"A Pair of Grey Socks: Facts and Fancies"
by Tryphena Soper Duley, 1866-1940, Verses by Margaret Duley, 1894-1968.
St. John's, Newfoundland: 1916.
With Remembrance Day approaching, it felt particularly meaningful to republish "A Pair of Grey Socks", first published in St. John's, Newfoundland in 1916. At that time, Newfoundland was a colony of Great Britain. It would not join Canada until 1949, in the wake of another world war. Newfoundlanders, like many Canadians, were closely tied culturally to the "mother country". Boys and men from Newfoundland's cities and outports flocked to the newly formed Royal Newfoundland Regiment, which fielded a full battalion of 1,000 men for the Gallipoli campaign of 1915.
In Newfoundland, as in Canada, women worked to support the war effort. By the end of 1914, Newfoundland's Women's Patriotic Society (WPA) included 218 branches. They contributed loads of hand-knitted grey socks and other apparel to be shipped overseas. By the end of 1916, members of the W.P.A. had produced some 62,685 pairs of socks, 8984 shirts, 6080 pairs of cuffs, 2012 handkerchiefs, and 1731 nightshirts. They also raised money to support the war effort.
"A Pair of Grey Socks, Facts and Fancies" was "Lovingly dedicated to the boys of the Newfoundland Regiment. And to every woman who has knitted a pair of grey socks." The booklet, with prose by Tryphena Duley and verse by her daughter Margaret, described grey socks as "a bond of unity between rich and poor, high and low, between all mothers who have sons in the war, between all women who knit."
Tryphena and Margaret had connections to both rich and poor in Newfoundland, though they were most comfortable placing themselves among the well-to-do elite of St. John's. Tryphena Chancey Duley was born on Christmas Day 1866 in Carbonear, then a thriving outport village. One of seven children of John and Julia Soper, Tryphena was adopted by a childless aunt and uncle who lived in St. John's, Margaret Parnel Wilkinson and Lionel Thomas Chancey. Margaret Iris Duley, born September 27, 1894, was the second daughter and fourth child of Tryphena and Thomas James Duley, a St. John's jeweller.
As mother and daughter collaborated on "Grey Knitting", the first world war was threatening their family. Two of Margaret's three brothers had enlisted. Cyril Chancey Duley, born May 24, 1890, enlisted in 1914. Lionel Thomas Duley, born December 3, 1897, enlisted on July 8, 1916, just days after the first day of the Battle of the Somme (July 1, 1916) where the Royal Newfoundland Regiment was almost entirely wiped out. The third brother, Nelson Montgomery Duley, was declared unfit for service because of tuberculosis, and was shunned and harassed for cowardice because he did not serve.
Even so, in 1916, the tone of "Grey Knitting" is generally optimistic. The bravery and determination of the boys in the trenches is emphasized; as is the love and concern of the women at home, and the importance of their work. The main characters are a young shy girl of the outports and her brother and his friend at Gallipoli. One compelling scene describes the terror of the girl's mother when the minister comes to call; she is completely overcome by fear that his knock at the door means fatal news of her son.
Such news would arrive at Tryphena and Margaret's door before the end of the war. Second Lieutenant Cyril Chancey Duley was injured by exploding shells on December 8, 1916, and sustained wounds to the face, chest, right hand, right knee, and left thigh. He was sent home to Newfoundland where he eventually reached the rank of Captain as a Headquarters officer. He was honoured with a 1914-15 Star and the Order of the British Empire (Military Division). Second Lieutenant Lionel Thomas Duley died less than two months before the Armistice was signed, on September 29, 1918, at Kieberg Ridge.
John Clift, another young Newfoundlander, returned from the war with a Military Cross and poor health, dying February 12, 1920. There had been no formal engagement, but Margaret felt Jack Clift's death deeply, writing to her sister Gladys "Don't picture me as a tragic figure - I'm just the same as ever only I can't bear the sight of H.R.B. and H.B.", two healthy young men of her acquaintance. It was her second loss in a very short time: her father Thomas Duley, Tryphena's husband, died earlier in 1920.
The two women remained active in St. John's society and in community work. Tryphena was deeply involved with the Congregational church and fiercely supported the Temperance League. She died in 1940.
Margaret became a leader of the Women's Suffrage movement and a published writer. Her novels won international recognition, but were less appreciated at home. "The Eyes of the Gull" (1936), "Cold Pastoral" (1939), "Highway to Valour" (1941) and "Novelty on Earth" (1942) vividly capture the language and feeling of Newfoundland's outport and city cultures and characters. Her books were ahead of their time in portraying women's concerns. A fifth novel was rejected, and Margaret destroyed the manuscript. Her last book, "The Caribou Hut" (1949), is a history of the "peaceful invasion" of St. John's by thousands of World War II servicemen, written for the St. John's War Services Association. It was based on Margaret Duley's experience volunteering at the St. John's military hostel: it is by turns intimate, compassionate, sarcastic and funny.
Margaret never married, but maintained close friendships within her family. After she began to suffer from Parkinson's disease in the 1950's, her sister-in-law and a niece took her in, and cared for her until her death in 1968.
[Many of the dates and details mentioned here are taken from "Margaret Duley, Newfoundland novelist" by Alison Feder. Others come from online military records.]