Tag Archives | POW

POW Embroidery: Thomas J. McGory

Today’s post is by Amber Wingfield, as she posted some wonderful craftivism photos from the Mighty 8th Museum in Pooler, Georgia on Twitter and I asked her to share some of what she learned on her trip! Thanks, Amber!

Before World War II, Thomas J. McGory was Chief of the Dryden, New York fire department.

After the war, he was an athletic trainer and baseball coach at Cornell University.

And during the war, he was a top turret gunner and flight engineer for B-24s, stationed in England—until his plane was shot down in Germany and he was captured by the Nazis.

Then Thomas J. McGory was a prisoner of war at Stalag Luft IV in modern-day Poland.

For nine months, he and around 8,000 other men struggled to survive the harsh weather, meager food, and poor sanitation. This alone might have been enough to occupy his time, but McGory was concerned about his mental health as well.

“I really needed a project to keep me from going stir crazy,” he said in an interview with the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum in Pooler, Georgia.

So he turned to embroidery.

A handkerchief and a needle in a package he received from the International Red Cross were good starting materials, but he needed thread and a subject to embroider. B-17s and B-24s were natural choices for the handkerchief’s corners, so he sacrificed some black thread from his shoelaces for them. In the handkerchief’s center, he decided to recreate his Eighth Air Force patch, so he needed blue thread. Those strands came from the tail of his shirt. Still, his piece needed something else.

It needed a flag. An American flag.

McGory used cigarettes (a common prisoner currency) to “buy” red and blue threads from other prisoners, who sourced the threads from their own clothing and towels given to them by the Red Cross.

The decision to embroider his country’s flag was not a flippant one. “I knew creating that kind of U.S. symbol was an offense that they could shoot me for on the spot,” McGory said. But he embroidered it anyway.

On February 6, 1945, the Germans forced the Stalag Luft IV prisoners to begin a march of 600 miles to another prison in Germany. The march, which the prisoners called the Shoe Leather Express, lasted 86 days. McGory’s handkerchief was with him every step of the way: He’d tied it around his waist before leaving the prison.

Today, McGory’s handkerchief is on display at the Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum. It’s a remarkable example of craftivism among the museum’s exhibits of war memorabilia. Because we craftivists focus so much on the intended effects of our work on other people, we might forget to evaluate the impact our pieces have on us, their creators. McGory’s embroidered handkerchief served as a silent protest against his captors, but it also served as a rallying point for his patriotism, his identity, and his sanity.

 

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For more POW embroidery, check out the story of Jim Simpson!

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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