When the island of Singapore surrendered to the invading Japanese army early in 1942 many British service personnel and civilians, including women and children, were sent to internment camps.
Apart from the many privations of camp life one of the great problems was boredom and the idea of making large patchwork quilts formed of individually embroidered squares met with a ready response from a number of the women internees.
As very little contact was allowed between the men's and women's sections of the camp, many of the men had no idea whether their wives and children had survived. Each contributor was therefore asked to 'put something of themselves' into their square in addition to embroidering her name. When, with the permission of the Japanese Commandant, the quilts were given to the Military Hospital at Changi Barracks they provided lists of names of women who were at least alive. This news spread through the hospital and beyond.
The quilts were all made during the first six months of internment and fulfilled a dual purpose during this very difficult period. A small embroidered message was attached to the rear of each quilt stating that it was to be passed to a Red Cross Society at the cessation of hostilities. On a practical note the messages contained the instructions "It is advisable to dry clean this quilt".
Three quilts are known to exist and it is probable that there was a fourth as the quilts were intended to be presented to the Red Cross Societies of Britain, Australia, Canada and Japan at the cessation of hostilities. One quilt now hangs at the British Red Cross museum in London and another two quilts at the Australian War Memorial Museum, Canberra. The whereabouts of the alleged fourth quilt is unknown.