MBE for Knitting – Janet Bowie

My husband is trained well. That sounds patronising doesn’t it? Perhaps I should phrase it another way. How about, my husband loves me very much and takes a keen interest in my hobbies. Yes, that sounds much better, let’s try that again.

My husband loves me very much and takes a keen interest in my hobbies. So when he went to New Zealand for work and found himself in the elevator of one of his clients (Dunedin City Council), he excused himself from the conversation he was having with said client in order to take a photo with his phone of this poster.

It’s a bit grainy but it says: After making 736 pairs of socks for New Zealand soldiers during the Great War, Janet Bowie was awarded the world’s first and only MBE for knitting.

Not only did he potentially embarrass himself in front of (male) clients in order to take this picture, but he also seemed suitably impressed at this most amazing feat!

Just think about it. World War I went for four years. So that’s 184 pairs of socks per year. That’s 3.5 pairs of socks each week!

Not only that, but each of these pairs of socks are exactly that, a pair! That means 7 individual socks every single week for four years. Or 368 individual socks per year. Or 1472 individual socks in total.

This mammoth effort is even more phenomenal to those of us who have experienced “Second Sock Syndrome”. *

It occurred to me a few days later that I should try to find out more about Janet Bowie. This occurrence took place first thing on a Monday morning just after arriving at work and I immediately performed a Google search to see what I could find. **

Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, I didn’t find much. I actually had to couple “Janet Bowie” with the word “knit” and some double-quotations before I found anything useful. Even then it was a disappointingly small result. Disappointing not just because I was hopeful to stave off the work week for a few more minutes; but also because this was a most remarkable and worthwhile endeavor and I thought it deserved a bit more Internet space. I tried to look positively at the situation and supposed that if Mrs Bowie were to knit 736 pairs of socks for today’s diggers then she would have a blog documenting each pair and a huge following on facebook and twitter.

The first link I found was this one.


After registering (it’s free) you can go to page 6 and see the picture from the elevator. It seems to be an advertisement for the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum.

The second link (I think) is to that Museum’s collection site; it looks as if they have Mrs Bowie’s MBE. There is also a short blurb here on Mrs Bowie’s life which, to be honest, was enough stalking for me.


Janet Bowie's MBE

I have always felt that knitting was a wonderful, generous and magical hobby. When my mother created garments for us as children I would hold the fabric she created from yarn and stare in wonder, trying to make sense of all the little knots. That magic didn’t fade she taught me to knit, I still pause regularly while knitting to admire my handywork and marvel at how I could have created something so beautiful and practical.

Some might mock or deny this magic but it holds true even today and this is proven by the thousands of traditionalist who still dedicate hours of time as well as oodles of cash to this pursuit when they could opt for a cheaper and less time consuming machine-made “equivalent” (I use the term loosely).

This MBE should remind us that knitting is not just a dorky habit for elderly women. This “dorky” habit kept people warm, reminded people of their homes, gave them a connection to their families and their country and re-enforced not only what they were fighting for but that there were people back home doing their bit to help out.

OK enough of this pondering, I’m making myself cry. I think I’ll go and knit a square.


* I have not personally experienced Second Sock Syndrome having never actually knitted a sock. I have, however, experienced Second Glove Syndrome and can only assume they are quite similar.

** Occurrences seem to always happen to me first thing on a Monday morning. One might assume this has something to do with procrastination and a reluctance to admit that the working week has begun; but I don’t because I’ve always been told that to assume makes an ass out of you and me.


9 thoughts on “MBE for Knitting – Janet Bowie

  1. Hi Likelylass, I have never posted anything on a blog before, tweeted or anything technical and am not even sure whether I can track this page down again…but I just did what you did, looked for info on Janet Bowie, and found your piece. I too can so relate to the dedication, thought and resilience of a woman doing what she could to bring comfort, foot care and a little piece of home to the men while they were away fighting. Knitting can be used for so many purposes. Here in Christchurch so many craft initiatives have emerged out of the earthquake experience…bringing people together, care, remembrance and some colour in what can be a bit of a grey city with some much destruction around…J

    • Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! It means so much. Here in Sydney I cannot even imagine what it was like to live through the earthquake and the ongoing rebuild.

      I’d love to know how you found out about Janet Bowie if you want to share! Is she very well known in NZ?


  3. Hello, I am doing a project a school where we put information about our ancestors into a visual image. Janet Bowie is my great Aunties great grandmother (approximately). I typed her name into Google and found it amazing to find that you have written about her! I’m going to my great aunties to get more information on her within the next week, so I will be able to give you a bit more information about her if you wish! I’m hoping you get this message as you haven’t been on this site since January 2014.

    Hope to hear back soon

    • So glad I logged on today! Been thinking I should re-start this blog for a while and this is my reward. I would love to hear any information you have, she was an amazing woman 🙂

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