Another quilt?

During World War II, which impacted greatly on the civilian population of Britain, Canadian women made hundreds of thousands of quilts and donated them to the British war relief. The collection and shipping was organised by the Canadian Red Cross, and their distribution in Britain was done by the British Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the WVS (now the WRVS). They were given to people who had been bombed out of their homes, to servicemen and women, to hospitals, sanatoria and crèches, and to refugees. They were greatly appreciated at the time; not only were they a practical gift, but they were colourful in a time of drabness, and evidence that someone cared for their plight.

The quilt tops were made largely from scraps of materials. However, in spite of the shortage of fabrics and the need to work quickly, most of these quilts were lovingly crafted to produce attractive and colourful designs. Many of them are so-called ’crazy’ designs, a variety of scraps of fabrics assembled at random. Simple block patterns were common, being quick to make and lending themselves to being made from small pieces of fabric.

The makers of the quilts mostly remain anonymous, forbidden to identify themselves by the Canadian Red Cross. Some have the name of the organisation or district that produced them, and all bore the official label which reads ’Gift of the Canadian Red Cross Society’. Recipients sometimes removed even this label, feeling it had the stigma of charity.

Of the thousands made and shipped to Britain, relatively few remain. Many of the recipients have died and the quilts have worn out or been discarded. Of those that have survived, many are treasured by their owners and in some cases have provided comfort and warmth for three generations of a family.

The quilt held by the Imperial War Museum is a rare example of a ’Roll of Honour’ quilt, constructed of twenty blocks each with a star made up of four red diamond shapes; on it are embroidered 78* names of active armed forces personnel from the families in a particular community. Stitched into the top border are the words ’Marchant Grove, Sask’ and in the bottom border ’Canada’.

It was donated to the museum by a man in Lewisham, south-east London.

*One block has only three names, and one name appears twice on the quilt in different blocks.