A 1916 Film Diary Christmas Present: Knit Your Own Authentic World War I Soldier Socks
When Margaret’s brothers Arthur and Jack marched into battle, it was a strict requirements that each soldier always have three clean pairs of socks on hand, not only because it was cold, but because the wet and muddy conditions were an ideal breeding ground for ‘trench foot’. This condition was not only painful and debilitating to men who must sometimes march many miles per day, but in some cases fatal, if it progressed to the point of gangrene.
Women in Australia - and many men and children - took to the task of supplying the soldiers with gusto. It was not only a means of distraction, but a way to make a genuine contribution to the war effort. Socks were knitted by the thousand, and Margaret makes mention of working on a pair many times in her diary during 1916.
Sometimes, knitters would slip in a note with a patriotic or sentimental message to the eventual owner of the socks. According to one newspaper, at least one cheeky digger sent his own piece of doggerel back to the well-meaning knitter who was responsible for his pair:
"I’ve got yer socks,
They’re an all right fit,
One I use as a helmet,
The other as a mitt.
I’d like to meet yer
When I’ve done me bit -
But where the @#$% did
Yer learn to knit?”
For the more knitters with a little more know-how, here is the pattern Margaret followed, which she jotted down in the front few pages of her 1916 diary, possibly borrowed or adapted from one of the many patterns published in newspapers.
Margaret Higgins’ Authentic World War I Sock Pattern
Cast on 60 stitches, 20 on each needle.
Do 1 row plain, then about 5 inches ribbing. Purl, plain then plain until length desired (10 or 11 inches).
Make a seam stitch down centre of sock by knitting last stitch purl. Divide stitches for heel as follows:
30 on back heel & 15 on each front.
Do heel as follows:
1st Row, slip 1, knit 1 to end.
2nd Row, purl to end.
Now on right side do until 9 stitches are left. Then knit 2 together until leaving only 7. Then turn and purl until 9 stitches are left. Then purl 2 together, leaving 7 at other end.
Then continue these 2 rows, taking 1 off each end until only 14 stitches are left.
Then pick up 20 stitches at side of heel flap.
Then knit the 2 lots of 15 stitches on to 1 needle, then pick up the 20 more stitches on other side of heel flap.
Divide the 14 stitches, giving 7 on each side, thus having 27 stitches on each sock needle and 30 on the front needle.
Decrease every second row until 15 stitches are left on each back needle. Plain knit [until] 9 1/2 inches in length.
Then decrease for toe every 2nd row until 10 stitches are left on each of 2 needles, and finish off.
(The following is added as a note, and might have been a practical modification of the original pattern)
Measure 4 inches or 3/12 inches in purl, 8 1/2 altogether before decreasing for toe. 11 inches before the heel.
Merry Christmas on this, the 100th anniversary of the Christmas Truce, and may you all enjoy a New Year that is filled with peace and goodwill.