World War and Therapy and Knitting

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War and tributes will be made across the country to those who fought and died for their country.

The legacy and history of the Great War is well documented, but what might be less well reported is the role that knitting had to play. Admittedly it was not a large role but it was arguably an important one. Knitting was used as a form of occupational therapy for the veterans of WW1 as the photo below, dated 1918, shows…


Picture: Harris & Ewing glass negative, “Occupational therapy for veterans of WWI”, 1918-1919

In fact it was advocated as a form of rehabilitation for servicemen suffering from ailments such as battle fatigue, war neurosis and physical injuries, that it became part of the daily life for some disabled soldiers alongside other tasks such as blacksmithing, tinsmithing and tailoring.

At Needlecase we’re not surprised to find out that knitting was used as a form of therapy – it’s certainly a pastime we find relaxing, and we agree wholeheartedly with this quote from Elizabeth Zimmerman:

“Properly practiced , knitting soothes the troubled spirit, and it doesn’t hurt the untroubled spirit, either.”

However, perhaps the more exciting side of knitting’s war related history comes along during WW2. During this more technologically advanced war, knitting was called upon for something rather difference to therapy and rehabilitation, instead it was used as a form of code.

In fact it was such a valuable form of code, that the Office of Censorship banned people from posting knitting patterns abroad just in case they contained coded messages. One of the most notable examples of knitted code comes from the Belgian Resistance who recruited old women whose windows overlooked railway yards, to note the trains in their knitting. The code was rather basic, using systems such as purl one for this type of train, drop one for another type.

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