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Woollies That Won a War

Woolies-01 Frances Street holding the pattern book and thank-you letter from a ship’s Master

Story and photos by Lydia Aisenberg

A black-and-white 1940s knitting pattern, the cover illustrated with sweaters, gloves, mittens and scarves and priced at sixpence, is a prized possession of retired British charity shop manageress Frances Street. Frances has been a friend of mine since the 1960s - we came to Israel together in 1966 on a Shnat Sherut group and both returned as volunteers in 1967.

COMFORTS FOR MEN ON LAND, SEA  AND AIR is printed in large letters under illustrations for nine pieces of knitwear on the cover of the nowadays vintage pattern that was used during the war by Frances' mother, Gertrude Dunn, who was born in Stepney, London, to Jewish immigrant parents from Lichtenstein.

"My mother worked as a bookkeeper at Hotel Central in Aldgate prior to the war, and like many others became an avid knitter of what was known as 'woollen comforts' to be sent to those serving in the Armed Forces," explains Frances.

With the countrywide celebrations of the 75th anniversary of the Normandy D-Day Landings earlier this year, Frances thought it appropriate to show friends and family her parents' personal memorabilia from that time so apart from the knitting pattern, there is also a very emotional letter from a ship's master thanking Gertrude Dunn for her 1940s heart-warming, woollen contributions to the war effort.

The black and white 1940s Knitting Pattern

The sixpenny Paton & Baldwins' pattern No. 6:594 and letter from the naval officer are lovingly kept in a folder of ephemera Frances found after her mother's death. Frances volunteered in Israel during the War of 1967.

"During the Second World War my parents were stationed in Whitechapel Fire Station where my father, who was born in Punta Arena, Chile, to immigrant parents from Vilna, Lithuania, was a fire engine driver and my mother worked in the office.

"My dad had arrived in Britain with his parents in the late 1920s and the family settled in the East End of London.He had two older sisters as well as two younger siblings and eventually opened a clothing shop for boys and youths", explains Frances, who moved from London some years ago to join older sister Roz in Wimborne, Dorset.

"My parents were really inspired by Mr. Churchill's call to the nation to 'pull together to win the war and be courageously victorious' and as my mother had always been an avid knitter, she got down to work on creating sweaters, gloves and even balaclavas and socks as 'woollen comforts' for those in the services. Each item was received by a ship 'somewhere at sea' and, to express his gratitude, a Master of one ship, Robert Anderson, sent a letter to my mother which I found amongst her belongings when she died," explained Frances, "and of course so relevant to the D-Day celebrations this year."

Under the letter heading is the date, written "At sea, 19th November, 1940", and then a central heading and reference, D. 1/5751 – DUNN, which is underlined and reads:

"Re-one of the woollen comforts received through the medium of the Ship Adoption Society for distribution to the crew, I wish to tender my thanks to the lady who devoted her time to the making of a pullover which is now in the proud possession of a member of my crew.The gift is very much appreciated, and I would ask you to convey the recipient's thanks and my thanks, for the article mentioned, to the donor.
"I have been in London recently, when I then paid a visit to the Whitechapel district and noted the indiscriminate destruction of the homes inflicted by the hellish Hun.To me therefore, that pullover is not merely an article, but is symbolic of the spirit of the people, who in their distress can still give a thought and can express it in such a practical manner to those who go down to the sea in ships.
"Such a spirit will never be broken and we as members of the British nation together with our kinfolk in our Empire, will eventually emerge triumphant in the cause of liberty and justice. We have no doubts, only the grim determination to carry on until our objective is finally achieved.
Again, expressing my thanks to the lady, and to your organization, and with best wishes for all, I am, Yours Faithfully, Robert Anderson, Master."

Gertrude and all the other women, and apparently some men, who joined the needle-wielding force of the 1940s did more than keep troops warm as their handiwork also sent important messages across the waters to let the troops know they were not only not forgotten but deeply cared about.

"Well Dunn" to Gertrude and all others of the Knitting Brigade. 

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Tuesday, 24 November 2020

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