Times of War and Crisis
April 9 1940 war came to Denmark. The country was occupied by Germany and everyday life changed suddenly and drastically. Blackouts, air raid warnings, air raid shelters and fear became parts of everyday life; so did ration books, hoarding, recycling, remaking of garments and raveling handmade items.
People had to economise in all areas and inventiveness was endless: the crocheted bedspread was unravelled and the thread used for baby pants, stockings and sweaters; curtains became dresses; flour and salt sacks were sewn into pillowcases, underwear and baby clothes; floor cloths could be embroidered and sewn together for a coat. Fish skins from plaice and eel were used for shoes, belts and buttons and the lives of the soles were prolonged with durable ‘elephant nails’.
Ladies’ stockings were hard to get, so you had to take good care of the ones you had. If you had the bad luck to get a run in your stocking a grafting pin could effectively stop further running. Fibre sponges in the kettle could cut down on the gas consumption. Calcium would be deposited in the sponge and that way the allocated gas ration would last longer.
New products entered the market. Coffee substitute, soap substitute and synthetic wool were just some of these products, whose main characteristic was poor quality. It was different with the textiles sewn from the fine silk and nylon parachute cases.
The parachute cases were a result of a steadily increasing resistance towards the German occupation. A resistance that some people showed by wearing caps, pins and ear rings in red, white and blue; the colours of the British Royal Air Force. A patriotic badge with King Christian X’s monogram was another way of demonstrating your sentiment.
These were relatively innocent protests against the occupying forces, though the Germans found them provocative and banned them. Far more serious were the consequences for the Danes actively involved in the Resistance. Many women were deeply involved in this.
They were active at all levels. They wrote, printed and distributed illegal magazines. They lent their homes when Resistance men and British agents needed a new place to hide.
Women were rarely submitted to body searches, so many of them acted as couriers. Under their clothes, in their shoes, in their handbags, in their bicycle baskets and prams information, weapons and ammunition were transported from one hiding place to another. Women also took part in actual sabotage actions.
The consequences of participating in the illegal work were grave: prison, concentration camp and death sentence. Many carried ampoules of poison to be swallowed if necessary.
The Danish Women’s Civil Defence Force was established one month prior to the occupation. After a year 30,000 women had joined up. Their job was helping the civilian population with the use of gas masks during air raids and possibly with provision of food.