To mark the anniversary the BBC were travelling around the country with their World War One Live Events that would take place in Blackpool on the Tower Headland and invited the Blackpool Libraries Knitting Groups to participate by knitting garments like women did in World War I with the opportunity to show anyone, who wanted to know, how to knit.
Helen, from Palatine Library, tells us what she got up to…
Everyone was knitting during wartime: men, women, and children. There was a sentiment that if you didn’t have knitting with you, you were wasting your time. Thousands of items were knitted for the war.
During World War I women knitted socks, balaclavas, scarves and mittens for the men serving on the front line. All different groups of people helped with the war effort, from church groups to classes of children at school, neighborhoods and workplaces, even the wool factories donated wool to keep the effort going!
Socks were very useful as the trench warfare conditions under which the war was fought meant that soldiers spent weeks or months entrenched in wet and, in winter, freezing conditions. So the socks kept them from Trench Foot, a fungal disease, by keeping their feet warm and dry. All the items were then packed together and distributed by the Red Cross not only to the front lines but to hospitals and convalescent homes, for injured and recouping soldiers.
Armed with my knitting and a host of volunteers we set out our stall in one of the tents and waited for the public to arrive! On display we had a selection of our knitted balaclavas, socks and mittens and a large pair of needles with a huge ball of wool lined up and ready for people to knit a large communal scarf. Anyone who wanted to could knit a few rows of the scarf with the idea that we would eventually have one long scarf ready to wear!
The day was sunny and warm and the event was very busy from beginning to end and many of the visitors popped into our tent and enjoyed a few minutes to knit a few rows.
Helen from Radio Lancashire came in the tent, she didn’t knit but did interview me about the event and the knitting we were doing, she seemed particularly interested in where it would all go after the event, “I’m hoping to give it to a charity that helps the homeless” came my reply, and hopefully they will go somewhere where they will be of use.
Some learned to knit, like Oliver and Glenn, 2 serving soldiers willing to have a go, some already knew how to knit and were happy to re-introduce themselves to it and extend our scarf a little bit longer. Some of our visitors were well versed in the art of knitting and stayed a little while longer to enjoy the weather and talk to the volunteers about where there knitting talent came from, which, for many of them it was from their mothers who knitted during the Second World War. And a few of them were men!! How great is that?
We met some very interesting people on the Promenade that day, all had an interesting story to tell and all willing to knit for us. Our Poppies were certainly a hit, we could have sold them several times over, proving once again that all Soldiers will always be remembered. We handed out the knitting pattern for the poppies in the hope they will be knitted and passed on to someone else.
Following on quickly from that fantastic event was the Armed Forces Day at Stanley Park. Lots of fabulous displays and activities going on to support the serving soldiers.
The Irish Guards Choir serenaded us with wartime songs and their Pipe Band also entertained in the beautiful setting of the Italian Gardens near the fountain. Tug-o-war between Battalions, re-enactments and marching bands, shared space with face painting and of course – knitting.
We had our tent with our pop-up library and all our balaclavas and lots of chairs to encourage a short stay and a knit and chat. Our scarf grew ever longer and our visitors got younger!! Children of all ages came and had a go at knitting with Mum’s or Grandma’s, their enthusiasm was infectious and their interest at the balaclavas intense. The idea of knowing how to knit and make different stitches could make an actual garment to wear – Amazing!!
A simple but effective way of getting their interest about World War One, so much so that one young man, having tried on the balaclava, was going in to his local library to find out more!! Fantastic!
It was amazing to see all different people whose enthusiasm for the day was exciting to watch, as was the boat race and the musical entertainment at the Bandstand, it created a chance for old and young to get together and share the experience.
And me? Where was I when all this was going on? Well, I found myself a quiet seat all to myself and escaped from it all!!