Nostalgia: Knitting for Britain

A year after the Allies and Germans fraternised at Christmas 1914, as depicted in the Daily Mirror, the situation was very different, with a continuous daylight barrage throughout December.
A year after the Allies and Germans fraternised at Christmas 1914, as depicted in the Daily Mirror, the situation was very different, with a continuous daylight barrage throughout December.

By Christmas 1915, neither on the Western Front nor at home in Blighty, could there be a repeat of the events of Christmas 1914. There would be no fraternisation or football with the “Huns” and no celebration of civilians still confident that the war would soon be won.

To prevent any “slackness” of discipline in the trenches, the British high command ordered a continuous artillery barrage throughout the daylight hours of December 1915. Even at night front-line troops were to repair and strengthen their barbed-wire defences and send out “listening parties” into no-man’s land to eavesdrop on the Germans. If lapses should occur they were to be treated severely. Exemplary punishment had to be meted out.

In fact, however, after one bold Captain in the Scots Guards had arranged a truce to allow both sides to retrieve and bury their dead, he was merely “reprimanded” and eventually rose to the rank of brigadier general. The truth was that both armies had little appetite for even a temporary cease-fire and even less for a game of football. Now there were too many dead and mutilated German and British soldiers.

On the home front also naive optimism had given way to grim determination: romanticism had taken second place to reality. There was now a general and growing realisation that the war would last for years and that it would engage the whole population, women and children as well as young men.

As an example of how the whole nation was now, at the end of 1915, gradually being mobilised to contribute to the war effort, an important meeting took place on Friday afternoon, December 3, in the lecture hall adjoining Westborough’s Wesleyan Methodist chapel. Present were Mayor Graham, his daughter, Mayoress Maisie Graham, the vicar of St Mary’s, the Rev C Cooper, Mr W Boyes, the Town Clerk, and Captain and Mrs Riddell of Gristhorpe Hall.

The purpose of the gathering was to inform the public of the War Office’s national scheme to organise voluntary war work. The scheme was explained by Miss Alice Thompson. Across the whole country, in counties, cities and towns, there would be depots for garments and “comforts” made locally for servicemen at the front and those in military hospitals. Woollen articles for winter would be especially welcome.

In Scarborough, which had been designated “a city depot” (applause), Miss Graham would be president of a central organising committee. She would coordinate and oversee the existing voluntary efforts of local Baptists, members of the Constitutional Club in Huntriss Row, and those meeting in Victoria Hall. Since July, these bodies had already made 2,050 articles of clothing for the troops. The War Office’s first request for 500 pairs of mittens and 250 mufflers had so far produced 264 pairs and 155 mufflers. 

In future the town would know exactly what the War Office wanted. In the past “some funny garments” had been made and “it had been very trying to labour, say, in making a body belt, only to find it had come in handy for cleaning a rifle.” (laughter)

But it was no laughing matter: certainly not for soldiers who well remembered how they had suffered during the previous winter without suitable warm clothing.

Scarborough’s womenfolk were expected to provide their own raw materials as well as their time freely. Mayor Graham said that he believed up to a thousand would join the scheme and if each gave a shilling a month in a year that would add up to £500.

Mr W Boyes, recently made a Justice of Peace, agreed to act as inspector of Scarborough’s production. As he noted, “with the best of intentions, there has been a great deal of mistaken work since the war commenced”.

Jottings welcomed this national scheme of voluntary industry. Up to now too much had been done that was uncoordinated and wasteful. For example, the War Office had recently 
announced that there were “millions of sandbags held in reserve at Havre and other bases in France”.

On December 10, The Mercury published a letter from Maisie Graham 
addressed to the editor. She confirmed that the War 
Office had designated Scarborough as “a city depot” and repeated the army’s urgent need of “mufflers and mittens”. Ladies who were willing to contribute were asked to send their names and addresses to the central committee’s headquarters at 13 Elders Street.

In the same newspaper’s issue, Lady Galway informed the mayor that she had secured the premises in Westborough belonging to Hopper & Mason and until recently occupied by ETW Dennis, the printer. Her intention was to provide employment there for about 100 women “in making bags for shells”. Under the supervision of the Ministry of Munitions, perhaps as many as 300 would eventually work there.

Meanwhile, under the terms of the Derby Scheme, male volunteers were still coming forward to register their names. By December 1915, about 2,000 local men had already enlisted, 83 were known to have been killed and 150 seriously wounded. However, despite repeated assurances from the Asquith government that no married man would be called up until all the single ones were in uniform, there was a growing suspicion that conscription was sooner or later unavoidable. As Jottings described the situation: “Unfortunately the penalty is not yet fully paid, and many more deaths will be recorded before the final settlement is made. Yet Scarborough will unflinchingly bear its part in the struggle for the Empire.”

Some would have said that Scarborough had 
already paid its penalty in full. As The Mercury described Miss Kemp-Welch’s gift to the town of her picture “Remember Scarborough”, “it would be a permanent reminder of a foul crime and should influence any single man who has not yet felt the call of his country”. Sadly, married men and fathers of families would soon feel the compulsory call of their country.