Is this research of mine going to undermine absolutely all the certainties I had before I began?

One stereotyped image that I thought would be forever secure was that of the loving womenfolk at home knitting socks and comforters for their menfolk in France.

But today I read this disturbing piece by Richard Blaker (from the transcript of an American radio talk that he gave in the late thirties) :

On the Western Front – when once you had accepted the fantastic conditions of it, and the simple fact that there was no guarantee of its stability – life became occasional periods of overwhelming leisure. Leisure which could become boredom of the most hideous sort, for it was enjoyed, of course, before a background of incessant fear or utter despair. In such leisure any man with a secret entertainment for himself which required no cumbersome equipment or instruments or tools, was lucky. A friend of mine, a great footballer and a very brilliant pianist took up – very seriously – knitting. His mother sent him a parcel of books, wool, and the measurements of his young sister who was still at school. Before he was killed he had completed and sent home a two-piece suit – skirt and jumper…

A soldier in the trenches knitting clothes for the womenfolk at home… My mind is reeling…



  1. Posted February 28, 2007 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    My expectations are confounded too! I wouldn’t normally associate the Western Front with leisure. Maybe it’s because Blaker was in the artillery. Infantry don’t appear to have had much leisure at all. Even when they were just holding the line in a quiet sector there was always digging to be done, and when they were rotated out of the front line, there was yet more digging, or maybe training, but I can’t imagine infantry ever having much spare time or energy for knitting (except perhaps when they were on board ships).

  2. Posted February 28, 2007 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Surely they were all too busy writing poetry to get any knitting done?

  3. Andy Frayn
    Posted February 28, 2007 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    Or, frankly, getting drunk and visiting prostitutes…

  4. Jessica
    Posted March 1, 2007 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Well, they certainly sewed and cooked….Surely knitting needles and wool would have been pretty bulky objects to manouver?

  5. domesticshorthair
    Posted March 1, 2007 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Although it does seem to ruin our stereotype of a man at war in the trenches, it’s not that inconceivable. I’ve heard of many instances of men knitting in historical times (as well as the present), and it wasn’t considered unusual or un-masculine. In fact, I know of one woman of Irish descent who was taught by her father. Also, as a knitter I can attest that you don’t have to tote a big bag of yarn and 12″ needles to knit. To make a fine pair of socks, a ball of thin yarn might not take up much more space than a softball, and the needles for the same project might be about 6″ long and 1.5 mm in circumference. Sending a knitted object from a soldier in the trenches would probably be considered a special gift to remember a departed by.

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