Friday, 13 May 2016


I have been reading a new book, Knitskrieg! A call to yarns by Joyce Meader - subtitled "A history of military knitting from the 1800s to the present day" (published by Uniform Press - full details here).   I have met Joyce several times over the past  few years, most recently in Glasgow last year, at the Knitting in Wartime study day, when she gave a fascinating talk, covering a lot of the same ground as the book.  The book is lavishly illustrated - many of the illustrations are from Joyce's collection, and there are also photos of replica garments made by Joyce and modelled by her friends.

Joyce starts with the Napoleonic Wars, represented by a knitted forage cap of the 33rd Regiment of Foot.  The original is in the Bankfield Museum in Halifax - a rare survival, if not unique.

3rd Foot forage cap, in the Bankfield Museum, Halifax

(A digression: I went to a talk and demonstration recently by John Spencer in the 33rd Foot re-enactment group. He said that the group had had a set of replica forage caps made - you can see them in one of the photos on their website.)

The forage cap was part of the official uniform; in later wars, the emphasis of the book switches to unofficial knitting, of  'comforts'.  The Crimean War of 1853 to 1856 was the first war that Britain was involved in that was reported almost as it happened, and was notoriously badly managed.  For the first time, the British public were concerned at the plight of the men fighting on their behalf, and the terrible conditions in the Crimea, especially during the winters.   Joyce writes about the book of knitting and crochet patterns, Comforts for the Crimea, published in 1854  by Mlle Riego de la Branchardiere, a prolific author of books on needlecrafts, and describes aristocratic ladies frantically knitting comforts to be sent out to the troops in the Crimea.  

Later chapters cover knitting comforts in the American Civil War, the South African War of 1899 to 1902, and the First and Second World Wars.  One or two original patterns are given in each case, in the original words, which are sometimes more or less incomprehensible, though Joyce also gives 'translated' versions of a few patterns at the end of the book.  I was delighted to see a photo of a gentleman with a suitably military moustache wearing the striped sleeping helmet that Joyce showed in Glasgow.  (If you feel inclined to knit a striped balaclava, there is an updated pattern using modern yarn and needles in the book.)

Photo: Uniform Press
The Second World War chapter shows pattern leaflets produced by the spinning companies (American and Australian as well as British) for a wide range of Service woollies.  There are also more unusual illustrations, such as a combined 'Knitting and Recipe Leaflet' from Batchelor's Peas, with the message "Save Time by using Batchelor's canned ready-cooked foods - spend it in knitting for yourself and the Services!"   And some ephemera which must be very rare - a chit from the Board of Trade allowing a representative of a comforts group to buy wool in Service colours off ration,  and little brown paper packets used by spinners to send out samples of Service wools.

(Another digression: I remember Batchelor's Peas from when I was a child - they were usually marrowfat peas, aka processed peas, which were dried and then soaked and cooked before being canned. They were a lurid, unnatural bright green.  Canned garden peas, which were fresh before they were canned, were a bit of a luxury.  You can still buy both - as well as Batchelor's canned mushy peas.)

There is a chapter on later 20th century wars that Britain was involved in:  Korea, Rhodesia and the Falklands. This includes a section on the virtues of 'string' vests, and another on the Guernseys issued to British soldiers in the Falklands.  The book comes right up to date covering Iraq and Afghanistan, and knitting by soldiers, as well as for soldiers.  Joyce also mentions knitting used to protest against war, and her pattern for knitted Remembrance Day poppies is illustrated with white peace poppies as well as red.

Photo: Uniform Press

Joyce has an enviable collection of military knitting patterns, equipment and ephemera, as well as all the replicas she has knitted, and has put them to good use in this book.


  1. I just don't know and understand why knitters are so obsessed with War-Knitting... I hate it.

    I am a peaceful person and I would love to see more peaceful knittings...

    1. I understand your feelings, Connie, but war-time knitting has sometimes had a big effect on peace-time knitting - for instance, Richard Rutt in his History of Hand-Knitting attributes the jumper craze of the 1920s to all the knitting that was done during the First World War. So if we want to understand the history of knitting, we can't ignore knitting in war-time.

  2. I saw this article and thought of you!

    I hope your arms are mending well.

    1. Thanks very much for the pointer, Helena. It's a very useful little booklet - there's a nice list between British knitting yarns and American equivalents, which helps to explain what the different yarns were like.
      I think my wrists are mending OK - I'll find out in a week's time when the casts are taken off!

  3. Interesting post. I just requested my library order the book.

    I am working on a story about the Kitchener stitch and wondering if we might chat by email?

    Michelle Edwards

  4. That looks like a fascinating book - it's great that it goes back as far as the Napoleonic wars.

  5. This sounds really interesting, I am going to look out for it.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...