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?

Birdwood Gallipoli 1915 awm 6184034

Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey. 1915. General William Riddell Birdwood (outside his dugout at Anzac. Photograph by Ernest Brooks and retrieved from the Australian War Memorial G00761

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 Cde C nee Beggs 1894

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

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.

Birdwood letter 3 6098253

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

scarf AWM 4230193

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 letter Geelong Advertiser 1916 12 05 a

Birdwood letter Geelong Advertiser 1916 12 05 b

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.

Birdwood 1918 trench awm 4096023

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.

Sources

 

Other scarves were also knitted for General Birdwood during 1916