Soldiers Knitting, part 2!

More knitting soldiers! You may be asking yourself, “Why is this important?” Well, war and craft are two things throughout history found in almost every culture, and each of them got more or less “assigned” to a particular gender along the way. Women, the childbearers, needed to stay close to home to watch their babies, so war was pretty much out. Men, well, let’s just say there are loads of reasons why they ended up with war instead of craft. As they are prevalent throughout history, I’m interested in the links between the two, as if you look at America’s wars of last century, the rise in popularity in craft, follows the same timeline. Crazy, no?

The accompanying text is the only mention I’ve ever seen of soldiers knitting for evacuated children.

Two soldiers knitting in wartime, 31 October 1939. ‘If you drop in at ‘The Peggy Bedford’ on the Great West Road in Longford, Middlesex, the landlady will ask you to knit. She will hand you knitting needles with your drink, and the idea is that you knit a few squares between the orders. These squares are later made up into clothes for soldiers and evacuated children. Two customers in uniform busily knit after obtaining their drinks’.

Slowly, I’m discovering more evidence of soldiers being taught knitting in previous wars because of its therapeutic nature. The text below accompanies the photo below on the website for Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine:

Great strides were also made in occupational therapy. The men were taught new job skills that could be used once they were dismissed from the hospital. Subjects taught in the Fort’s vocational school included telegraphy, metal work, basketry, commercial art, shorthand and typing. Carpentry, upholstery, auto repair, bookkeeping and even knitting were also offered to keep the wounded occupied and provide them with a possible means of livelihood. It was the first serious attempt to give disabled American veterans real employment.

Probably the spirit of the hospital’s rehabilitation program was best depicted in an illustration on the anniversary cover of “The Trouble Buster,” Fort McHenry’s own magazine, printed on its own presses by it own patients.

There is more about “The Trouble Buster” in Carry On: A Magazine on the Reconstruction of Disabled Soldiers, Part 1 published in 1919 by the Office of the Surgeon General. Not only does Carry On have awesome article titles such as “The Seas of Opportunity are Waiting for Specialized Brains” and “The Sluggard and the Ant,” it also provides a pretty interesting look at what returning soldiers were facing after World War I.

And lastly, the first thing I found online that mentioned teaching soldiers to knit because it’s a “mental stimulus.” From the Democrat & Chronicle, Rochester NY, February 7, 1918, page 12:

Rochester Women Have Proficient Pupils in Camp Dix Hospital
Rochester women are teaching soldiers in the base hospital at Camp Dix to knit. Wooford G. TIMMONS, of New York, and Elmer ADLER, of Rochester, were instrumental in procuring the instruments and a big supply of wool and the Y. M. C. A. has installed a number of small table looms. Among those who are teaching the soldier patients to knit are Mrs. Joseph ALLING, wife of Joseph T. ALLING, of this city, who is doing Y. M. C. A. work at the camp, and Mrs. W. J. WOOD; Mrs. ALLING is the chief instructress.
The physicians have declared that knitting is beneficial to the men as a mental stimulus.

I also really dig that Mrs. Alling is called “the chief instructress.”

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9 Responses to Soldiers Knitting, part 2!

  1. karinajean February 25, 2010 at 8:21 am #

    This is not knitting related, but it’s family folk lore that my grandfather learned to hook rugs when he was in army hospitals unable to fight in the Korean war because of his TB. I should ask him more about that!

  2. jafabrit February 25, 2010 at 9:25 am #

    Fabulous post and fascinating, and I too love the term “instructress” lol!

  3. SallyF February 25, 2010 at 9:50 am #

    Again not strictly knitting but also worth remembering the whole wave of POW related craft of all sorts in which men uncovered skills they had no idea they had and there are some beautiful and poignant artefacts in the world now as a result of their need to make and express themselves somehow depsitge all the odds being against them…

  4. Carlylou February 26, 2010 at 5:44 am #

    Facinating post. You know the kitchener stitch for turning the heel of a sock? Its named after Lord Kitchener (from this very famous (in the UK, anyway) poster ). Its said he invented it so the troops could have comfy seamless socks. I’ve no idea if this is actually true, btw but I think its a fab story.

  5. Knitting Out Loud February 26, 2010 at 7:18 am #

    Really interesting post! Wish more people could see the therapeutic aspects of knitting!

  6. Melissa February 27, 2010 at 9:56 pm #

    Very cool. It’s so true that craft has therapeutic benefits. I especially like the first picture and story about the soldiers knitting for evacuated children.

  7. Knittingcathy February 28, 2010 at 9:56 am #

    It is still going on my friend who was in the British Army and who has just recently come out was taught to knit will need to ask him more about it but am sure it was as a soldier he was taught.


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