Britannia is a woman

In 1940 a film entitled Britannia is a Woman was released by Movietone News to be shown in cinemas across the UK. [1] It had been created with the full cooperation of the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS). [2] It was clearly intended to boost morale on the home front as well as to celebrate the contribution that women were making to the war effort.  There are images of women in the services on parade, working as air raid wardens, repairing vehicles, driving ambulances, acting as chauffeurs, and flying airplanes from factories to airports, or working in ‘that picturesque service’, the Land Army.  Alongside all of these new roles, were the ‘traditional’ roles of women working in hospitals and several minutes of footage of women and children knitting ‘comforts’ for troops. It stated that washing up was not heroic but noble, and looking after babies was women’s most traditional work yet nursing was women’s greatest work.[3]  Despite showing around two minutes of women and girls from all parts of society knitting and sewing, the narrator does not offer any evaluation of their efforts, except to ask rhetorically how many times England had seen three teenage girls on horseback riding to a stately home to drop off some scarves they had knitted at home. The film does, however, provide us with proof that women took – or rather were allowed to take- a much more active role in the war effort than they had been allowed to do during the first world war.  It is proof that society’s expected women to take a very active role in the fighting for their country, albeit at a distance, and that this duty was very much tied up with their expected patriotism.

Patriotism is such a universally understood concept that historians do not usually offer definitions; for example, in Samuel’s three volume Patriotism there is not a clear definition of the concept, even though it is discussed in every chapter in all three volumes. [4]  The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) defines patriotism as ‘love of or devotion to one’s country’.[5][6]  Hugh Cunningham adds in his article The Language of Patriotism that historically the English thought that their country was chosen by God and that England was the birthplace of Liberty, and that ‘England, as the home of freedom, had a peculiar right and duty to spread its benefits to less fortunate nations.’[7] Although Cunningham’s article covers the period up to 1914, the theme of the British Empire being ordained by God and of Britain being the torchbearers of Liberty are evident in Churchill’s ‘Fight them on the beaches’ speech to the House of Parliament on 4 June 1940.[8]

In 1989, historian Raphael Samuel stated that throughout the vast majority of history women were the objects rather than the subjects of patriotism; patriotic acts were done for them, not by them.[9] However, Linda Colley provides evidence that British women did find a way to express their patriotism, and that was with needles. [10] Wartime knitting was a ‘gender appropriate political expression’ which allowed women to support the war effort with their domestic skills which reassured and comforted men, and addressed women’s anxiety.[11]

This essay starts by briefly looking at women’s voluntary knitting in the first world war as an introduction to the later discussion on this activity during the second world war. It will discuss the role of the queen consort and will examine the role that social class played in women’s participation in knitting for the troops. It will also briefly mention the role of the Personal Service League (PSL) in the interwar period as a charitable effort made by the aristocracy to help those less fortunate and what this can tell us about social class and volunteering in the early 20th century.

It will then discuss an official government-issued document, Knitting for the Army Official Guide, to analyse government-issued propaganda on knitting for the troops. The guide has a very unusual dual nature; it contains both propaganda and practical knitting patterns for required items. [12]  It will question some of the messages contained in the pamphlet and offer an evidenced critique.

Items have been knitted from the patterns in order to gain a tactile insight and deeper understanding of what women were asked to do. Other primary sources included in the discussion include an original pair of soldier’s socks, WVS badges, photographs, a pattern booklet sold by Patons & Baldwin in 1939 to raise funds for the PSL, and numerous Scottish newspaper articles.  This essay focuses solely on the early war, 1939 – 1940 inclusively.[13]  The essay will end with an analysis of how women’s identity changed between the two world wars if social class had any role to play in any change, and whether women knit items for the armed forces as acts of patriotic duty, and how that interacted with their sense of British identity.  

Traditionally in times of war, men go off to fight and women stay at home, and the order of society and political stability requires the maintenance of separate sexual spheres.[14] In both world wars, this was enforced – women were not allowed to fight on the front line in either war- but over time the division between the two sexes lessened. According to Paul Ward, at the start of World War 1, the only thing women were actively encouraged to do for the war effort was to knit socks.[15]  Richard Rutt states in A History of  Handknitting that:

‘The First World War stimulated British knitting to the point where it was regarded as a national mania […] Knitting was a war activity for the lonely and worried women, and at the same time an expression of love. […] All ages of women in Britain were knitting for dear life like a national addiction.’[16]

Both Ward and Rutt refer to Jessie Pope’s poem Socks which combines knitting instructions at the end of each stanza with a woman’s thoughts about her beloved fighting in France, which perfectly illustrates the point Rutt makes in the above quote about knitting for a loved one overseas is an emotional experience, and the produced item is an expression of love.[17]

The role of the queen consort as the ‘mother of the nation’ and senior female royals taking an active and philanthropic role in the war effort has been the subject of recent scholarship. Judith Rowbotham charts the start of the precedent for female royals to lead the knitting of comforts for troops with Queen Victoria during the Crimean War and knitted for five men during the Boer War.[18] She argues that during the first world war ‘Queen Mary constituted more than a symbolic figurehead, achieving an acknowledged national leadership by deliberately exploiting her position and doing so to spearhead a process of identifying and expanding the contributions women were expected to make for the war effort’ and that women looked for leadership from within their own sex for inspiration on how to contribute to the war effort.[19]

Queen Mary had played an active philanthropic role since childhood thanks to her mother’s involvement with the London Needlework Guild, and had been chosen by Queen Victoria to marry her grandson due to her ability in charitable endeavours. Shortly after the outbreak of the war, she convened a meeting of the guild and its name was changed to Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild, and its sole purpose during wartime would be to provide comforts for troops. The guild went from being London-centric to being a national organisation with headquarters at St James’ Palace, and Buckingham Palace became a distribution hub (with over 200,000 knitted items being distributed by June 1915). [20] The scheme clearly worked well during the first world war, and it is perhaps of little surprise that she also played a philanthropic role in the second world war effort as Patron of the PSL.

Lady Londonderry set up the PSL in early 1932 to help alleviate poverty by collecting funds and clothing.[21] A radio broadcast by the Prince of Wales on 27 January 1932 is quoted in several articles as being her source of inspiration. [22]  She used her social contacts – other aristocratic ladies- to help her organise the charity from London and then spread this to counties across the country. [23]  Londonderry also organised fundraising events aimed solely at the aristocracy and socialites. [24]  Lady Londonderry gave a speech at the end of 1932 which is of specific interest; she talked about how women’s roles had changed in the first world war and how women now found their status altered; they were full blown citizens with new responsibilities and fresh duties.[25]  Queen Mary became involved in December 1932 at a fundraising event at Londonderry House, after donating £250, and became the patron of the charity. [26] Also getting involved towards the end of 1932 was Stella Isaacs, the Marchioness of Reading, who quickly became the Chairman.[27]

In many ways the PSL gave Stella Isaacs the practical experience necessary to be the perfect person to set up the Women’s Voluntary Service (WVS) in 1938, which she did after a request from the Home Secretary, Sir Samuel Hoare.[28]  She had made personal connections with senior members of government and senior members of royalty, as well as with the British female aristocracy. Right from the start, she was the very public face of the organisation.

