Olympic Wireless Operator - A Housewife


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Jan 5, 2001
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Running through a list of personel effects of Kevin Cowley, Olympic's First Wireless Operator who died aboard her in June 1929, there is among the items listed 'a housewife.' Presumably this does not mean his wife or girlfriend, but some sort of object. Unless of course wives were referred to as possesions, which would draw rightful feminist protest today, and even then.

Best regards,

Mark.
 
Jan 5, 2001
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Hi Pat!

Thanks very much for that -- I was wondering what the list was on about. Cowley may have needed a sewing kit, because he was also listed as having one odd sock!

Sincerely, thanks;

Best regards,

Mark.
 
May 8, 2001
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Pat. You sure have allot of horse sence! You find all sorts of interesting information! Thank you for that list. Always enjoyable to see where slang-like terms came from.
I have decided that the word that best suits me would have to be dogrobber- The soldier of a group who cooks for everyone else.
(Wonder if I explained the term to Robert, if he would appreciate it?)
smile.gif
 

Dave Gittins

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The term was widely used. My Australian father had a housewife in WW II and maybe soldiers still carry them. The key items were needles, thread and buttons. They were carried in a strong length of cloth with little pouches in it. It could be rolled up into a thing the size of a fist. I believe that in some circles they pronounced it something like 'hussif'.

Nothing odd about Cowley. Everybody has one odd sock! That's because socks disappear into dark corners, where they turn into wire coat hangers.
 

Pat Cook

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Mark, glad to be of help. I THOUGHT I had seen that term somewhere.

Colleen, I have also heard the term, tho' not for a very long time, 'dogrobber' (No, Geoff, not while I was IN the Civil War!). It puts me in mind of a phrase which Fiona uses (Fiona, if you're reading this - write me; I've lost your email!), in which she describes a mess as a 'dogs breakfast'. I tend to think this term actually came from the old soldier's gripe about the food being so bad it must have been stolen from the camp dog!

Dave, so THAT'S where all those hangers come from! By the way, I used to use all my old socks for kite tails.

Best regards,
Cook
 

Pat Cook

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Thanks, Jason - glad you enjoyed it. I myself remember a FEW of these phrases. Although, in my youth, whenever I heard "Gone to see the Elephant", it usually meant someone left home to seek his fortune. This was the first time I'd heard it meant "going into combat".

Best regards, O M
Cook
 

Martin Pirrie

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When I was a student in London, there were advertisements of auctions for ex-Army paraphernalia. Desks and chairs, beds, unused Land Rovers still packed in grease, sets of cutlery, tents and, very often, "4,000 Housewifes"! The thought of 4,000 middle-aged women waiting patiently to be bought at auction kept me amused through many a lecture!
 
Oct 28, 2000
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I've always thought that soldiers marched with housewives in their packs, while sailors went to sea with ditty bags in their sea chests. Same piece of gear pretty much, different names.

== David G. Brown
 

Pat Cook

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So THAT'S what a 'ditty bag' is! I've heard that phrase for a hundred year now. It's a sewing kit.

Thanks for the info, sir.

Best regards, as always,
Cook
 
May 8, 2001
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Ditty bag...
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Well, that makes a whole lot of sence now. My mom had a ditty bag, but it had all sorts of toiletries in it we packed for vacation. it is what I call my own vacation bag. Now that I think of it, her father (my grandpa) was a 20+ year Navy vet, and would have been where she got the name.
Thanks Dave. Always fun to learn something new from you!
 

Inger Sheil

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The term was evidently current in British seamen's lexicon c. 1900 - Master mariner Frank Bullen made mention of it in his book 'The Men of the Merchant Service" when making suggestions on the "requirements of a lad on his first voyage as an apprentice in a southern-going ship". Among the types of clothing (of which I particularly liked 'three blue jean blouses') and 'stout, wide-brimmed straw hat for harbour use in the country', etc etc was 'A housewife, well supplied with needles and thread (not cotton), and mending wool, scissors, and tweezers'.

I was just re-reading Cherry-Garrard's book about the Terra Nova expedition (Scott's last Antarctic expedition) in which he makes mention of how he and his colleagues had to spend time with their housewives, mending and caring for their clothes.
 
K

Karin Kasper

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My father was in the Navy during the 1960's, and he also had a "housewife" while on board ship.
 
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This has me intrigued, so I looked up the term "Ditty Bag" in a couple of nautical dictionaries. All seemed to agree that sewing equipment was part of its contents, although two of the references were to the sailmaker's hand tools on a sailing ship. The most modern reference, De Kerchove, is specific that it contains the needles and thread for sailmaking and some marlinespike (ropeworking) tools.

A couple of U.S. Navy WW-II swabbies (actually grey-haired ex-swabbies) corrected me once for using "ditty bag" to refer to a small container for odds and ends. To them, ditty bags were their sewing kits.

Hervey Garrett Smith in his book, "The Marlinspike Sailor," describes a ditty box carried by Captain Thomas L. Crosby during his years at sea. Smith says the box, made in 1852, was for sewing equipment

For those who want to make a ditty bag, take a look on page 28 of Frank Rosenow's "Canvas And Rope Craft." He details the construction of a bag to hold marlinespike fids and other tools used in ropework. A more complete description can be found in another of Rosenow's books, this one aptly entitled, "The Ditty Bag Book."

All of this leads me to think that the term "housewife" is always applied to a sewing kit. A "ditty bag" is more specifically a bag for the kind of sewing done on sailing ships--canvas repairs, whipping lines, etc.

-- David G. Brown
 
Jan 5, 2001
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Very interesting information. Thanks! 'Ditty bag' seems to be such an aged expression when we recall it now.
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If we know that 'housewife' was still used in 1900 and the 1930s, it's interesting to wonder about how long it was used, or when it faded from seamen's vernacular.

Best regards,

Mark.
 
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