The Red Cross and Knitting for the War Effort

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

In May, our Registrar, Kes, wrote about a donation of materials from the Red Cross Society, Durham Branch. Along with the artefacts she highlighted in her blog post, the donation also contained several booklets produced by the Red Cross containing knitting patterns. As many might know, I am an avid knitter and love any mention of historic knitting (I’ll leave links at the end of other blogs I’ve written). I was very excited when Kes let me know that the booklets were scanned and digitized, eager to look at the patterns from decades ago. 

Four booklets were included in this donation: 

  • The Canadian Red Cross Society Selected Civilian Knitting Instructions for Women and Children (Compliments of The Yellow Pages of your Telephone Directory) (A022.23.10)
  • The Canadian Red Cross Society Knitting Instructions for the Armed Forces (Compliments of The Yellow Pages of your Telephone Directory) (A022.23.11)
  • Red Cross Knitting Instructions for War Work, Number 1 For the Services, Issued by The Canadian Red Cross Society, Revised Edition, November 1940 (A022.23.12)
  • Red Cross Knitting Instructions for War Work, Number 2 Knitted Comforts for Women, Issued by The Canadian Red Cross Society, November 1940 (A022.23.13)

These booklets were made available by the Red Cross, free of charge, to those who wanted copies. 

For those on the Homefront during the two world wars, there were many ways they contributed to the war effort. Knitting was one such way to contribute. During World War I, patterns from the Red Cross or other sources appeared in local newspapers; a pattern from the Red Cross, for example, was published in the Port Perry Star, while the pattern which appeared in the Ontario Reformer did not list a particular source. The pamphlets in our collection, which included directions for women and children – civilians – reflected a change in the nature of World War II. As stated by the Red Cross, “By the time of the Second World War… warfare had changed: battlefront and Homefront blurred, and civilian lives were routinely endangered.”1 These booklets for civilians reflect the change in the Red Cross’s mandate, expanding beyond attending to the needs of soldiers and military personnel exclusively.

The quality of the knitted goods had to reach high standards, and pieces might have been rejected or, more often, fixed by other Red Cross volunteers had it not been up to the standards. This might sound harsh, but think about it. When you have a pebble in your shoe, or maybe the seam of your sock isn’t sitting where you want it to, it can be irritating. Imagine wearing knit socks, and there were knots along the sock’s sole, or the toes haven’t been seamed correctly. Soldiers foot health was of great importance, which is why the Red Cross set out such high standards. Novice knitters, fear not. As the Globe and Mail reported in 1941, “The weaving (grafting) of the tip of the toe is a pitfall into which so many kindhearted, anxious-to-do-their bit, loyal knitters stumble; but the Red Cross workers have told me to tell you that if, when you come to the place which invariably trips you up, you will slip the twenty stitches remaining you’re your two needles onto a strand of wool, take the socks to the Red Cross – they will be delighted to finish them for you.”2 

Knitters would send their finished pieces to the Red Cross’s offices on Jarvis Street in Toronto. Here, volunteers would inspect the pieces, such as socks, mittens, scarfs, and sweaters, before sending them to the soldiers overseas. If pieces didn’t reach the high quality standard the Red Cross needed, volunteers could set about fixing the items. One volunteer, Mrs. Gibbett, was interviewed about the work of re-knitting items, and about socks, she commented “I hate to think of the poor boy’s feet after wearing a pair of those [socks with knots along the bottom under the heel and toes]. I rip them back and knit it up again.” Her job was described as ‘Unexciting,’ and even Mrs. Gibbett herself said “It’s not a very attractive job, but it’s got to be done. We can’t let all that wool go to waste, you know.”3

The Whitby Gazette & Chronicle reported in 1940 that the Whitby Red Cross branch was well into their knitting initiatives, and that between October 1939 and March 1940, they had knitted over 1000 pairs of socks for the active services.4 Whitby also boasted an instructions committee, headed by Mrs. E Bowman “who gave daily instructions in the making of all knitted garments and correct any mistakes which will not pass instruction.”

