There’s nothing new about knitting clubs. Groups of women and men have formed over the last century—and continue today—to enjoy fellowship, to hone their craft, and even to express their patriotism.
This has never been truer than during times of war. Dating over 100 years ago during World War I, “knitting circles” sprang up across Britain, Canada, and the USA to stitch a unique contribution to the war effort.
The Salvation Army was in the forefront of hosting such groups, a movement that peaked during World War II, especially in the United Kingdom.
The May 3, 1941 edition of The Times (London) reported that 73,000 garments to date had been produced by Salvation Army knitting circles, of which there seemed to be “one in every town.” One Salvation Army knitting club (not identified specifically by the article), however, had an additional distinction—making it an iRony of note.
Knitting circles sprang up as much for morale as for practical purposes. Only music rivaled knitting as a pastime to boost spirits both at home and abroad during both World Wars.
Parents, spouses, and even children found knitting as a constructive and practical way to connect to their loved ones who were “in the fight” far away from home.
As soon as hostilities began in September 1939, knitters who had busied themselves during “the war to end all wars” once again armed themselves with needles—not as weapons, but as instruments of compassion. This time, they were joined literally by thousands more knitters, beginners and amateurs.
In his book Crown Of Glory, Crown Of Thorns, General Shaw Clifton cites a report from All The World (April-June 1942) that “by mid-1942 a million articles of knitted clothing had been handled” in the war effort.
“This figure doubled,” the General adds, “within a further two years (as) the Army shipped goods worth £500,000 in 97,384 cases and 465 sacks and bales in 490 ships.”
Gifts came from Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, West Indies, and India.
Not only did these cherished items keep soldiers, sailors, and airmen warmer—it boosted their morale by receiving “a touch of home.”
Knitters plied their yarn not only for their military folk, but also for others who seldom heard from home at all. Even young schoolgirls knitted mittens, helmets, socks, and scarves for those close to the fighting.
But it didn’t stop at the front lines—many knitted for orphans and destitute families that had been bombed out or had lost family members in battle. Special depots were established to receive and forward the knitted garments for distribution in the UK and overseas.
Beginner knitters made mufflers. Schoolkids made simple 9” squares that would later be sewn together into blankets.
Even those who couldn’t get the hang of “purling” could make simple bandages—15’-20’ lengths joined together in garter stitch with 100% cotton yarn.
Finally, this was a ministry to one’s self as well—knitters confined to an underground shelter during air-raids were often seen stitching away to keep their minds off of the deadly blitzkrieg above.
That one Salvation Army knitting circle unique from all the rest? Well, it’s not uncommon to hear of a blind man or woman who, with a sensitive skill in their fingers have mastered the art.
What you might find iRonic, however, is an entire circle of blind knitters bonded together for the expressed purpose of doing their part—freeing up precious resources needed elsewhere.
Major Frank Duracher, Assistant Editor