Publishers, The History Press, have sent me a copy to review of one of their latest publications: Knitting for Tommy written by Lucinda Gosling in association with Mary Evans Picture Library. Knitting for Tommy is one in a series of books that The History Press have published in this centenary year to commemorate all those, both military and civilian, whose lives were forever changed by the devastating effects of the First World War.
In Knitting for Tommy, Gosling takes a detailed look at the reasons why 'Home Front' knitting was so important in clothing the British Commonwealth and Allied Forces during the Great War and the importance that the continuous supply of civilian knitted garments and accessories (known as 'comforts') played in keeping these Forces warmly clothed.
The book opens with a jaw-dropping statistic that puts into perspective the uphill task that the British Government faced in providing uniforms: "In August 1914, the War Office was faced with the task of kitting out a volunteer army of an unprecedented size. In Great Britain, from July to September 1914, 253,195 men voluntarily enlisted and, by 1918, over five million British men had worn uniform". No wonder that a 'call to needles' was raised, to which the British and Allied civilians met with gusto. Knitting for Tommy describes the stirring and patriotic effect that this had on both adults and children, with people cramming in as much knitting as possible in what were very fraught and straightened times. It highlights how people pulled together to clothe not only their sons, fathers, uncles, husbands and beaus, but others' unknown loved ones too; with occasional
tragic consequences. However amongst the seriousness of war, there are touches of humour too in the cartoons reproduced in the book and a particularly cheeky excerpt from a serviceman's letter home.
Gosling also relates how knitting turned from a recreational past-time into a craze that permeated all aspects of popular culture; from the knitting-themed picture postcards sent out to those at the Front Line, to the songs being sung in music halls and parlours, or the latest fashion in knitting accessories: The Bracelet Wool Holder.
Apart from retelling this social history aspect of the First World War, Knitting for Tommy also includes a whole chapter dedicated to facsimiles of contemporary knitting patterns. These are typical of the comforts that were being knitted in their thousands, such as variations of woollen Balaclava helmets and gloves; I particularly like the rather natty 'Warleigh Smoking Cap'. This aspect alone will appeal to those who like to dabble in a bit of vintage knitting; although some might find it hard persuading their other-half to wear a crocheted combined cap and scarf this winter!
I eagerly read Knitting for Tommy cover-to-cover, but it is one of those books that you can easily dip into; being an engaging read that manages to retell this aspect of social history without the 'dryness' that some books of a similar ilk have. The book's further appeal is that it is thoroughly peppered with illustrations, many depicting winsome beauties dutifully knitting or adverts promoting the qualities of manufacturers' knitting wool and patterns. As Gosling is a historical specialist at Mary Evans Picture Library and has a rich pictorial resource at her fingertips, its therefore no surprise that Knitting for Tommy is a visual treat too.
Finally, The History Press have kindly offered a copy of Knitting for Tommy for me to giveaway to a lucky bod. All you have to do is be a Follower of this blog and add the words 'Knitting for Tommy' after your comment. After the closing date (14th September), I'll pick out a random name via the time-honoured 'name-in-a-hat' method and will announce it on this post the day after the closing date. Good luck!
P.S. If you can't wait and want to order a copy now, here's a link: Knitting for Tommy
Monday 15th September: The winner is:........Mum
Mum - can you email me (my email address in my 'Contact' tab) your address please and I'll post the book off to you a.s.a.p.