For the Oshawa Museum’s Stories from the Homefront project, many shared memories of life in Oshawa during WWII and how they contributed, including participating in salvaging drives, growing their own food in Victory Gardens, donating blood at Red Cross blood donor clinics, and knitting for the forces. Murray McKay remembered “We took up knitting in school. We used to make scarves. Each class would spend one hour in the morning and one hour in the afternoon,” and Jeannette Mark Nugent recalled, “It was mostly socks that I would knit, perhaps mitts. They were for the servicemen overseas. Sometimes we would put a note in the socks to the servicemen along with our name and address. Although I never received any letters, some friends I knew did hear from servicemen thanking them for the socks.” 

It was estimated that some 750,000 people on the homefront (the majority of which were likely women) produced more than 50 million garments during the Second World War.5 Locally, sewing and knitting groups had 1200 women who made nearly 50,000 articles towards the war effort.6 There were likely knitters of every skill level pitching in to do their bit. Knitting for the forces was just one way that those on the homefront supported the war efforts during the First and Second World Wars.


Here are a few other posts I have written, for those wanting more info on historic knitting:


References

  1. Canadian Red Cross WWII Civilian Knitting Instructions, https://www.redcross.ca/history/artifacts/wwii-civilian-knitting-instructions
  2. IR McK,”This and That,” The Globe and Mail, Oct 3, 1940, pg. 9
  3. “Reknits Others’ Knitting, Woman’s Job Is Unexciting,” The Globe and Mail, Aug 1, 1944, pg. 10.
  4. “Thousand Pairs of Socks Knitted by Whitby Red Cross,” The Gazette and Chronicle, March 6, 1940, page 1.
  5. That stat came from the Canadian War Museum: https://www.warmuseum.ca/blog/an-army-of-knitters-in-support-of-the-war-effort/
  6. Oshawa Historical Society, Stories from the Homefront, 2004, page ####

Additional Research:

https://www.redcross.ca/blog/2021/4/knitting-through-covid-19-and-through-red-cross-history

https://thediscoverblog.com/tag/canadian-red-cross/

2021 – 100 Years of the Poppy Campaign

By Melissa Cole, Curator

From the last Friday in October to Remembrance Day, millions of Canadians wear a poppy as a visual pledge to never forget those who sacrificed for our freedom. This campaign goes back to 1921 when the poppy was adopted as a symbol of Remembrance by the British Legion. When the Royal British Legion adopted the poppy in 1921, so to did several other countries including Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United States.

The idea for the Remembrance Poppy was conceived by Madame Anna Guérin of France. She was inspired by John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields.” Anna had originally founded a charity to help rebuild regions of France torn apart by the First World War and created beautiful poppies made of fabric to raise funds.

The poppy was adopted in Canada on July 6, 1921, when Madame Guérin presented her concept to France’s allies, including The Great War Veterans Association, today’s Royal Canadian Legion. 

Poppies are a universal symbol of remembrance and sacrifice.  The tradition of wearing a poppy to honour veterans takes place in different countries around the world. Each country has tailored a unique design; therefore, poppies differ from country to country.

Poppies are frequently sent to and worn by expatriates living in other countries in Europe and beyond.  The English Poppy, produced by the Royal British Legion, is the poppy that is shipped out to different countries where expatriates live.  The English poppy worn in England, Wales and Northern Ireland has two petals, a green leaf and a black centre.  The Scottish poppy is similar, made of paper with a plastic centre, four petals and no green leaf.  The removal of the green leaf allowed for more funds to be directed to veterans and their families. 

Our poppy in Canada is sold by the Royal Canadian Legion, is made of moulded plastic covered in flocking.  The red piece of the poppy contains indents to mark four petals and contains a black centre.  The black centre was changed from green around 2001. 

The Royal Canadian Legion’s Poppy Campaign Posters.  These posters form part of a collection that was displayed each year in honour of Remembrance Day, in the front window at Mike’s Place, a local business located in downtown Oshawa.  The collection includes posters, brochures, two wreaths, and various styles of poppies.  

The poppy remains a symbol of remembrance in Canada, Great Britain, the nations of the Commonwealth, and in the United States for those who served or fell in service of their country.