Figure 1: Lady Reading on early WVS advertising  [29]

The original aims of the WVS were to encourage women to join the Air Raid Protection (ARP) and also to inform women about how to cope in the event of an air raid. [30] An office was set up in May 1938 in Westminster and the organisation was publicly announced by the Home Secretary on 16 June 1938.[31] Regional centres were quickly set up and membership badges were distributed.[32] The queen consort, Queen Elizabeth, was President of the organisation.[33]

Figure 1: The first WVS badge, issued pre- February 1939 [34]

The WVS Housewife Service was created in 1939 after a regional leader recognised that some housewives did not have much free time to devote to volunteering but still wanted to contribute to the war effort.[35] Women were given training in first aid and home nursing, and were given placards to place in their windows and badges and armlets to wear upon completion of the training. By the end of 1939, approximately 90,000 women had signed up to this branch of the service alone.[36]  

Figure 2: The WVS Housewives Section placard, first issued in 1939 [37]

Figure 3: The WVS Housewives Service Badge first issued in 1939 [38]

The WVS was extremely successful in recruiting volunteers all over the UK; at the headquarters in London over 11000 volunteers signed up in September 1939, with 1000 volunteers signing up on one day alone, with 110,000 volunteers being registered nationally by the end of the month. [39] WVS volunteer recruitment halted in September 1939, with advertisements being placed in regional newspapers to ask women not to quit their jobs in order to volunteer. [40] In the first few months of war, WVS members assisted in the mass evacuation of children and provided welfare.[41] Statistics for women’s participation in voluntary services during the second world war were not collected on any organised basis, but statistics can be found two tables in Appendix 3. These statistics indicate that the vast majority of volunteers came from the upper and middle classes.

There is evidence in Scottish newspapers that with the advent of war women started to seriously organise knitting parties to provide comforts for soldiers, sometimes with an aim of providing knitted items for local men attached to a particular regiment.[42]  In September 1939 the same letter from Mrs Alice Gray announcing the ‘Warmth for Warriors’ scheme was published in several regional newspapers, which is surprising given how well the WVS, the British Red Cross and the Scottish Women’s Rural Institutes already were. Several branches of the WVS advertised in local newspapers for wool to be donated, or for financial donations so that wool could be purchased.

The WVS Scottish Headquarters narrative report dated February 1940 demonstrates very clearly the efforts of Scottish volunteers in providing knitted comforts during the first winter of war:  

‘W.V.S. WOOL DEPOT.

This venture has proved an unqualified success and has fulfilled a real want in Scotland. Although preference is given a registered W.V.S. work party, any party belonging to a recognised association can register and obtain wool. Since its inception more than 377 work parties appear on the files and the amount of wool handled in 15 weeks is in the neighbourhood of 12 tons. The Depot also acts as an enquiry bureau and requests from the Command Welfare Officer are passed on to work parties who respond in splendid fashion. The Organiser is in touch with all the Services’ Organisations and overlapping is avoided.’ [43]

The simple fact that 12 tons of wool was distributed to 377 work parties in 15 weeks alone show the scale of commitment of Scottish women in knitting comforts for Scottish troops.  That is just from one organisation alone, and does not include the wool purchased by women in yarn shops to knit themselves.  To put that huge sum into some context, following is a table of items suggested as being suitable to knit for troops in the officially-approved December 1939 pattern booklet Knitted Garments and Hospital Comforts for H. M. Forces which was issued by Patons to raise funds for the PSL.[44]

ItemYarn thicknessyarn required in ozs.
Balaclava HelmetDouble knitting4 ounces
Steering glovesDouble knitting4 ounces
GlovesDouble knitting4 ounces
Polo-neck pull-overDouble knitting1 pound 5 ounces
Double scarfDouble knitting11 ounces
WristletsDouble knitting2 ounces
Seaboot stockingsOily wool14 ounces
Pull-over V neckDouble knitting1 pound 1 ounce
MittensDouble knitting3 ounces
Cardigan (Army)4 ply15 ounces
Socks (light weight)4 ply5 ounces
Socks (heavy weight)Double knitting7 ounces
Sleeveless Pull-overDouble knitting11 ounces
Helmet with Ear-Holes (RAF)Double knitting4 ounces
Over-socks with French Heel & Flat ToeDouble knitting9 ounces
ScarfDouble knitting11 ounces
Hospital Comforts Bed SocksDouble knitting4 ounces
Hospital Comforts Hot Water Bottle CoverDouble knitting4 ounces
Hospital Comforts StockingsDouble knitting12 ounces with feet,   10 ounces without feet
Hospital Comforts Heel-Less Bed SocksDouble knitting5 ounces

Table 1: Contents of Knitted Garments and Hospital Comforts for H.M. Forces

A survey of Scottish newspapers, which can be found in Appendix 4, in order to record what individual knitting parties publicised as being their contributions to knitting effort during the winter of 1939- 1940. Arguably this was a public celebration of women’s achievements, and the contributing women must have felt a sense of pride at seeing their efforts commended in the local newspaper.

Figure 7: Extant copies of Knitted Garments and Hospital Comforts for H.M. Forces (December 1939) and Knitting for the Army Official Guide (November 1940) in my collection

The Knitting for the Army Official Guideis a fascinating document. It was issued during the first week of November 1940 on the orders of Lieutenant Colonel E D Basden, the Director of Voluntary Organizations at the War Office. Page 4 of the pamphlet explains why it was issued and why some of the items which had been previously knitted were no longer required (balaclavas, gloves, scarves, pullovers with sleeves, and socks). 

