It is estimated that over one million pairs of socks were knitted by Australian women and children during the war. The Australian Comforts Fund co-ordinated knitting circles and the delivery of much needed socks to the troops. Predominantly run by women, the Comforts Fund provided and distributed free ‘comforts’ to the Australian troops which included tobacco, chocolate, newspapers, cakes and knitted items. Knitting socks and other items of clothing was one way that Australians could feel they were contributing to the war effort.
If you would be a knitter of socks be a perfect one…
So writes a correspondent for The Richmond River Express and Casino Kyogle Advertiser in 1916. It seems that many patriotic Australians heeded the call from the Grey Sock Fund and other voluntary organisations to knit socks for the troops, however not everyone were producing high quality results.
An official pattern had been published early in the war by the Grey Sock Fund, which set out directions for knitting’ good socks with finer wool and needles’. Knitters had to follow this pattern and not improvise with their own designs. Socks had to be either grey or khaki and no back seams were allowed - to prevent the rubbing of wool on the feet of soldiers.
Alas, some well-meaning knitters were not following the official Grey Sock pattern and were remonstrated by the newspaper for not providing standard pairs, with many being rejected for ‘overseas duty’.
Faulty Sock Knitters
'If a thing is worthwhile doing, it's worth doing well,' is a trite enough saying, but its reiteration may be pardoned when it is a question of our soldiers' comfort. The successful sock competition arranged by the 5th Brigade Comforts Fund, which resulted in 400 pairs of socks, was somewhat dampened by the fact that only six pairs came up to the standard required. The ordnance department demands a perfect standard for the socks sent to our boys, for how can Tommy Cornstalk march and fight to the best of his ability if his toes are not comfy? There is a knitters' guide issued, called the Grey Sock Book, and the woman who knits should secure one if she does not want her well-meant efforts to be among the rejects. She should note that the colors required are grey and khaki only. The portions of the socks should be in accordance with those stated in the Grey Sock Book. No back seams are allowed, nor double, toes, nor heels, unless reinforced with the addition of a self-colored thread of linen wool. All joins should be spliced, as no knots or unevenness are allowed. The insides of the socks should be perfectly smooth and neat, and all loose ends should be neatly and evenly darned.
It might be well to suggest that the amateur knitter should first become expert on such minor items as face washers, mufflers, and mittens. It might astonish a large body of energetic knitters to know that daily, dozens of socks are cast aside, and much valuable time is taken up unravelling the stitches of incompetent and well-meaning amateurs. If you would be a knitter of socks be a perfect one, or pass on your wool to someone more experienced.
Faulty Sock Knitters, (1916, April 28), The Richmond River Express and Casino Kyogle Advertiser, p. 7.
Indeed, it was reported in the Farmer and Settler newspaper;
‘at the War Chest and at some of the comforts depots, a staff of ladies is constantly employed rectifying the knitting sins of the careless, which is obviously a waste of time, as these expert knitters might be better, and more congenially employed, in making further supplies of socks’. Woman’s World (1917, December 7), The Farmer and Settler p. 10.
Some knitters, whose works had passed the quality test, placed small notes inside the socks. These notes were brief but heart-felt messages from home.
God bless you soldier boy
Eleven year old Joe Barlow wrote this endearing message on a small piece of notepaper and placed it inside a newly knitted sock. His socks would be received by Jack Pickrell, a young soldier serving in France. Jack received at least 3 notes with various pairs of socks knitted by Australians back home.
Maud Schafer from Willaura in Victoria and Miss Dorothy Smith from Cudal, New South Wales sent him their best wishes, along with their socks, and hoped he would make a ‘safe return’.
Jack Pickrell, the soldier boy, kept these small notes written by strangers, his entire life. His son donated his papers, including these three notes to the Library in 2012.