Duty calls … Janet Burningham inspects a sock knitted using a pattern probably similar to that used by the women below during WWI.HERE is a story from the days when love meant a clean, warm pair of knitted socks.
Nobody knows how many grey wool socks Australian women knitted for the boys at the front during World War 1, but volunteer Janet Burningham of Heathcote can tell you exactly how long it takes to knit a pair.
Using a rare and annotated grey sock pattern, it took two weeks (squeezed in while catching the train or watching television) and about $20 worth of Patons’ 8-ply grey wool for Ms Burningham to reproduce the seamless socks. (Each sock would take about a day to knit without life interfering.)
Ms Burningham, a member of knitting group Wrap with Love, used a pattern that belonged to Irene Read, a keen knitter for the war effort nearly 100 years ago. About the size of today’s iPhone, ”The Grey Sock” kit is small enough to slip into a woman’s handbag. Its instructions were meant to be followed exactly to ensure the woollen hosiery was comfortable and warm.
Two copies of the pattern, one with handwritten reminders presumably learnt over repeated knittings, were found in a bequest to the State Library of NSW by descendants of Mrs Read, who accompanied her husband to Egypt in 1915 where Dr Read cared for the first Anzacs wounded at Gallipoli.
According to the library’s war specialist, Elise Edmonds, the grey sock is a symbol of how women on the home front contributed to the war effort. ”The First World War activated knitting needles across the country as women and girls mobilised their skills to support soldiers overseas,” she said.
In much the same way as today’s Wrap with Love volunteers meet to knit woollen blankets to send overseas, women during WWI would meet to knit socks for the troops overseas.
The troops never had enough socks because the wool rotted in the wet, muddy trenches. When socks went bad, so did feet, causing trench foot, which caused feet to swell, smell and rot. Corporal Archie A.Barwick wrote in the trenches of Ypres, Belgium, that he had not ”been dry since leaving Fricourt Camp some time ago” and his feet ”suffered so”.
Some days later, his platoon of 30 to 60 men received 14 pairs of clean socks, which were ”not enough but better than none at all”.
While today’s knitting patterns are the size of an A4 sheet and leave little to the imagination, Ms Burningham said the original pattern was a little hard to read because it was so small.
Once she got going, it was easy for Ms Burningham, an experienced sock knitter who recalls her mother knitting socks for the World War II effort. By the time Ms Burningham had turned 12, her mother had given her the ”tedious” task of knitting socks for her father.
”He was an army person, and he used to wear long stockings. And it is a long way down from the knee to the heel when you are knitting. [There’s] no interest at all,” she said.
The Grey Sock pattern and other war memorabilia, including a map and a diary, will go on display at the State Library of NSW from November 9, to mark Remembrance Day.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.