The contents of page 3 are a great deal more contentious. It starts with a criticism of the providing of comforts during World War 1 and how this was not a serious enterprise. The writer states that ‘Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers’ represented the well-meaning sentiments of the volunteers, but that knitters in World War 2 did not need songs as the ‘click-click of their million needles makes a soothing rhythm throughout the land all day and often far into the night’. There were lots of songs released during World War 2 on knitting, as is evidenced by a collection recorded by Canadian singer Melanie Gall.[45]

In 2021 the following statement comes across as being patronising and misogynistic:

Fortunately most women enjoy knitting.  But if they disliked it they would knit now. The woman who knits, like her sisters in the munition factories, and in the hospitals, is doing important war work.’[46]

The writer presumes that it is only women knitting for the troops. While it may be true that the majority of people knitting comforts for the troops were indeed women, this disregards the fact that men could also knit.[47]

However, the most patronising part of this pamphlet is the ‘working plan’ on page three. The author states that the waste of wool was widespread in the knitting produced in the 1939/40 winter,  that ‘happy-go-lucky choice of garments; rule-of-thumb methods; slip shod work – all must go’ and  ‘Knitting is far too important a job to be done carelessly or stupidly. NOTHING BUT THE BEST IS GOOD ENOUGH FOE THE MEN WHO ARE FIGHTING THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN. Waste of wool, which was widespread in last winter’s knitting efforts, can be entirely avoided’. [48]

As has already been highlighted, knitters in Scotland used at least twelve tons of wool in just fifteen weeks – presumably other British knitters did the same. The Minister of Supply acknowledged that yarn demand had been very heavy in Parliament on 6 December 1939.[49] The control of wool began on the day war was declared and a standstill order had been issued so no wool was processed.[50] The Central Wool Supply Board only met once between September 1939 – April 1940. [51] The British government had been allocated a much larger amount of the previous wool clip than normal to make woollen cloth for uniforms, which also lead to a decrease in the amount available for the civilian market.[52]  To summarise; there was a shortage of wool, but this was due to a reduced available amount, bad management by the Government and a very high response to the call for comforts being knitted – most certainly not from knitters wasting wool.

Another reason for this booklet being issued was an attempt to reduce how much yarn was being used by voluntary organisations. The table below compares the yarn requirement of similar items in the 1939 Knitted Garments and Hospital Comforts booklet with Knitting for the Army Official Guide. As can be easily seen, the 1940 garments use a lot less wool; this is partly achieved by using finer yarn in three of the patterns, and achieved in the stockings pattern by making the stockings shorter (19” compared to 25”), somewhat tighter (64 stitches being cast on at the cuff instead of 82), and with a looser tension on larger needles.

ItemYarn thicknessyarn required in ozs.Yarn thickness in KGHCYarn requirement in KGHC
Cap muffler4 ply8 ouncesScarf alone Double knitting11 ounces
Mittens4 ply3 ouncesDouble knitting4 ounces
Sleeveless Vest4 ply8 ouncesDouble knitting11 ounces
Gum Boot StockingsOily Wool11 ouncesOily Wool14 ounces

Table 2: Yarn requirement of knitting patterns in Knitting for the Army & comparison with similar items in Knitted Garments & Hospital Comforts

At the back of the booklet on pages 14 and 15, several appreciative letters from commanding officers to Basden are printed. Sometimes knitters would include a note in with the items that they had knitted including their address.[53] Thanks from troops were also published in newspapers. [54] Alison Twells has written about the war time experience of a relative who entered into correspondence with a sailor after she left her name and school on a piece of paper inside some socks she had knitted with her reactions being recorded in her diaries.[55]  It is particularly enlightening as ordinary writing and non-elite diaries within the historiography of women’s history is minimal.  Twells later published an article exploring servicemen’s letters who had received knitted comforts and their wartime masculinities, in which she argues that romance was used as a mechanism for maintaining morale.[56]

Figure 8: Stella Isaacs, Marchioness of Reading and WVS Chairman, knitting in her WVS uniform[57]

On the back cover of the pamphlet, the awarding and wearing of special badges is discussed (it is illustrated on the front cover). The WVS had successfully introduced the wearing of badges and slightly later a uniform.  Lady Reading had insisted on this from the beginning of the organisation, but it took time to implement and negotiation with the government. [58]  Due to the cost, initially this uniform was only worn by wealthier volunteers but in time other items became more affordable.[59]  All volunteers, including the Queen, wore the same badge.[60] By wearing a badge, a woman could outwardly demonstrate her participation in the war effort, and it could provide her with a sense of comfort and pride. This is perhaps best demonstrated in the following photograph: a lady’s wartime badges and WVS uniform are proudly worn with her deceased husband’s medals.

Figure 9: Mrs Redmond from Suffolk wearing her late husband’s medals with her own badges and her WVS overalls [61]

Figure 10: My knitted reconstructions of the garments in Knitting for the Army Official Guide.

I end this essay with a discussion of knitting the four garments in the Knitting for the Army Official Guide and include personal reflections.  The making process offers the maker some unexpected new insights into the nature of garments and their social function, and this was certainly my experience. [62] The experience of reconstruction allows the historian to form tacit knowledge about both the process of making them and of wearing them, and this was certainly my experience and that of those who I gifted the garments to.[63]  

It took me a lot longer than I would have expected to knit the four items; this is partly because I tend to knit in the round and due to the way I knit – I’m a left handed and I purl a lot slower than I knit- and partly because I have not been recovering from illness. I am also not used to knitting an entire garment for a man in 4 ply wool on fine knitting needles (2.25mm and 2.75mm were required to achieve the correct tension).

ItemYarn thicknessyarn required in ozs. and gramsModern yarn usedAmount of yarn used in grams
Cap muffler4 ply8 ounces (but used double) / 226.4 gramsJamieson’s Double Knitting170 grams
Mittens4 ply3 ounces/ 84.9gJamieson’s Spindrift58 grams
Sleeveless Vest4 ply8 oz/ 226.4gCascade Heritage178 grams
Gum Boot StockingsOily Wool11 ounces/ 311.3gHandspun92 grams x 2 = 184 grams

Table 3: Comparison of 1940 yarn requirements and my experience using modern yarns

The major challenge in making all four of the knitted items was the sourcing of an appropriate alternative yarn. This was particularly a challenge for ‘oily wool’; I could make an educated guess based on the knitting needle size and suggested tension of which yarn to use, that the oil referred to lanolin. However none of the modern commercial yarns I tried to make the ‘Gum Boot Stockings’ worked – the tension was always incorrect- so I ended up spinning some Shetland wool into a suitable size and got the correct tension.  All of the modern yarns I used, including my handspun, were clearly much lighter and less densely spun than those being used in World War 2. This is further evidenced in a pair of extant socks in my collection, which were worn by W H Earle during WW2.[64]

Figure 11: Sergeant W H Earle of the Royal Engineers’ socks and the 1939 pattern booklet

Figure 12: Mittens knitted from the Knitting for the Army Official Guide

The mittens were an odd item to make and wear due to the way they were constructed. There was also an error in the written instructions.[65]

I also reflected on how incredibly boring the items are to make for an experienced knitter.  I also thought about how there were similarities between the experiences of these knitters in 1939 and my experiences of the pandemic last year, where I sewed over 1000 facemasks.  I did this so that my local community, friends and family were able to go shopping in what felt like safer circumstances, and from the desire to want to ‘do something’. [66] Armstead et al. also came to the same conclusions in a paper last year on this topic. [67]  They argued that knitting in the world wars was fuelled by patriotism, but mask making in the pandemic has been driven by contributing to community health and wellness. [68] They also highlight how community crafting was done online rather than in person, and again this was my experience. [69]

There are many more things I would have liked to have written about in this essay,  most notably about the Mass Observation archive how useful this is a resource when thinking about experiences of ‘normal’ people during World War 2.  Various books aimed at the public have been published about women’s experiences of war using the archive and it was recently used to great effect in an excellent BBC programme by Lucy Worsley.[70]  Worsley’s programme it seems was produced in a response to the certain people’s response to the pandemic and was a warning against the nostalgic use of the term ‘Blitz spirit’. In a surprising angry conclusion, she talks about the immense suffering and importance of valuing everyone in society, and not just valuing the official version of events.

