In the autumn of 1914, a 19 year old John ‘Herbert’ Ogden, from Blackpool Lancashire, enlisted in the newly formed “Kitchener’s Army” to fight in the “Great War”. Like hundreds of thousands of other young men Herbert firmly believed it was his duty to fight when his country called.
Herbert was born in Oldham, the second child of Thomas and Edith Ogden. Thomas was a successful licensed victualler and had sent his son to a boarding school in Scotland. Herbert had three sisters and two younger brothers who all admired the tall, good looking and refined young man that Herbert became. Herbert’s mother had passed away in 1912, so was not there to see her sons join up one by one.
|Herbert after joining up|
|In this photo Herbert, in the foreground, is wearing a stylish knitted cardigan|
|Herbert is on the left of this photo leaning on the post|
|herbert is standing third from the left looking away from camera in his natty knitted cardigan|
|Herbert on the right looking older and more serious than previously|
Herbert fought in the Battle of Arras in France on Easter Monday 1917 and ever since the family, including my husband, Gavin – Herbert’s great nephew – have believed that that is where Herbert died in battle. Herbert’s war record like almost 70% of others from before 1940, was destroyed in a fire at the War Office so details of his movements had been hard for the family to trace. And more significantly, no one thought to doubt handed down oral stories of Herbert’s tale. Where Herbert was buried was sadly unknown.
Only two or three weeks ago an amazing family treasure came to light. Buried in a box deep in the attic, a photo album belonging to Herbert’s sister Edith was unearthed. Edith was also the sister of Florence – Gavin’s grandmother. In it are numerous photos of a smiling, handsome, well groomed young Herbert in uniform. Amongst these photos are even a number of Herbert at the training camp in Mansfield (shown above). But one photo in particular made me decide to write Herbert’s story.
|Herbert in a hand knitted scarf|
This photo of an elegant Herbert was taken in 1915 during Herbert’s training. Under his coat he is wearing a thick, warm looking hand knitted scarf. Knitted by one of his sisters or by one of the hundreds of thousands of women who knitted for the troops during the WW1 conflict? Dorothy Peel in her book “How We Lived Then” (1929) writes of women knitting socks, mitts, body belts, hats, scarves – ‘comforts’ as they were known – for the soldiers. Knitting took place everywhere, in trams, trains, theatres and parks. In “All Quiet on the Home Front” (Richard van Emden and Steve Humphries, 2003) it tells the story of a minister being asked by local women if it was right or wrong to knit socks on Sundays for the soldiers. The minister told them it was quite right, which they were very pleased about. In his “A History of Hand Knitting”, Richard Rutt explains that wartime knitting hit a peak in 1915 and was further fanned by an appeal by Queen Mary for hand knits for the troops in 1916. In fact, troops apparently received so many hand knitted comforts that socks and gloves were used as dish clothes and tea towels!
Herbert’s simple scarf really doesn’t need a pattern but I went through my patterns anyway to see if I could actually find a pattern for a garter stitch scarf. The most likely place was the first edition of “Woolcraft” published by J and J Baldwin shortly before the outbreak of war in 1914, and which before the end of the war, four years later, was on to its third edition but I was unable to locate a scarf pattern like Herbert’s. In “Knitted Comforts for our Sailors, Soldiers & Airmen” by Scotch Wool & Hosiery Stores is an almost identical scarf to Herbert’s, but the copy of the book I have is much later in date, although I believe it may be a reprint of an earlier booklet as the yarn recommended is “Wheeling”. In Richard Rutt’s book he has described this as a coarse woollen-spun yarn, usually 3 ply, a description which he in turn probably got from one of the earliest Woolcraft’s where it is described as:
|the battlefield of Passchendaele|
Why should jolly soldier-boys complain?
God made these before the roofless Flood –
Mud and rain.Mangling cramps and bullets through the brain,
Jesus never guessed them when He died.
Jesus had a purpose for His pain,
Ay, like abject beasts we shed our blood,
Often asking if we die in vain.
Gloom conceals us in a soaking sack —
Mud and rain.