H10030 — Pte. Stokes with embroidery, 1917
Image 2: H10031 Pte Stokes with embroidery (detail) – 1917
Wounded and convalescing soldiers were given useful jobs and crafts to aid their recovery. World War 1 saw the origins and development of Occupational Therapy. Here a ‘blue boy’ is depicted with his embroidery.
As part of rehabilitation during and after the First World War, many injured men were taught embroidery, crochet, knitting, filet lace, tatting or netting. They embroidered images that were then stuck onto the front of blank postcards so they could send a personal postcard that they had made. Unmarried men made pincushions to send to their sweethearts and these often had pictures of flowers and a little message embroidered on them. Most of the embroideries on the postcards were of military images such as the badges of military units or a warship with a phrase such as ’Rule Britannia’. At some point, embroidering postcards fell out of favour and men started to embroider, or make, useful household items that they could send home; this man seems to be making a book cover. There were economic reasons for men to make household items. Military disablement pensions were low, many men did not qualify for the pensions because the medical profession did not have much understanding of mental illness, despite the large number of men with shell shock and Britain was suffering financially in the post-war period, so many wives would have appreciated a practical gift from their husbands.
He is using a slate frame. It is not made of slate. It is normally made of beech. The advantage of using a slate frame is that you can secure the embroidery so it is very taut — and for someone recovering from something like a wound to their hands and arms, or with shell shock, using a slate frame would overcome any lack of dexterity by making the embroidery taut enough to work on more easily.
The type of embroidery he is doing is called long stitch and it is done using wool, so the needle is fairly large. It makes sense to teach the men to use very thick wool to embroider because they did not need to be as dexterous as when using embroidery floss.
He is described as a blue boy — because he is dressed in ’hospital blues’