Much of the social history historiography on women’s war work in World War 2 – of which there is not much- focuses on their involvement in the services and munitions, which naturally tends to be about younger, working class women.[71]  Middle aged and older women are almost absent from the social history historiography and there is plenty of scope for further study in this area. What hopefully has been proved throughout this essay is that women’s British identity –  both how they see themselves and how other see them- has developed and changed over time, and that women did indeed knit in both world wars as an act of patriotic duty.

REFERENCES

Printed Primary Sources

Mrs Creswick-Atkinson, The Story of the WVS Housewife Service, June 1942, accessed from https://www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/media/yylpd4e2/housewives_service_2021.pdf on 1 December 2021

HMSO, Knitting for the Army Official Guide, November 1940 (this can be accessed at https://archive.org/details/krl00536999)

Patons and Baldwins for The Personal Service League, Knitted Garments and Hospital Comforts for H.M. Forces, comprising instructions for the approved patterns of the Admiralty; the official patterns of the War Office and the Air Ministry; and the British Red Cross Official patterns for Hospital Comforts, December 1939 (this can be accessed at https://archive.org/details/krl00536800)

Women’s Voluntary Services Bulletin no.1, November 1939, accessed from file:///C:/Users/sonof/OneDrive/Desktop/wvs%20bulletin%201%20nov%201939.pdf on 14th August 2021

Women’s Voluntary Services Bulletin no. 7, May 1940 ,accessed from http://catalogue.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/calmview/Record.aspx?src=CalmView.Catalog&id=WRVSA%26HC%2fWRVS%2fHQ%2fPUB%2fBUL%2fBUL-1940-05&pos=5 on 12th December 2021

Newspapers reports (all accessed from the British Newspaper Archive. No journalists named unless indicated)

Bill that Offers Fresh Hope, Leeds Mercury, 1 March 1932, page 5

Service League: Lady Londonderry’s Scheme for Distressed Areas, Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 1 March 1932, page 13

Queen Gives £250 for the Unemployed, Dundee Courier, 1st November 1932, page 14

Lady Londonderry as a Guest of Queen’s Women’s Graduates, Daily Mirror, 2 December 1932, page 2.

London Day By Day, from our own Correspondent, Edinburgh Evening News, 17 December 1932, page 6

Warmth for Warriors Scheme, Falkirk Herald, 1 September 1939, page 5

Women’s Voluntary Services Forfar, The Forfar Herald: 14 September 1939, page 2

Wool for Warriors Financial Appeal, Edinburgh Evening News, Monday 18th September 1939, page 3

Thanks from the Front and HMS Aberdeen, Aberdeen Evening News, 4 January 1940, page 5

Other Primary Sources

Melanie Gall, Knitting All Day, Knitting Songs from World War 1 (2015) Accessed from I Wonder Who’s Knitting for Me – YouTube on 1st December 2021

Melanie Gall, Sweeter in a Sweater, Knitting Songs from World War 2 (2015) Accessed from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tc4-iqtKs84&list=OLAK5uy_k7pRBon_FpvS1F6SVgAtR1g7r-W6mbEEA on 1st December 2021

Movietone News, Britannia is a Woman (first screened in 1940). Accessed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTFiZthTesY on 30 June 2021

Movietone News, Britannia is a Woman (American version) Accessed at https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1060013346 on 14th December 2021

Billy Murray, Sister Susie is Sewing Shirts for Soldiers, 1915. Accessed from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3eLPmVsmcDc on 14th December 2021


Jessie Pope, Socks. Accessed on 2nd December 2021from  https://war-poetry.livejournal.com/557679.html

Printed secondary sources

Armstead, C. C. & Martindale, A. K. & McKinney, E. C., (2020) “Knit Your Socks and Sew Your Masks: Hand Knitting in the World Wars Compared with Home Sewing Masks for COVID-19”, International Textile and Apparel Association Annual Conference Proceedings 77(1)

A Briggs, ‘The Framework of the Wool Control’, Oxford Economic Papers, November 1947, Issue 8, pages 18-45

Bendall, S The Case of the “French Vardinggale”: A Methodological Approach to Reconstructing and Understanding Ephemeral Garments (Fashion Theory, Volume 23, Issue 3)

Colley, L., Britons: Forging the Nation 1707 – 1837 (New Haven: YUP, 2019)

Cunningham, H. ‘The Language of Patriotism, 1750 – 1914’, History Workshop Journal, Volume 12, Issue 1, 1 October 1981, Pages 8–33

Malcolmson, P. and M.,  Women at the Ready: The Remarkable Story of the Women’s Voluntary Services on the Home Front (London: Hachette Digital, 2013) [Kindle Edition]

Parkin, D. ‘Women in the Armed Services 1940 – 1945’ in Samuel, R. (eds.) Patriotism: The Making and Unmaking of British National Identity, volume 2: Minorities and Outsiders (London: Routledge, 1989)

Rowbotham, J. ‘How to Be Useful in War Time’ Queen Mary’s Leadership in the War Effort’ in Glencross, M. and Rowbotham, J. Monarchies and the Great War (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2018)

Rutt, R., A History of Handknitting (London: Batsford, 1987)

Samuel, R. Preface in Samuel, R. (eds.) Patriotism: The Making and Unmaking of British National Identity, volume 1: History and Politics (London: Routledge, 1989)

Samuel, R. (eds.) Patriotism: The Making and Unmaking of British National Identity, volume 1: History and Politics (London: Routledge, 1989)

Sheridan, D. (eds.) Wartime Women: A Mass Observation Anthology, 1937 – 45 (London: Phoenix, 2009)

A. Twells, ‘’Went Into Raptures’: Reading Emotion in the Ordinary Wartime Diary, 1941-1946’, Women’s History Review, 2016, vol. 25, No. 1, 143–160

A. Twells, ‘Sex, Gender, and Romantic Intimacy in Servicemen’s Letters during the Second World War’, The Historical Journal, vol 63 no 3 (2020) pages 732-753

Ward, P., ‘Women of Britain Say Go’: Women’s Patriotism in the First World War, Twentieth Century British History, vol 12 no 1, 2001, pages 23-45

Unpublished secondary sources

M. McMurray, The Formation and Founding of the Women’s Voluntary Services for ARP, Royal Voluntary Service, 2008,  accessed from https://www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/media/e4obzmhx/origins_of_wvs_2021.pdf on 30th November 2021

M. McMurray, WVS Uniform, 2009, pages 6-12, accessed from https://www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/media/rwzi1so5/wvs_wartime_uniform.pdf on 10 December 2021

Other secondary sources

BBC, Blitz Spirit with Lucy Worsley, 23 February 2021, Accessed on the BBC iPlayer: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000sm7s/blitz-spirit-with-lucy-worsley in February 2021 and on 14th December 2021

Appendix 1

Britannia is a woman (transcription of longer version)


Introductory slides

ENGLAND AT WAR – in this “strangest of wars,” as Mr. Chamberlain has called it, needing so much courage and endurance on the Home Front, we are reminded again and again that… Britannia is a woman.

