WWI Red Cross quilt set for bidding battle

A Red Cross quilt made by residents of a small town in New Zealand during the First World War is to be auctioned in Leicestershire-based Gildings Auctioneers’ Jewellery, Watches & Vintage auction on June 7.

During the First World War, some residents of the town of Otautau in the remote Southland region of New Zealand paid a small fee for squares of calico and red embroidery cotton which they used to embroider names, pictures and phrases. The squares were then sewn together to make one of the many Red Cross quilts which formed a key part of the charity’s international initiatives to enable those at home to send practical aid to soldiers at the front.

The quilt was displayed in the window of Boyd’s shop in Otautau, before being sent to a military hospital near London for injured soldiers from New Zealand.

Some time after the war, the Otautau Quilt came into the possession of a Mr M F Ambler of Cumbernauld, near Glasgow. In 1976, the local newspaper, the Southland Times published a letter from Mr Ambler, which resulted in a flurry of correspondence from people who either embroidered a square for the quilt or remembered others doing so.

This correspondence, comprised of over twenty letters, is being offered alongside the quilt in the auction. It includes correspondence between the then editor of the Southland Times and the Secretary General of the New Zealand Red Cross with Mr Ambler. Another letter is from Lucy Pullar, (née McNaughton), whose name appears on the quilt and was the focus of a Southland Times article on the subject on April 6, 1976.

One particularly poignant letter tells of a square that was embroidered by a mother who had given birth to a baby boy two days earlier. That boy went on to become a squadron leader in the Royal New Zealand Air Force and subsequently lost his life in World War Two and was buried in St Eval, Cornwall.

“We’re delighted to be offering this unique piece of social history from World War One at our upcoming auction,” commented Gildings director Will Gilding. “Both the quilt itself and the correspondence surrounding it dating from six decades after it was made, are testament to its special place in a small town’s heritage, and in the wider context of New Zealand’s role in the First World War. Now that it has resurfaced again almost another half a century on, it is our hope it will find a new home with someone who will continue to treasure it for posterity.”

Examples of the embroidered squares on the quilt include a dog beating a drum, a British bulldog with a flag, a rabbit, the Maori phrase ‘Kia ora’ with a floral garland above and a pair of shoes with the phrase ‘We miss the patter of your little feet’.

The Otautau Quilt is estimated at £100 – £200. The auction also includes a vibrant collection of textiles from the Indian subcontinent and central Asia.