Looking after Tommy, or What to do with 9,650 nightingales?

Badge 5xx for title IMG_2679At the outset of the First World War on August 4, 1914, the only women who knew precisely how to assist the British armed forces were probably the nurses serving in the Army and the Navy. Yet an extraordinary mobilisation of civilians took place in Britain and throughout the Empire, helping to meet the needs of the troops at war through the making of comforts – sundry items of apparel to make life at the Front more bearable. Their work added to and complemented the garments issued by the Ministry of Supply, and their efforts became recognised by the government as an essential service.

Over time the items requested from the Front became more standardised: paper patterns for woven garments were developed by professional hands and made readily available, and instruction for knitted essentials published in the press. Modification, innovation and initiative remained key, and led down many hitherto untrodden pathways.

This paper touches on the remarkable martialling work of Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild and several other philanthropic organisations, through which people of all ages and classes were able to respond, at a touchingly human level, to the war effort.

First delivered in June 2014
as the keynote address of the symposium of Costume and Textile Association of New Zealand (CTANZ) [60 minutes]