[Bugle played a woman in uniform]

NARRATOR: In his hour of need, she is ready to share burdens old and new. But for all the appearance, she is thoroughly womanly for an army must be fed and women must cook that men may fight.  Any army’s accounts must be kept. Britannia in uniform releases men for more urgent duties. She’s in the Navy too, and the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, The auxiliary fire service.  At home, she’s on the front line. Air raid precautions need women wardens.  But surely the most romantic job is held by these girls who pilot planes from factories to the airport.  It’s the first time that such a job has been done by women in any part of the world in war or peace. And thousands are in that picturesque service, the Women’s Landy Army.  All these women have earned the right to wear their badges, and this war has added a new one – WVS, Women’s Voluntary Services.

In a government building in London are the busy headquarters of this body.  Here the Chairman, the dowager marchioness of Reading, inspires, directs, and leads an organisation of ever-increasing magnitude, which undertakes almost any civilian job a woman can do, from looking after a baby to coping with an outsized lorry.

[2:23] STELLA READING

We women have made up our minds to play our parts in winning this war. Even though the part you may be able to play is not spectacular, it is well worth doing.[72]  Each in our own way we are helping to lay the foundation on which a new world may be built after the war is won. My wish for us all today is that we should have faith to carry on steadfastly for as long as we need to do so, that our determination and courage in that faith should remain intact to continue the work and fulfil our undertaking.

[2:57] NARRATOR

Associated in this organisation are Mrs Montague Norman, wife of the Governor of the Bank of England, Miss Smeaton, a high government official, and Lady Iris Capel.  This member of headquarters staff believes in saving petrol and so do these.  Women’s Voluntary Services can now call on nearly ¾ million women through the vast headquarters organisation where hundreds of enquiries are dealt with daily. Posters are designed and sent out all over the country. There’s a quick messenger service, while telephones are busy linking important centres. From all part of England, Scotland and Wales, representatives come to confer. Bidding them goodbye is the chief regional administrator, Mrs Huxley.  Yes, Britannia is on the job up and down the country. 

The woman driver – startling, almost revolutionary in the last war- comes into her own in this one.  She learns running repairs, she learns map reading and she is ready to drive anyone anywhere.  A member of WVS is chauffeur to Admiral Evans, perhaps better known as Evans of the Brook, a high official in the air raid defence of England’s capital. 

What’s up? The alarm sounds somewhere in England calling out the ambulance drivers, but only for practice.  And if you think it is easy to move in anti-gas clothes or drive huge trailer vans, you try it.  But these girls are trained to drive all types of cars commandeered for casualty transport.  Hello, more practice.  Gas masks drills.  They may have to drive in these things in earnest. 

Off duty, I should think they need a rest. Not long ago this place was a brewery but here’s what these girls think is the right to drive on; the Englishwoman’s first line of defence, a cup of tea.  They are ready for danger, or what some people fear worse, dirt. The cleaning squad goes on duty.  They draw lots for honourable jobs.[73]

In this war, woman’s work old and new finds many a meeting ground.  A modern girl driver brings material to be sewn by busy hands, woman’s war work from time immemorial.  Throughout Britain, women are making garments and comforts for the fighting forces and for the wounded.  In a famous London house, in peacetime the scene of many a ball or magnificent reception, women staff a hospital supply depot.  With almost professional skill, they cut out, sew, sort and pack.  London’s lovelies forsake fashion for hygienic white overalls. 

Hello, someone is late, the Duchess of Westminster. She pays a fine which goes towards buying more materials, but she makes up for lost time.  Here she is with Lady Maud Carnegie, cousin of the king, being shown how to use the cutting machine.  Nowadays women’s oldest work is done by [the] newest methods; this machine cuts out sixty garments at one time.

Yet again, old and new meet.  In the historic royal hospital [at] Chelsea, the refuge founded more than 220 years ago for aged soldiers, Lady Knox, the wife of the governor, runs a hospital working party.  A many-tailed bandage is tricky sewing.  A grand old pensioner is still eager to serve his country; like a good soldier he is ready to do what needs to be done, even if it’s only to help a hospital working party. 

[6:52: scenes of women knitting, woman tries on balaclava she has just finished]

Chelsea Hospital, haven of rest for fighters of older wars, a factory of comforts for fighters in this one.

And here is another such factory in the heart of England where village workers gather regularly for hard work dressed in their practical white overalls.  Ah, another late arrival, but she is busy soon also helping to roll bandages.  Three children ride over to deliver work they have done at home.  How many times in her history must England have witnessed scenes such as this?

[7:30: Three teenage girls ride off on horseback to jolly music after delivering scarves]

And this. The old lady on the right was the first in her village to volunteer.

[Brief scene of two older ladies knitting outside with a member of the WVS in uniform,  then briefly fades into a group of women knitting, before fading into a very brief scene of nurses knitting and then sewing]

Factory garment machinists give up their spare time to do their everyday work without pay for their country.

[8:00 – group of women knitting wearing hats, coats, and shawls indoors before fading into scene of girls at school knitting]

In the east end of London, women spend the long hours of the blackout knitting. 

Even the kiddies do their share.  These children are following in the tradition of their Scottish ancestors whose reputation for shawl making is world famous.  They pay fines here not for being late but for forgetting their gas masks.  They’ve remembered the troops’ cigarettes too; they’ve collected thousands of cigarettes to fill these packets. Their own WVS county organiser, Mrs MacElwaine, helps them by emptying her cigarette case. [74]

At the home of Mr Walter Buckmaster, one of the world’s best known polo players, equipment is kept for the local first aid point which has been cleared from the village hall to accommodate a recreation room for the troops.  These women are trained to collect and set up equipment within seven minutes from the sound of the alarm.  They follow the car down to the village hall.  They unpack equipment, hot water cans and bandages.  They set up the beds. They practise on a voluntary patient.  Stretcher bearing is done by men though many women train for emergencies. An auxiliary nurse accompanies the patient to hospital – now don’t leave her out!

