Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Sock It To Me #2

 Yesterday, our Principal Archivist found this fantastic letter sent from the front during World War One thanking the ladies of Orkney for all the packages of socks that they had conveyed to the soldiers. The author of this thank you note? Stanley Cursiter, Orkney's best known artist.

Most of the Women's Institute and Church groups had been producing mountains of socks to send out to the troops and this letter shows just how much these gifts were appreciated by the recipients.

"My Dear Ladies,

I feel as though I had almost laid myself open to a charge of obtaining goods on false pretences. In spite of my intentions, I have to confess that I have not been able to carry out my part of the compact, and the parcel of socks which arrived so opportunely was distributed without my personal supervision. However, I am in a position to describe it, and also to express, on behalf of my platoon, their deep appreciation of your kindness."

Cursiter goes on to give a bleak description of life in the trenches:

"It is difficult to describe what the front really means. One is so apt to think of it as a rather well-defined region ending in a neat barbed-wire entanglement on the edge of 'No Man's Land', where the whole army lives in trenches and dug-outs; instead of which it is mud - mud of all colours and consistencies, of different depths, but always mud. One eats it, drinks it, sleeps in it and it cakes on one's uniform and clothes like a crust. That is the real and lasting impression of the Front which I am sure the greatest number of men will carry with them."

...and he explains exactly why something as basic as socks is such a luxury...

"Of course, where the trenches are flooded, and in the cold weather, the men rub their feet daily, or, at least, as often as possible with whale oil or 'anti-frostbite'; then, after a few days soaking, when the sock is removed, well, it is unsavoury, and an extra pair is a real treasure."

Cursiter signs off by saying that the socks sent are "probably in the actual firing line at the moment". There was a short statement underneath the letter telling readers of The Orcadian that meetings for giving out materials and receiving finished pieces for the soldiers were held at the old library building in Laing Street on Saturday afternoons in the Ladies Room, which I presume did not mean the same thing then as it does today.

I don't know about you, but that letter makes me want to put on my fluffiest, warmest pair of socks and just sit there feeling smug about the situation. Do join in.

Stanley Cursiter's letter can be found in the edition of The Orcadian dated 13th of January 1917.

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