Spinning wool and World War I

Recently I created a new display on the history of spinning at The Wool Shed museum in Masterton. I got very interested in the subject during the development process, which included consulting with a local – and world-renowned – spinning authority, Mary Knox. And of course I do live with a spinning enthusiast.

My spinning history display at The Wool Shed, Masterton.

My spinning history display at The Wool Shed, Masterton. There was only a small space available and we had to shoehorn it in. Away from this view are several more historic spinning wheels.

Yesterday I was delighted to come across a great slice of local spinning history and I must find space for it in The Wool Shed display. The occasion was one of the Farewell Zealandia concerts at the splendid Anzac Hall in Featherston. This series of three concerts revealed many forgotten Kiwi-written songs from the World War I period. David Dell, the man behind the concerts, was director, compere and a singer. Most songs were sung separately by a male and a female singer, accompanied by a classy piano, cello and violin trio.

The songs came mostly from David’s Musical Heritage NZ Trust, which since the 1980s has done a sterling job of collecting old printed music, instruments, gramophones, music ephemera etc. David’s resources were invaluable when I wrote my Piano in the Parlour book, and he and I performed together at that book’s launch.

However, to get back to spinning…

One of the songs at the concert was called Spinning. It was written by a Masterton woman, Jane Morison, and published in 1918.

The First World War saw a resurgence of interest in spinning in New Zealand. It became a strong patriotic movement for women, who were very busy spinning wool and knitting it into garments for the ‘boys over there’.

Lydia McDonnell singing Masterton Composer Jane Morison's 'Spinning' song at the farewell Zealandia concert in Featherson, 24 April 2016.

Lydia McDonnell singing Masterton composer Jane Morison’s Spinning song at the Farewell Zealandia: Forgotten Kiwi Songs of WWI concert in Featherston, 24 April 2016.

Ms Morison’s song, dedicated to “patriotic school girls”, was noticed in the UK and the composer received a letter of thanks from the British prime minister, David Lloyd George. The lyrics are mawkish and the melody unsophisticated, but Lydia’s performance of the song was rather affecting.

We cannot all shoulder a rifle,
But there is the spinning wheel,
And work must be done, the war must be won,
For home and our country’s weal.
We cannot all enter the trenches,
Nor fight on a battle-field:
But we can spin yarn, with wool from the farm,
The spindle and distaff wield.

So we’re spinning, spinning, spinning,
While the world’s great war we’re winning.

’Tis not for lust of conquer,
’Tis not for the greed of gold,
We are fighting away with our ships of grey,
And warriors true and bold.
It is to protect our Empire,
From cruel tyrants’ sway—
So we’ll work with a will, our reels to fill,
For we have the game to play.

We are spinning, spinning, spinning,
While the world’s great war we’re winning.
—J.M., Spinster.


This entry was posted in Spinning & weaving, World War I and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Spinning wool and World War I

  1. maryinnz says:

    That’s a great song – perhaps not musically, but it expresses the sentiments of the time. Wish I could have been at the concert!.

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