Help is needed for the victims of enemy mines and torpedoes doing their dredge work near Britain’s coast.  Assistance is rushed to survivors as they land before they are taken by ambulance to hospitals or shelters.  Passengers and sailors of neutral and allied ships welcome the warm coverings and hot drinks provided by Women’s Voluntary Services.

Earnestly, attentively women study to obtain the necessary proficiency in first aid. Here’s a village nursing class.  This young lady is to be a nursing auxiliary. Enrolling with one of the famous orders, St John’s, the British Red Cross, St Andrew’s or the WVS, she must attend lectures.  She learns to make beds, to apply splints and bandages.  With fellow students, she enters the hospital.  She learns to wash a patient in bed; unspectacular but necessary.    At last her great day comes – an operation.  Our young nursing auxiliary can’t actually assist but she prepares and sterilises instruments.  Enrolled under the cross of St John, she serves her country, she serves humanity – perhaps this is woman’s greatest work.

And in the time of war, the great service of nursing is rightly recognised as perhaps second only to that of the fighting forces.  The work of healing is carried on in surroundings old and new.  Nurses standby on river steamers, not long ago packed with pleasure seekers.  Trains too are equipped almost like hospital wards. 

And a new need has been created by this war, for hospitals deep in the heart of England safe from air raids. In the great cities ward and ward remains empty, while country mansions such as this have been converted ready for the dreaded casualties of possible aerial bombardment.  The dispersal of England’s population, mainly the junior population, makes a further call on nursing.  Evacuated children are brought by their foster mothers for the kindly attention of the village district nurse. 

Evacuation – the big experiment.  Sent from the danger of their city homes, thousands of children are finding life a new adventure.  Although such a breakup of family life hasn’t been known since the time it was possible for children to be sold into slavery.  And all of this is for the fight against a regime which would mean surrender into slavery for all time of the children of democratic nations. 

These children are the guest of charming Lady Nan Burnham, who was lady in waiting to her majesty the queen during her visit to the United States and Canada.  And here are some more lucky little ones in the care of Captain Belville, until recently the master of a famous pack of fox hounds.  Mrs Belville is playing with them. Happy kiddies, they don’t seem to know there is a war on which, after all, is just what’s wanted.  [young child recites short prayer before eating]. In the playroom reading to the children is the family governess Once Upon a Time, but they haven’t all got literary tastes evidently.  Nanny too has been recalled to active service.  Babies, say Nanny, can’t give me too many of ‘em. This is certainly woman’s most traditional work.

But not only in the stately homes of England do we find these evacuated children.  Cottage as well as castle welcomes them.  Mr Williams, the host of these two girls, has served his country both as soldier and sailor, was wounded in the last war, and is proud as a foster father he can still do his bit. 

[14:08] Hello, this looks solemn.  It’s the Complaints Committee.  The good lady says these boys stole the chicken.  Yes, evacuation has its problems .  Here’s another; winter is more rigorous in the country. The children need warmer clothes than in town.  And war requires the fitting of something more grim than a hat; this unpleasant task calls for skills and kindliness so as not to frighten the smaller children.  

For evacuation’s minor ailments there are sick bays such as this one with walls decorated by the school’s art master. And someone has to do the extra washing.  This is home Siegfried line.

What’s this? Another problem? They usually say find the woman but this time it’s a case of find the man. Yes, and the man is Daddy. He’s come to spend Sunday with his little evacuee daughter.  Other fathers and mothers have the same idea, so the local WVS run a canteen and Sunday club for the parents and children.  All over the country, Women’s Voluntary Services are running such clubs and canteen workers were already on the job only a week after war broke out.

In many places, children come during the week for their midday meal.  It’s a special boon when the foster parents have to be at work during that hour or need a little rest from their full time war job of caring for their charges.  The foster parents’ dream come true; he takes all the trouble of caring after little brother on to his own shoulders.  Another little gentleman.  That’s the idea, sonny, it’s the little things that count.  And someone has to do the washing up.  It may not be heroic, but it’s noble. 

Canteens are run too for the men and women of the forces.  And somewhere in Scotland they evidently believe in food for the mind for the men get books as well as meals and comforts.  It looks as though cookery lessons are available too.

And who shall sing the songs of war? [‘Roll out the barrel’ is sung]. In this case, Bertha Wilma.  In Britain as well as France, entertainment breaks the strain of ceaseless readiness.

Yes, women have answered the call to the last note.  And the fountain of inspiration to all is the first lady of the land, her majesty the queen. With true understanding, her majesty keeps close contact with every gallant effort great and small.  Could simplicity and charm ever be displayed better when the queen took lunch with 500 evacuee children?  And to the women of England, let us hear a tribute in her majesty’s own words [film cuts]

Queen Elizabeth’s speech  (from American version of the film)

[9:00]

NARRATOR: The fountain of all inspiration to British women, Her Majesty the Queen

With true understanding  and in deepest unity with  the womanhood of the nation, the Queen keeps close contact with every gallant effort great and small. To her countrywomen, this is her tribute

QUEEN ELIZABETH

The tasks you have undertaken whether at home or in the distant lands cover every  field of national service, and I would like to pay my tribute to all of you who are giving such splendid and  unselfish help  in this time of trouble.

NARRATOR

Her Majesty as President of this great voluntary effort. A democratic organisation without officers , ranks and without pay, where every member what ever her class wears the same badge as her queen. Women’s Voluntary Services for Civil Defence

Appendix 2

A screenshot of a computer

Description automatically generated with medium confidence
A screenshot of a computer

Description automatically generated


Appendix 3

Table 4: Percentages of women doing voluntary work during World War 2, by social class

 Total # housewivesNumber in voluntary work%age in voluntary work%age of voluntary workers
Class A153 00033 00021.6 %22.6 %
Class B595 00056 0009.4 %38.4 %
Class C1 139 00045 0004 %30.8 %
Class D1 049 00012 0001.1 %8.2 %
TOTALS2 936 000146 0005 %100 %

Source: Wartime Social Survey, Workers and the War (Aug. 1942), 7, 10, in PRO RG 23/16., quoted by J. Hinton, Women, Social Leadership, and the Second World War: Continuities of Class, (OUP, 2002)

Table 5: Wartime employment of women (in 000s)

          YearAuxiliary servicesCivil defenceMunitionsOther workRest of female populationTotal ages 14-59
193950630210 90116 040
19411035911061469 87416 030
1942307801705599 08216 030
1943461701928368 74716 020
1944467561851318 86916 020

Source: D. Parkin, ‘Women in the Armed Forces, 1940-5’ in R. Samuel (Eds.) Patriotism, volume 2 (Routledge, 1989) page 164

Appendix 4

Table 6: Knitted comforts referred to in Scottish newspapers, September 1939 –  January 1940

