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Week #13 of 48 Weeks of Historical Craftivism, Jim Simpson’s POW Rug!

So what has happened here the past few weeks?! The website was updated so that now I can run it off of WordPress instead of other means! Woohoo! Although I still can’t get the text to show it in blue, all the text below is from other sources and linked back to them.

Therefore, let’s continue where we were, shall we?

This week, I’m highlighting Jim Simpson’s knitted rug that he made in POW camp in WWII. Although I wrote about Jim in 2008, which you can see here, I wanted to include him in #HistCraftivism because what he made is an amazing testament to our will to create during times of distress.




Culture Victoria




“I knitted a few pairs of socks for some who were eager to escape, but they all seemed to return rather crestfallen, but with socks intact.” J.O. Simpson, 1995.

James O. Simpson enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force in 1940, aged 26. On his first mission, his aircraft was shot down. Captured by the German Army, he was transported to a prisoner of war camp, where he spent the rest of World War II.

As a prisoner James knitted an extraordinary memorial to this time in Australia’s military history: a rug depicting a map of Australia and the Coat of Arms.





While a prisoner in Germany, Simpson knitted a rug featuring a map of Australia and the Australian Coat of Arms. He started making the rug after German soldiers told him they were going to take his jumper.

They wanted to send it to the Russian front, I said they can’t do that… so I went to the toilet and pulled it to bits, and if they wanted it they could put it together again.

Simpson completed the rug after using wool from a second jumper he brought for 40 cigarettes.


jim02


Part of the full story that Jim tells about the rug over at: The Man From Snowy River Museum:
The rug itself was knitted in one piece, the Coat of Arms and all. The Crown Jewels were worked with a needle and coloured wool, five crowns for the Cross of St George for NSW’s, one crown for Victoria’s Southern Cross, and one crown in the centre of the Maltese cross for QLD.

The knitting time to make this rug was about six weeks. The winding of the wool, some well worn, some reasonable, to make it twelve ply, took many months to get a reasonable article to knit with. There were hundreds of small sections or worn wool joined together to be reasonably even. I had no trouble with the Germans in making this article, as a matter of fact they were rather astonished with the finished product.



Afraid that his new wool Naval pullover would be stolen by the prison-camp guards, Jim unraveled the sweater, rolled the white yarn into balls, and stored them away in Red Cross boxes. Everyone thought he was crazy, wondering “what the hell he had all that stuff for.

Jim was planning to knit a rug, an item that would keep him warm but be less tempting to thieves than a sweater. He needed more wool, so he went on a scavenger hunt in the camp. For $50 he bought another Naval pullover. He knit a new pair of white socks and traded them to a Canadian airman for his multicolored hockey socks. He traded cigarettes for other wool items that could be unraveled. And he used a few balls of sock yarn his mother had sent him.

Even with all of this, getting enough yarn for the rug was a challenge. The only sweaters Jim could get were either wearing out or full of lice. Parts of the sweaters had to be discarded because they were threadbare. Jim also had to boil the yarn to get rid of the lice.

Finding knitting needles was no easier. Jim had to make his own. He took the handles off of Italian Army “dixie cans” (cooking pots), straightened them out, and sharpened the tips to points by rubbing them on cement. Amazingly, he was allowed to keep these sharp objects.





They crafted knitting needles out of their dixie pan handles. They unravelled socks and had to boil the wool to get the lice off it and then spin it into 12 ply.

It’s a complete map of Australia with all the states marked, all the mountains and the rivers and lakes. He’s got a coat of arms for each of the states above the map.

The whole thing is a six-foot square rug. It’s in fantastic condition. It was used for a little while then rolled up and moth-balled so from a conservation point of view it’s been very well looked after.




Jim and rug




Earlier this year [2011] Jim Simpson’s bed caught fire.

For 60 years he’d kept a rug of national significance, depicting a map of Australia and the Coat of Arms he knitted while a prisoner of war, under that bed.

“It was rolled in his kit-bag and then in another kit-bag under his bed, so ideal conditions as far as keeping it away from temperature fluctuations and light,” Upper Murray Historical Society project officer Marita Albert said.

Which was all wonderful until his electric blanket caught fire.

“We’re very, very lucky that two weeks prior to the fire he had given it to us.”

Mr Simpson’s rug was officially unveiled as the centrepiece of an extension to the Man From Snowy River Museum at Corryong.

For years the Australian War Memorial had wanted to preserve the rug but Jim, 96, would not let them.

“I want it to be in Corryong in memory of my mother, who taught me to knit, and in memory of the boys in the camp,” Mr Simpson said.




rug plaque




Knitting From Nothing, Rug By WWII Prisoner of War

I get a lot of really great emails from people telling me about some of the absolutely brilliant things that people do. Yesterday was no exception when I discovered the story of Jim Simpson, who knitted a rug while a prisoner of war in Germany with unraveled garments, using pot handles as knitting needles.

Click on the italic text to go to the respective news stories. And never forget the power and spirit invoked by embracing your creative spirit.

From The Weekly Times:
Jim Simpson would have to be the toughest man to ever pick up a pair of knitting needles.

The former prisoner of war, who spent more than 19 months in Germany’s World War II prison camps, not only survived interrogations and torture but managed to knit arguably Australia’s most valuable war artefact, outside a museum.

Jim’s rug is a perfectly preserved 1.83m x 1.9m knitted woollen blanket, featuring the map of Australia and the Coat of Arms.

“I knitted it with straightened handles from the camp’s cooking pots; they looked like pieces of number eight wire,” Jim says.

“The cook agreed to give them to me if I knitted him a pair of socks.”

Jim credits his mum and his practical bushman’s upbringing in the Nariel Valley, near Corryong, for his knitting skills.

“It’s one of those things, if you put your mind to it, you can do it. I could even turn the heel of a sock as a kid,” he says.

simpson

And in Jim’s own words here:

At about this time I had gathered quite a few worn out pullovers, some lousy, some not. Boiling the garments for a few minutes kills the lice and their eggs, and it did not seem to hurt the wool very much. I knitted a few pairs of socks for some who were eager to escape, but they all seemed to return rather crestfallen, but; with socks intact. With this result I gathered enough wool, so I started teaching some of the lads to knit, about forty in all.

They were really good lads, especially the R.A.F. boys. They were helpful in getting more old worn out pullovers to delouse, dismantle and roll into balls of wool of many colours. I had Red Cross Parcel boxes of balls of wool, especially the white wool, which was to be used in the White Map of Australia, which I had envisaged to be able to produce for the centre piece of my rug. The Jerries were very curious about these boxes of wool, but accepted my explanation for them.

Oh, and once you’ve wrapped your head around this awesomeness, consider the fact that it took Jim six weeks to make the rug. Yes, arguably he had a lot of free time on his hands, but it’s still incredible nonetheless. And the next time you complain about not having what you need at hand to finish a project, remember that even in the toughest times, beauty can still find its way to you, with a little creativity, fierceness and love.

Read more about Jim here, here and here. A Google quick search for him also turns up some interesting stories online via PDF. Jim’s rug is also profiled in The Knitted Rug by the wonderful and always inspiring Donna Druchunas.

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