Everyone knows about WWI comfort funds and the socks that were knitted for the Diggers in the trenches.
But have you heard about the scarf that was knitted for their commanding General?
In 1916, Sophia, Mrs Philip Champion de Crespigny, (1870 – 1936), second wife of my great great grandfather, started a campaign to knit a scarf for General Birdwood, the popular commander-in-chief of Australian divisions on the front.
The first anniversary of the landing at ANZAC was observed on Tuesday 25 April 1916, with prayers and mourning for the dead.
Three days later ‘ANZAC Button Day’, with parades and many stalls and kiosks, was held in Melbourne to raise money for the troops. One of the attractions was a kiosk, ‘erected by the St. George Society’, an English patriotic society, where for sixpence patriotic knitters could add a row to scarf for General Birdwood.
Mrs Philip Champion de Crespigny was responsible for this money-raising idea.
Sophia Champion de Crespigny about 1894
Two of her sons and two step-sons enlisted during World War 1:
Within a week, a quarter of a yard had been added to Mrs de Crespigny’s scarf, with many sixpences added to the funds. She was aiming for 1½ yards.
Adelaide commentators seem to have been a bit over-critical. The edge of the scarf was wobbly, ‘goffered’ it was said, which means fluted or serrated. Knitters ply their needles differently, of course, at different tensions, so the collaborative scarf could not be expected to be perfectly uniform.
By mid-May Sophia de Crespigny had received so many applications for row-knitting that she hired a room at 349 Collins Street, not far from her husband’s office at 257 Collins Street [he was the general manager at a bank there], where she met prospective knitters between 10 o’clock and half past four on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
In June Sophia de Crespigny travelled to Geelong, where would-be scarf-knitters would find her at the Bank of Victoria in Malop Street.
The Geelong Advertiser reported that the scarf was khaki with a border of General Birdwood’s colours: red, purple, and black, and a touch of yellow. The scarf was now 2½ yards long.
By mid-August Birdwood’s scarf, completed, and yard longer than planned, was put on display in the window of Messrs Singer and Co. in the Block Arcade on Collins Street. There was also a book with the names of over 300 of its volunteer knitters. Sophia’s scarf campaign had raised £13. The Melbourne Lady Mayoress’ fund for Red Cross got £2 18/-, and £10 2/- was presented to the Y.M.C.A. for the benefit of the Australian soldiers at the Front (a national appeal).
Melbourne Punch 24 August 1916 page 32
Among letters received by General Birdwood, now digitised by the Australian War Memorial, is one from Sophia, Mrs Philip Champion de Crespigny, forwarding the scarf and the book of names of the ladies who worked on it.
Letter from Sophia Champion de Crespigny to General Birdwood enclosing a scarf and a book with the names of the knitters. Retrieved from the Australian War Memorial Letters received by Field Marshal Lord William Birdwood, 1 June 1916 – 25 December 1916 https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C2084586?image=107
I have not found a picture of General Birdwood in a scarf. This picture from the Australian War Memorial is from about 1915: The officer in the foreground, rugged up in a greatcoat and scarf, is possibly Major Harold A Powell of the Australian Army Medical Corps (AAMC). The tents in the middle distance on the left are probably those of a field hospital; the location appears to be the Gallipoli Peninsula.
General Birdwood’s reply to Sophia de Crespigny was published in the Geelong Advertiser.
Birdwood mentions that his aide-de-camp Henry de Crespigny (1882 – 1946) was a cousin of Sophia’s husband [Henry was Philip de Crespigny’s 3rd cousin once removed]. Birdwood also mentions Dr de Crespigny and ‘his hospital’. This was the 1st Australian General Hospital in Rouen, commanded by Philip’s son – Sophia’s step-son – Constantine Trent de Crespigny.
General Sir William Riddell Birdwood visiting a Battalion Headquarters in the support line trenches in Ungodly Avenue in the Messines Sector, in Belgium, on 25 January 1918. General Birdwood is second from the left. Australian War Memorial image E01495
Across Australia many other scarves were knitted by ladies who gave their sixpences and shillings to raise money for the soldiers, and it seems more than likely that Sophia’s was not the first. I’m not a great knitter myself – I started a scarf in the 1980s, which forty years later is still less than a foot long – but I’m delighted to have a family connection with Sophia’s.
- ANZAC BUTTON DAY (1916, April 29). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 19. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2099087
- ITEMS OF INTEREST (1916, May 9). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2097012
- Melbourne Letter. (1916, May 10). Critic (Adelaide, SA : 1897-1924), p. 24. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article212165326
- “Goffer.” The Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/goffer
- LADY KITTY IN MELBOURNE. (1916, May 20). Observer (Adelaide, SA : 1905 – 1931), p. 7. Retrieved January 28, 2020, from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article164664340
- ITEMS OF INTEREST (1916, May 15). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article2105490
- GENERAL BIRDWOOD’S SCARF. (1916, June 1). Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article132736659
- GENERAL BIRDWOOD’S SCARF. (1916, June 5). Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article132737110
- NATIONAL FUNDS. (1916, August 17). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 – 1957), p. 9. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article1613276
- GENERAL BIRDWOOD’S SCARF. (1916, August 23). Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article130692189
- THE LADIES LETTER (1916, August 24). Punch (Melbourne, Vic. : 1900 – 1918; 1925), p. 32. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article121078394
- GEN. BIRDWOOD’S SCARF. (1916, December 5). Geelong Advertiser (Vic. : 1859 – 1929), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article130671603
Other scarves were also knitted for General Birdwood during 1916
- MOSTLY ABOUT PEOPLE. (1916, May 16). Kyneton Guardian (Vic. : 1870 – 1880; 1914 – 1918), p. 2. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129594972
- EVERY WOMAN (1916, May 20). The Journal (Adelaide, SA : 1912 – 1923), p. 10 (NIGHT EDITION). Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article201904003
- FROM NEAR AND FAR. (1916, May 31). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15639838
- Park Fence Must Go (1916, June 9). Malvern Courier and Caulfield Mirror (Vic. : 1914 – 1917), p. 1. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article130658111
- RED CROSS (1916, July 16). Sunday Times (Sydney, NSW : 1895 – 1930), p. 25. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article121347053
- SOCIAL CHAT (1916, July 31). The Sun (Sydney, NSW : 1910 – 1954), p. 7. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article223365185
- FOR WOMEN. (1916, August 30). The Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW : 1883 – 1930), p. 6. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article239216093
- PRESENTATION SCARF. (1916, August 24). Hamilton Spectator (Vic. : 1870 – 1918), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article133706220
- SCARF for GENERAL BIRDWOOD. (1916, December 14). Hamilton Spectator (Vic. : 1870 – 1918), p. 4. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article129391992
- BALLINA WAR CHEST. (1916, September 16). Northern Star (Lismore, NSW : 1876 – 1954), p. 5. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article92970437
- “MAGNIFICENT MEN.” (1916, November 3). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 – 1954), p. 3. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article15701183
- GENERAL BIRDWOOD’S SCARF. (1917, February 6). The Brisbane Courier (Qld. : 1864 – 1933), p. 8. Retrieved from http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article20155560