WWII Civilian Knitting Instructions

Date / Period
Ottawa, Ontario
Object Type
Books, Guides and Manuals
Canadian Red Cross
International Humanitarianism and Presence Women of the Canadian Red Cross
During the First (1914-18) and Second (1939-45) World Wars small booklets of knitting instructions like this one flooded the country by the hundreds of thousands. Women used them to create the comforts and supplementary supplies that made up a central component of Canadian Red Cross war work. This particular booklet from the Second World War is important because it marks an expansion of the society’s mandate to include not just sick and wounded military personnel but civilians as well.

The international Red Cross movement, and the Geneva Conventions upon which their work rests, are ever-evolving entities, growing and changing in response to the contexts of war and peace in which they function. During the wars of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, British and Canadian Red Cross work was limited to sick, wounded, and captured military personnel, in accordance with the first three Geneva Conventions (1864, 1906, 1929). By the time of the Second World War, however, warfare had changed: battlefront and homefront blurred, and civilian lives were routinely endangered.

In response to this new reality, the Canadian Red Cross (independent of the British Red Cross since 1927) expanded its work to include aid to war-affected civilians during the Second World War. Other national societies did likewise, and when the international community undertook a major revision of the Geneva Conventions in 1949, the new conventions specifically included rules relating to the treatment of civilians.

Canadian Red Cross aid to civilians during the Second World War was initially directed to bombed-out British citizens. It expanded over the course of the war to include civilians in many occupied countries of Europe, particularly after the 1944 D-Day invasion began the liberation process and made these populations newly accessible.

Knitting booklets like this one also serve as a reminder that although the wartime Red Cross relied primarily on voluntary labour, it still had high standards. All items produced were carefully inspected, and any that did not meet the exact specifications outlined in the instructions were rejected. Knitting booklets like this one enabled women volunteers across Canada to produce items that they knew were needed and made the grade.

WWII Civilian Knitting Instructions

WWII Civilian Knitting Instructions
Booklet of knitting instructions for making items needed by war-affected civilians.
Knitted Socks
A finished Red Cross knitted sock (navy blue for military personnel in the navy), ca. 1939-1945
Second World War promotional photo of two Canadian sailors with Red Cross comforts (Royal Canadian Navy photograph)
Second World War promotional photo of two Canadian sailors with Red Cross comforts (Royal Canadian Navy photograph)

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