In the First World War (as later in the Second) knitted items like warm socks and balaclavas were an important contribution to parcels sent to the troops by organisations like the Red Cross and the Navy League. Around New Zealand, women formed groups to knit; but in wartime, wool and the factories to spin it into yarn are soon diverted to more pressing uses. So in many places, out came the spinning wheels.
Inspired by patriotic fervour, the amount of work done was extraordinary. For example in the first 6 months of 1916, production by Canterbury Red Cross members included 8989 pairs of socks, 2426 mufflers and 1488 balaclavas. School children were taught to knit, and sometimes to spin, encouraged by songs like ‘Knitting’:
Marching, marching, thro’ the misty night,
Peering thro’ the dark, longing for a fight,
Tramping, stumbling, on the broken ground,
With the tang of battle all around…
That ‘charming patriotic song’ (so says the cover page – it has an even more ferocious second verse and no mention of knitting despite the title) – came from Britain. There were New Zealand composers too. One was Miss Jane Morison, of Masterton. Born in Scotland in 1855, she had come to New Zealand with her family in 1870. She became a music teacher, and composed a number of stirring songs, most of them during World War One.
Her ‘Spinning’ has recently been rediscovered. It would be nice to know whether Jane Morison was a spinner herself; the mention of ‘wool from the farm’ certainly rings true in the Wairarapa, where sheep have been farmed for generations. The words were published in the Wairarapa Daily Times on October 2 1917.
The sheet music (with slight changes in the words) was published in 1918 ‘with the object of encouraging a spirit of practical patriotism in young people’. The cover proclaims that it was ‘Dedicated to Patriotic School Girls’.
Since then the song has been forgotten for many years, but here it is and it was actually sung at the Wairarapa Spinners and Weavers Guild’s recent Christmas party.
If you would like to sing it too, click below to download the sheet music.
Heather Nicholson The Loving Stitch (Auckland University Press 1998) chapter 6
Paul Turner, ‘New Zealand Music during the First World War: the Songs of Miss Jane Morison’ Journal of New Zealand Literature 33, Part 2: New Zealand and the First World War (2015), pp. 72-88
And thankyou to John MacGibbon, who succeeded in locating the music and accompanied our (very) amateur performance. No, there is no recording …