Revisiting grafting and its common ‘namesake’

By far, the most viewed posts on my humble blog are those that I’ve called the ‘Historic Knits.’ The Sontag, the World War Socks, and the post I wrote about Lord Kitchener and the so-called Kitchener Stitch.

That post didn’t go far enough into his history and omits why he is an extremely problematic figure. I messed up. Mea culpa. I will be editing the original post to include links to this one.

Admittedly, I don’t know much about the South African (Boer) War. I know Canada participated in this conflict (and it was one of many issues which faced PM Laurier where he had to seek compromise between English and French Canada). I know that it was a conflict in southern Africa around the turn of the 20th Century.

And that is all I know off the top of my head.

However, I’ve recently learned that Lord Kitchener, the British military general who died during WWI, was involved in the Boer War. Kitchener instituted internment/concentration camps, and these became the template for what Nazi Germany would use 40 years later.

As summarized by the Canadian War Museum,

Imperial forces attempted to deny the Boers the food, water and lodging afforded by sympathetic farmers. Britain’s grim strategy took the war to the civilian population. Canadian troops burned Boer houses and farms, and moved civilians to internment camps. In these filthy camps, an estimated 28,000 prisoners died of disease, most of them women, children, and black workers. Civilian deaths provoked outrage in Britain and in Canada. This harsh strategy eventually defeated the Boers.

During WWI, Kitchener was the public face of the British enlistment. He was inextricably linked with the British war effort. Heck, when he died, his name was chosen as a patriotic symbol for renaming Berlin, Ontario. Since 1916, this city has been known as Kitchener.

Historians need to be able to critically examine the past and question the actions of individuals.

Like most historical figures (strike that, like most regular people), Kitchener is a complex individual who isn’t without flaws and controversy. He is problematic knowing his policies directly led to thousands of civilians’ deaths at the time and later to thousands upon thousands more.

Knowing that ‘grafting’ has been known as the Kitchener Stitch for well over 100 years, it likely isn’t going to leave the vernacular any time soon. I, myself, will try to avoid calling it anything other than grafting if I can. But, perhaps, next time you go to ‘kitchener the toe’ of a sock, you might remember the man and the untold numbers of lives he directly or indirectly affected with his ‘scorched earth’ war tactics.

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