Resources

https://www.britishlegion.org.uk/

https://www.legion.ca/remembrance/the-poppy/history-of-the-poppy

www.cmfmag.ca/history/poppies-from-around-the-world/

Researching Our Collections

By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist

In 2002, a donation arrived in the archives related to a gentleman by the name of Jack Humphreys.  At the time, what drew me to the collection were the images of Camp Samac, the Boy Scout camp located in north Oshawa. The images showed the camp during the 1940s from the perspective of the campers and was a gap in the collection.  The collection was also interesting in that Mr. Humphreys was feted in Oshawa for several years for being the oldest citizen in the City.

a002922
A002.9.22

In November 2019, I came across a caption in the Toronto Star noting that Mr. Humphreys was a veteran of two wars: the Boer War and World War I. Immediately after reading this, I went back to the collection to see what more I could learn about this aspect of Mr.  Humphreys. What I found was a fascinating life, a story about bravery, potentially tall tales and a long life lived to its fullest.

Learning more about the life and adventures of Mr. Humphreys was amazing and highlighted the unending opportunities for research offered by archival and curatorial collections. In an ideal world, when the collection arrived at the archives in 2002, it would have been researched during or shortly after the processing of the collection, and a finding aid developed. However, given the size of staff in our archives and curatorial departments, one in each, the vast majority of collection research occurs in relation to research requests or exhibit development.

In this case, further research into the collection was due to a happy accident when I bumped into the caption. This research was then used to write a short article looking into the extraordinary life of Mr. Humphreys. Collection research also forms the basis of finding aids and resources to make searching the archival collection easier for researchers.

a002934

Even collections that have been fairly well researched offer opportunities to learn more and to add further context. For example, the correspondence of Pvt. Garrow has been well researched.  The World War I correspondence collection has been transcribed, a finding aid created for it and an online exhibit sharing the collection is available through the Museum’s website.  This research actually connected with research I was doing into early Black history in Oshawa.  It turns out that both Garrow and Albert Pankhurst were at the Battle of Mount Sorrel. This connection has added further context to Garrow’s letters and helped to better understand the enormity of the battle.

Collection research is a vital part of life in an archives or museum. It provides context and provenance.  Research shows connections between collections and artefacts. It can make a collection of photographs showing life at Camp Samac fit into the story of the Boer War and World War I.

Remembering Remembrance Day

By Jill Passmore, Visitor Experience Co-ordinator

This November I was fortunate enough to speak to about 500 people about wars and remembrance in Oshawa. Each November, the Oshawa Museum launches a Remembrance-themed lecture series available free to community groups and schools.

Stories From the Homefront: Oshawa During the Second World War is based on a memory book project that was completed for the 65th Anniversary of D-Day. Local citizens that lived in Oshawa or had to stay home for some reason, tell us their stories about things like Camp X, knitting, rubber and other salvage drives, rationing etc. I have delivered this lecture many times over the years and am always amazed as new stories emerge. This year I met the niece of one of our participants. I was able to ask her a few personal questions to get a better understanding of her stories she contributed. A man also told me about the time a pilot clipped the old water tower and wires near OCVI, and that OCVI had big drums in the gym for fats and scrap salvaging. I joked about how bad the smell must have been and he confirmed my suspicions. Apparently, you could smell it throughout the entire school!

The Letters From the Trenches lecture was developed by Archivist, Jennifer Weymark and features four people who all entered the military for different reasons. Their one connecting thread is that they were all from Oshawa. Two men volunteered, but one was black, a nursing sister also volunteered. The last man faced conscription. Did you know that ‘zombies’ are what the conscripted men were known as? I learned this from one of our Homefront participants.  It is fascinating to hear how their stories intertwined and experiences contrasted.

Finally, Wars & Remembrance highlights institutions such as the Ontario Regiment and city landmarks that include the war memorial and band shell in Memorial Park. It also discusses the reason why some of the street names have a poppy beside them. Since 2003, it has been a policy of the City to name streets within new subdivisions for people who lived in Oshawa and died fighting for their country. These streets are usually north of Taunton Rd. E. and west of Harmony Rd. N. There are also a series of streets with names highlighting different aspects of the various wars. For example,

Festhubert Street, Courcelette Avenue, Vimy Avenue, Verdun Road, and St. Eloi Avenue: northeast of the Ritson Rd. S. /Olive Avenue intersection, these roads have been named for battle sites in France during World War I.

