Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Knitting For Victory

When we visited Blickling Hall on April 11th, we discovered that in one of the outbuildings is a small museum dedicated to RAF Oulton, which was a wartime outpost of the much larger airfield at Swanton Morley. Rooms in Blickling Hall were requisitioned to be the Officers’ Mess, and some USAAF crews were there too. When we went round, enthusiastic chaps talked to us – and there were displays of P1010072newspapers reporting of successful bombing raids which flew from Oulton – including this one about Bombing Berlin in June 1940.  Then I spotted a tiny article at the bottom of the front page of the paper.


Dear Miss Furnish- knitting for the soldiers when she was a teenager in 1853 [Crimean War], then getting out her needles again at the turn of the century, when she was 60 [Boer War] and 14 years later [WW1] – most women would have felt they had ‘done their bit’ by then – but the noble Elizabeth was still casting on and off at the age of 101 to produce ‘comforts for the boys’ at the start of WW2. She deserved her Royal Birthday Greeting, I think! She would have certainly taken this poster to heart [also displayed in the RAF Oulton Museum] – but she’d died before the USA entered WW2


Knitting for the troops really started during the Crimean War. The Crimean winters were bitterly cold. Lord Raglan, who had lost his right arm at Waterloo, gave us a style of sleeve, designed for his greater comfort by his tailor and later taken up by the world of fashion. And then there was the Balaklava helmet. And the other big thing was that Queen Victoria herself liked knitting. It had earlier been seen as a man’s pursuit, but her involvement made it fashionable.

Then the Boer War came along, and Lord Kitchener [he of that poster] When the campaign for home-knitted hosiery for the troops got going, he declared that men could not march on lumpy socks, and so ‘Kitchener Stitch’ was invented, to give a flat seam which was more comfortable [I suspect Lord K got one of his back room boys to do it, I doubt he sat by his oil lamp, struggling with a needle!] By WW1, more and more women were casting on to knit hats, socks, mufflers and gloves – and again in WW2.


Look, here’s a photo of Queen Vic, and another of our own dear Queen with her Mum and sis, doing their patriotic duty!

VR knitsroyalknits

More recently, a Welshwoman called Tina Selby, set up a charity in October 2010, with the aim of sending 500 woolly hats to British soldiers in Afghanistan, where it gets very cold at night. Within 18 months, 5000 hats had been sent. When the charity was wound up last year, and the troops finally came home, more than 14,000 hats had been made, and Tina was awarded the British Empire Medal.

If you want to knit for somebody else, check out the UK Handknitting Association website [here] where you will find lots of good causes, assorted free patterns, and all the information you need. And many of the patterns are both easy, and good ways of using up oddments. I’ll stop knitting soon, as my hands get too hot in summer. Maybe it is like eating oysters, knitting is something which should only occur when there is an ‘r’ in the month!


  1. A really interesting post about knitting.

  2. What lovely stories. I am not a real knitter, but do enjoy making little things every now and then (like hats for Smoothies!)

  3. Fascinating post Angela!
    Now, has anyone got a sock pattern for a seamless sock? I get very sore with seams across or just below the toes and have to wear my socks inside out which, when plain coloured is fine but, when you have spotty , bi-coloured or stripey socks, they look a mess!
    I'm Diabetic, so foot care and footwear are important to me. Maybe, someone has a technique of joing the seams without leaving a ridge?

  4. What a fascinating post, although I knew Raglan gave his name to raglan sleeves, as opposed to the former "set in " variety I didn't know it was because he'd lost an arm. I was lucky enough to be given the book "Knitting for Tommy: keeping the Great War Soldier warm" by by Lucinda Gosling in association with Mary Evans Picture Library: it's a fascinating read, lots of info & original patterns too. Having read it through I now keep dipping into it. By the way I'm not being paid to promote it, it was just a fab Xmas present and your post made me think of it. I do like to fit in some knitting every day, it's such a therapeutic past-time, Vee x

  5. How interesting and how very thoughtful for this sweet lady to do so much for the troops.

    I'm putting together a 1:12 scale doll house set during WWII and plan on having, in the WVS meeting room, those sorts of posters x

    1. What a great project! You should check out Spitfire Cottage [] which is a lovely WW2 Doll's House in the Bridewell Museum in Norwich!

  6. I loved this post! So interesting! My granny and my mother-in-law knitted for the troops. Yay!


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