The RAF Comforts Committee
The RAF Comforts Committee was formed by the Air Council in October 1939 to determine the type and quantities of ‘knitted comforts’ required for the RAF as well as arrange for their collection, storage and distribution through their depots. Inspired by a random eBay purchase of an RAF Comforts Committee pin badge some years ago, and recently rediscovering said badge, this episode delves into a little of the history of the RAF Comforts Committee.
This week is also the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
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History of the RAF Comforts Committee
The Royal Air Force Comforts Committee was formed by the Air Council in October, 1939.
I quite like the idea of this knitted comforts thing. Apparently the uniforms at the time were pretty rubbish. They weren’t particularly warm. As such, to bolster the uniform and make it more practical and comfortable for fighting wars, extra comforts were needed.
To do this, local knitting groups were formed. Organised mainly by the Women’s Institute and the Women’s Voluntary Service, these groups worked according to guidance issued by the Committee. Anyone who could knit was roped into these knitting parties, including men. At that time, it was commonplace for men to be competent knitters too.
We have some competent male knitters in the Shinybees community too, like Niel Salthorse, who has just designed and knitted a Gansey for his son.
The groups that were knitting all of these extra comforts for the airman in the RAF were
registered with the Comforts Committee. That meant that they could get supplies of free wool from the Comforts Committee in Berkley Square in London. Incentives like badges and certificates were available for their efforts. The garments or comforts would be knitted and sent back, to be exchanged for more wool.
What Happened to the Comforts Committee After World War 2?
As the war drew to a close in 1945, knitted comforts were made for needy children in the liberated countries and distributed by the Red Cross. By April, 1943, there were between 6,000 and 7,000 of these knitting party groups knitting for the Comforts Committee.
What Were The Knitted Comforts?
The main forms of knitted comforts were mittens, pullovers (preferably with polo necks) which were quite good for flying in, because none of the aircraft were heated. They were very, very cold to fly in. These jumpers made of proper woolly wool repelled moisture and were very warm as well as being fire retardant.
Balaclavas were also popular to keep the troops warm, as well as gum boot socks made of oiled wool.
The official colour of the knitwear was grey blue, also known as Prussian Blue. By 1941, there was a shortage of wool. As it was required in ever-increasing quantities, the knitters began to produce comforts in other colours, such as different shades of blue.
A pattern booklet was issued by the Air Council to go along with their wool, and these standard patterns helped to bring a sort of uniformity to the items.
The RAF Comforts Committee Badge
This episode was inspired by the Comforts Committee Badge, and let’s face it; everyone loves a badge. Each registered knitting party was issued with one badge, which usually went to the leader or organiser of that particular party. Once the knitters had completed a certain amount of work for the Comforts Committee, they were eligible to apply and pay for their own badge at a cost of a shilling each.
Thanks to the Tales From The Supply Depot blog for a lot of information about the Comforts Committee.
Want Your Very Own Comfort?
Aeroleather produce ready made versions of the comforts from the original patterns. Unfortunately, at the moment you can’t get these, which is a little bit sad. You can find them here.
Susan Crawford has a copy of the original Knitting For The RAF pamphlet, and she wrote about it in this blog. It’s well worth a look for the somewhat tongue-in-cheek imagery that was included in the original publication.
Music for this episode is with kind permission of Adam and The Walter Boys with I Need A Drink, available from iTunes.