survive an unexpected threat and will Edith and Pascal ever be able to fulfil their dream?
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