      ITEMS  SUB  TOTAL
Newspaper report datePageNewspaperLocationOrganisationPairs of socksStockingsBed socksScarvesGloves/ mittensPulloversHelmets (hats)Other hatsWristlets 
18 September 19393Edinburgh Evening NewsEdinburghChurch of Scotland Women’s Guild72  37some    109
15 December 19397The ScotsmanDundeeDundee WVS2714        2714
22 December 19399Linlithgowshire GazetteWinchburghWinchburgh SWRI70  70     140
29 December 19398West Lothian CourierPumpherston, Livingston (Lothian)Pumpherston Women’s War Work Party58115832834206 218
29 December 19398West Lothian CourierWinchburghWinchburgh British Legion (Women’s Section)78   78    156
30 December 19393Strathearn HeraldComrieThe Girls Association of St Kessog’s Church4  54   218
05 January 1940 Press and JournalAberdeenPress & Journal Comforts Fund3176  69449692459164 5081

[1] This film can be viewed on YouTube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTFiZthTesY.  The YouTube page says it was released on 31 December 1940, however the WVS Bulletin no 7, May 1940 says on page 6 that it was released on Whit Monday (13 May 1940) after the American version of the film being seen on 11th March by Government officials. The shorter American version can be accessed at https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1060013346 and includes Queen Elizabeth’s speech

[2] It was discussed in WVS Bulletin no 7, May 1940, page 6

[3] I have produced a transcript of this short film, which can be found in Appendix 1.

[4] R. Samuel (Eds.) Patriotism: The Making and Unmaking of British National Identity volumes 1-3 (Routledge, 1989)

[5] Definition accessed from https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/138903?redirectedFrom=patriotism#eid on 11th December 2021

[6] Definition  accessed from https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/125289?redirectedFrom=nationalism#eid on 11th December 2021

[7] H. Cunningham, ‘The Language of Patriotism, 1750 – 1914’, History Workshop Journal, Volume 12, Issue 1, 1 October 1981, Pages 8–33

[8] The text of Churchill’s speech can be found at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-52588148 (accessed on 13th December 2021)

[9] R Samuel, ‘Preface’ in R. Samuel, Patriotism: The Making and Unmaking of British National Identity,  volume 1 (Routledge, 1989) p. xiv

[10] L. Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707 – 1837 (Yale University Press, 2019) pages 250 – 252

[11] A. Twells, ‘Sex, Gender, and Romantic Intimacy in Servicemen’s Letters during the Second World War’, The Historical Journal (2020), vol 63, no 3, pages 732-753

[12] This is available to download on archive.org at https://archive.org/details/krl00536999

[13] Limiting newspaper articles purely to Scotland and the period of study to 1939 and 1940 was purely for practical reasons – to reduce the number of primary sources to be consulted.

[14] L. Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation 1707 – 1837 (Yale University Press, 2019) pages 250 – 256

[15] P. Ward, ‘Women of Britain Say Go’: Women’s Patriotism in the First World War, Twentieth Century British History, vol 12 no 1, 2001, p31

[16] R Rutt, The History of Handknitting, (Batsford, 1987) pages 139-140

[17] Jessie Pope, Socks is available to read online at https://war-poetry.livejournal.com/557679.html (accessed on 2nd December 2021). This is a YouTube video of it being set to music: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mflkj4VtQ7w

[18] J. Rowbotham, ‘How to Be Useful in War Time’ Queen Mary’s Leadership in the War Effort 1914-1918’ in M. Glencross & J. Rowbotham (Eds.), Monarchies and the Great War (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018) pages 205-6. Victoria was 80/81 years old when knitting for the five troops during the Boer War, and almost at the end of her life.

[19] J. Rowbotham, How to Be Useful in War Time, pages 194 and 201

[20] J. Rowbotham, How to Be Useful in Wartime, pages 212-5.  This information is also on the guild’s website today: https://www.qmcg.org.uk/about-us/history-and-royal-patronage

[21] Reported in various newspapers, for example Leeds Mercury, 1 March 1932, page 5

[22] For example, Service League: Lady Londonderry’s Scheme for Distressed Areas, Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 1 March 1932, page 13

[23] There are a variety of reports from 1932 quoting aristocratic ladies supporting the league, for example a letter was published in the Northern Whig on 25 March 1932, page 8 stating that Lady O’Neill had set up a branch at the Ladies Carlton Club in London

[24] Lady Londonderry had organised an exhibition of Chanel’s diamonds, but it had to be abandoned at the last minute as HM Customs & Excise refused to let the diamonds enter the country without paying £30,000 in customs; reported in the Daily Mirror, 2 December 1932, page 2.  There are later stories of disappointed socialites, and even Neville Chamberlain was reported asked in Parliament to waive the £30,000 customs fees.

[25] Lady Londonderry’s speech is attached to this essay in Appendix 2 as it will be discussed in the conclusion of this essay.

[26] Reported in Queen Gives £250 for the Unemployed, Dundee Courier, 1st November 1932, page 14

[27] Lady Reading was at a Londonderry House tea party on 1st November 1932 (reported in the Dundee Courier, 1st November 1932, page 14) and by is quoted as being the chairman by mid December 1932 (referenced in London Day by Day, Edinburgh Evening News, 18 December 1932, page 6) I find it quite interesting that Isaacs used the term ‘chairman’ and not ‘chairwoman’ both in PSL and WVS.

[28] P and M Malcolmson, Women at the Ready: The Remarkable Story of the Women’s Voluntary Services on the Home Front (Hachette Digital, 2013) [Kindle Edition], location 80-90

[29] The date of this poster is unknown, Accessed from her Wikipedia entry: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Housewives!_Wvs_Needs_Your_Help!_Art.IWMPST19869.jpg on 1st December 2021

[30] M. McMurray, The Formation and Founding of the Women’s Voluntary Services for ARP, Royal Voluntary Service, 2008, page 1

[31] M MacMurray, The Formation and Founding of the Women’s Voluntary Services for ARP, Royal Voluntary Service, 2008, pages 11-12

[32] Badges were seen as very important identifiers, as were uniforms, as will be discussed in the conclusion.

[33] Stated at the end of the American version of ‘Britannia is a woman’

[34] Image accessed from https://www.ww2civildefence.co.uk/blog/the-wvs-ladies-in-green-the-only-wartime-created-service-that-still-exists on 13 December 2021

[35] Mrs Creswick-Atkinson, The Story of the WVS Housewife Service, June 1942

[36] Mrs Creswick-Atkinson, The Story of the WVS Housewife Service, page 4

[37] Image accessed from a post by Karen Wiles in the Facebook WVS re-enactors group (posted on 27 October 2018, accessed from  https://www.facebook.com/groups/191891204836543/search/?q=badge on 14th December 2021

[38] Image accessed from a post by Karen Wiles in the Facebook WVS re-enactors group (posted on 27 October 2018, accessed from  https://www.facebook.com/groups/191891204836543/search/?q=badge on 14th December 2021

[39] Women’s Voluntary Services, Bulletin no.1, November 1939, pages 1 and 4

[40] Women’s Voluntary Services, Bulletin no.1, November 1939, page 1

[41] Women’s Voluntary Services, Bulletin no.1, November 1939, pages 2-4. The welfare services included giving the new evacuees clothing and shoes, hot food, social clubs and activities, maternity services for evacuated mothers, nursery schools, supporting hospitals by providing supplies, and setting up a transport service and trained as ambulance drivers

[42] I have chosen to focus solely on reports from Scottish newspapers about this topic due to the very large nature of articles from across the UK on this issue and I wanted to narrow it down the large number of articles referencing the WVS and volunteering for the periods 1938-1945.