Normandy Street, Dunkirk Avenue, Dieppe Avenue, Sedan Court, Brest Court, Sterling Avenue: located northwest of Wilson Rd. S. and Highway 401, the above street were named after battle sites in France during World War II, with Sterling Avenue possibly named after the Sterling Armaments Company, a company which manufactured weapons during WWII.

Kitchener Avenue, Monash Avenue, and Currie Avenue, Montgomery Street: northeast of Ritson Rd. S. and Highway 401, they are named after officers during World War I.  Kitchener Avenue refers to Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener, British; Monash Avenue is after Sir John Monash, Australian; Currie Avenue after the Canadian Arthur Currie; and Montgomery Avenue is after Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, British.

I have never been in a situation where I felt the call to enlist in the military. With the exception of grandparents, no one else has served. This last month has renewed my interest in wartime history. Researching family history, researching more of what happened in Oshawa during the Second World War, and even watching shows like Band of Brothers. I feel privileged that I am able to talk about these things with my kids and share with them things that their ancestors experienced. All four of their Great-Grandfathers fought in WWII – US Navy, Canadian Army and German Army.

After my last outreach lecture yesterday (November 29 at time of post), myself, the teacher and students had an engaging conversation – trading family histories, talking about WWI-themed video games as teaching tools and resources that they can use to continue explore this genre of history. I left feeling proud and looking back on the last month feel proud of the impact the Oshawa Museum has made on our community. It was always a goal of ours “to present the results of the project through different means of access.”

“This final objective is very important to us. Our project team was committed to ensuring the results of our project would be effectively used and a plan in place to ensure accessibility to the material. We had seen too many community projects designed with good intentions in mind only to have the finished project languish in boxes in an archives. That is where the second part of our goal comes in – to ensure there is a plan in place for the presentation and dissemination of the knowledge. We wanted to connect our research with the community, to find the commonalities that bind us together as a community.”

img_0856

 

If you would like to find out more about William Garrow and some of the industries that existed in the 1940s, please check out the Oshawa Museum’s online exhibits at

https://lettersfromthetrenches.wordpress.com/

https://industryinoshawa.wordpress.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

Where the Streets Get Their Names – Coyston Drive

By Lisa Terech, Community Engagement

For several years,  the City of Oshawa has had a policy on naming new streets, with an emphasis on names paying tribute to Oshawa’s war dead and veterans.  These streets, as well as others which relate to World War I or World War II, are denoted with a poppy on the street sign.

If you’re driving around the Oshawa, southeast of the Rossland/Harmony intersection, you’ll encounter Coyston Drive and Court, named after Robert Henry Coyston who died in 1916.

 

Robert was born in London, England on 4 March 1892, to Arthur and Clara (Wells) Coyston.  The family, which included siblings William, George, Alice, Ethel, and Laura, immigrated to Canada in April 1906, settling in Oshawa, Cedardale specifically.  On October 30, 1913, he married Ethel Millicent Hudson, and on December 4, 1914, they welcomed their son, Albert Robert.  Less than two years after their marriage, Robert enlisted into the military; his attestation papers are dated 12 June 1915, and they reveal that Robert had previous experience, serving for eight years with the militia.  His attestation papers also tell us that he stood at 5 feet 7 inches in height, had a medium  complexion, grey eyes, and dark hair.

Robert arrived in France on Mar 16, 1916, serving with the 13th Battalion, Royal Highlanders of Canada. By all appearances, he was seeing success with the army, being promoted to sergeant on July 19, 1916.  A few short months later, Robert went missing in action during the Battle of Courcellette on October 8, 1916; he was later declared ‘Killed in Action.’  His wife received a memorial plaque and scroll, and his mother received a Memorial Cross.

After the end of WWI, the Adanac Military Cemetery was established in Miraumont, Departement de la Somme, Picardie, France, the name taken from spelling Canada backwards; as per the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, “graves were brought in from the Canadian battlefields around Courcelette and small cemeteries surrounding Miraumont,” and this is where Robert is laid to rest.

Robert Henry Coyston was one of 134 Oshawa citizens who went overseas in the First World War who never made it home.  His name is included on the monument in Memorial Park.  He was one of over 60,000 Canadians who were killed during the war.

IMG_0856

This November 11 marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I and is commemorated as Remembrance Day in Canada and other Commonwealth Nations.  May we always remember the sacrifices made by those who came before us.

%d bloggers like this: