Wednesday, 21 October 2015


From The Times, 21st October 1915.



Sir, -- May I, through your kindness, answer inquiries from Army and public alike by saying that the sweater industry to which you were good enough to give publicity last winter reopens this week?  I have better space, and more (but not better) helpers.  I have also the usual brisk circle of candid friends to tell me that I won’t get any more sweaters, and that if I do they won’t be needed.  For the first point, I back my country; for the second, the young gentlemen are beginning to write on behalf of their platoons, and I am authorized to tell your readers that the War Office thoroughly approves of them and me.

Well, what I ask for is sweaters; any colour, because I dye them khaki, and any shape, because our Army is more like Proteus than Procrustes.  I know there are not so many old ones to be dyed as last year (there ought to be none), but there is still wool – and these nice long quiet evenings, so thoughtfully provided for us, are just the thing for knitting sweaters.  If a few ladies will send me knitted patterns with the awe-inspiring stage directions of how it’s done pinned to them, I could try them on the blushing Army and disseminate the most acceptable pattern for a model.  A dozen different samples will be enough – not all Pickford’s vans for a week, as sometimes happens when one asks for the Army.  Our readers will kindly understand that this offer holds good until further notice.  I will let them know if it becomes my duty to affiliate this venture to any organization indicated later by the War Office; or if I have to go and make the Germans laugh at my conception of military duties in the Essex trenches.....

In October 1914, I wrote that the feeling of the nation for the Army came as something of a surprise.  But if we were proud, honoured, and grateful to lend a hand then, what shall be the measure of our love and regard to-day?

Yours faithfully,
8, King’s Bench Walk, Inner Temple, E.C., Oct. 20.

[This is the first of the appeals from John Penoyre for the 1915-16 winter - he had written several letters to the Times during the previous winter, of which this was the most recent.  

I think that "I am authorized to tell your readers that the War Office thoroughly approves" is a reference to Sir Edward Ward's appointment as Director General of Voluntary Organisations - it seems that John Penoyre had checked that he could carry on with this efforts to provide sweaters, even though Sir Edward was asking only for mufflers and mittens at this point - see here

John Penoyre had a very lively style, but the classical and other references are sometimes a bit hard to follow.  I have omitted one part that I couldn't begin to explain.   Proteus was a Greek shape-changing sea-god, and here the name signifies that men in the Army came in all shapes and sizes.  Procrustes was a villain in Greek mythology who cut the legs off passing travellers, or stretched them out, to fit his bed.  I think John Penoyre means (again) that soldiers were not all a standard size, though the analogy with Procrustes doesn't quite work.   

Pickford's is a removals company with a long history - perhaps the Post Office called them in when they had a large volume of deliveries to the same address. ] 

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