[43] Sadly this narrative report is not digitised. This text was sent to me in an e-mail by Matthew McMurray, the RVS archivist on 29 June 2021. He added in his e-mail that almost no documents survive from the Scottish HQ before 1962 as all paper was reused for other purposes.

[44] No date is printed on this booklet. The date of this pattern booklet is estimated to be December 1939 as it was first mentioned in newspaper articles on 29th and 30th December 1939 as being a useful source of patterns. It is available to download at https://archive.org/details/krl00536800

[45] This song, by Billy Murray (1915) is available to listen to on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3eLPmVsmcDc. . Canadian singer Melanie Gall researched songs from WW1 and WW2 knitting songs, and have shared them on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tc4-iqtKs84&list=OLAK5uy_k7pRBon_FpvS1F6SVgAtR1g7r-W6mbEEA and  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ksx6v0vJ8I&list=OLAK5uy_nj6zSj0XJmM69AlAhE0lEuzQwoO9kmsfg&index=5. By 2015 she had collected over 100 wartime knitting songs, some American and some Canadian but mostly British.

[46]The Director of Voluntary Organizations,  Knitting for the Army Official Guide, (HMSO, 1940),  page 3

[47] There is anecdotal evidence that men could knit – one of my grandfathers and both of my husband’s grandfathers could knit socks-  and there are also a few images from the period of men and boys knitting

[48] The Director of Voluntary Organizations, Knitting for the Army Official Guide, page 3

[49] Evidenced in Mr Burgin’s reply in the House of Commons on 6 December 1939, accessed from https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/1939-12-06/debates/d606c1b3-fe7b-4df0-9796-e50f4428b08f/WoolControl?highlight=wool#contribution-63cb3492-1bcd-410f-84ec-25c246348500 on 14th December 2021

[50] A Briggs, ‘The Framework of the Wool Control’, Oxford Economic Papers, November 1947, Issue 8, pages 18-19

[51] Evidenced in the Earl of Breadalbane’s comments to the House of Lords on 3 April 1940, accessed from https://hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/1940-04-03/debates/eb08ac0d-7020-439a-a7fe-b33481ed6cca/WoolControl?highlight=wool#contribution-98ef114b-d164-4be3-aed4-4d5330d707b1 on 14th December 2021.  They had not made any arrangements for the processing of the 1940 wool clip during this time.

[52] A Briggs, The Framework of Wool Control, page 28

[53] This practice is referred to in both A. Twells, ‘Sex, Gender, and Romantic Intimacy in Servicemen’s Letters during the Second World War’, pages 732-753 and  A. Twells, ‘’Went Into Raptures’: Reading Emotion in the Ordinary Wartime Diary, 1941-1946, Women’s History Review, 2016, vol. 25, No. 1, 143–160

[54] For example, Thanks from the Front and HMS Aberdeen, Aberdeen Evening Express, 4 January 1940

[55] A. Twells, ‘’Went Into Raptures’: Reading Emotion in the Ordinary Wartime Diary, 1941-1946, pages 143-160

[56] A. Twells, ‘Sex, Gender, and Romantic Intimacy in Servicemen’s Letters during the Second World War’, pages 732-753

[57] Image from P. and R. Malcolmson, Women at the Ready, page 354. Date unknown, but after April 1944 as that is when chevrons were first allowed to be used by WVS members on their uniforms.

[58] M. McMurray, ‘WVS Uniform’, 2009, pages 6-13, accessed from https://www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/media/rwzi1so5/wvs_wartime_uniform.pdf on 10 December 2021

[59] M. McMurray, WVS Uniform, page 8-12

[60] This is referred to in the US version of Britannia is a Woman

[61] Image accessed from https://museumcrush.org/hidden-histories-of-a-million-wartime-women-wvs-records-to-go-online/ on 12th December 2021

[62] Sarah Bendall, The Case of the “French Vardinggale”, p364

[63] Sarah Bendall, The Case of the “French Vardinggale”: A Methodological Approach to Reconstructing and Understanding Ephemeral Garments (Fashion Theory, Volume 23, Issue 3, p363)

[64] I purchased these socks on eBay in early 2020.  They had been part of an entire collection of W H Earle’s entire WW2 uniform which had been acquired by the eBay seller during a house clearance.  Sadly the collection was split up, making the seller a huge profit (the sleeveless vest sold for over £180, these socks cost £25). I intend to eventually write a blogpost about the socks. In the past I have knit my husband socks of exactly the same size with 100 grams of modern 4 ply sock yarn: Earle’s weigh 172 grams.

[65] The pattern error is visible almost in the centre of the mitten where there is a ridge of plain knitting.

[66] The desire to ‘do something’ which I felt is certainly something which was attributed to middle class housewives during the two world wars. I don’t really consider myself to be middle class, but I suppose I have become that in other people’s eyes over my life.

[67] Armstead, C. C. & Martindale, A. K. & McKinney, E. C., (2020) “Knit Your Socks and Sew Your Masks: Hand Knitting in the World Wars Compared with Home Sewing Masks for COVID-19”, International Textile and Apparel Association Annual Conference Proceedings 77(1)

[68] Armstead et al, Knit your socks, page 2

[69] Armstead et al, Knit Your Socks, page 4. I discussed the best patterns to use with friends after finding information online, and offered free masks to everyone in my village via the village’s Facebook group. 

[70] D. Sheridan, Wartime Women: A Mass Observation Anthology, 1937 – 45, (Phoenix, 2009) is of particular note. Lucy Worsley’s programme can be accessed on iPlayer here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000sm7s/blitz-spirit-with-lucy-worsley It was first broadcast on 23rd February 2021.

[71] For example, D. Parkin, Women in the Armed Services 1940 – 1945’ in Samuel, R. (eds.) Patriotism: The Making and Unmaking of British National Identity, volume 2: Minorities and Outsiders (Routledge, 1989)

[72] This is not very clear, but I think this is what she said

[73] Again, unclear

[74] Mrs McIlwaine was actually the Northamptonshire County Organiser and is referenced in the WVS Bulletin no 7, May 1940, page 6

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s