Susan Stephens of Sydney Australia recently posted a photo of herself wearing a sweater she had knit as an homage to a very special family heirloom. In the photo she is holding up her Grandfather's jumper (sweater) that inspired the design. Here is the extraordinary story of her Grandfather's WWI jumper written by Susan.
A jumper with a proud history
One hundred years ago my grandfather Hedley Stephens sailed to Europe to defend his country. He had never left his homeland before, and would have had absolutely no idea of what he would be facing in what we now know as The Great War. After a training exercise in Egypt, he was moved to France. During a battle in late May 1916, he was caught in No Mans Land. He was horribly injured and disorientated and crawled to what he thought was the Australian trenches, when he realised the men were speaking German.
So he was captured and spent the next two and a half years as a Prisoner of War. While he was in a camp in Dulmen, Germany, a fellow Australian Prisoner of War knitted him a jumper. It was knitted from scraps of wool from worn out clothing using wires as needles. The jumper was knitted from the top down in a circular method, with cables front and back - the cables are different in the front to the back. As a knitter of many years I admire the quality and skills of the work.
The jumper was one of grandfathers most prized possessions. It is still in relatively good condition, it has suffered from a few moth holes and has shrunk from washing over the years, but still gives me much joy to look at and hold. One can only imagine the life and environment of the maker of the jumper - and how it would have given much needed warmth to my grandfather.
I know of another jumper in the War Memorial in Canberra that bears an uncanny resemblance to my Grandfathers, and I think it is likely to have been knitted by the same person. I don't know whether there are any others in existence, or how common it would have been for men to knit in those days.
Some years ago, I laid grandfathers jumper on the lounge next to me and I picked up my knitting needles and I knitted a jumper with a very similar cable design but in a size that fits a 21st century woman rather than a WWI Prisoner of War. It is one of my proudest knitting achievements and one I would like to have shown my grandfather.
Grandfather did come home from the war, and always praised the care that he was given by the German medical team. He married and had 8 children, but through his life he suffered from the injuries he sustained from that day in No Mans Land. He brought home a few items from war - his medals, a camera, a cigarette lighter, a pair of binoculars - but I think that his favourite item was his beloved jumper. I feel proud that I can continue on with this tradition.