The Changi quilts

“Something of herself”

The women internees in Changi Gaol were forbidden from communicating with the men held nearby. In 1942 Mrs Ethel Mulvaney, a Canadian internee, had the idea of sending coded messages to the prisoners in the form of embroidered patchwork quilts. The quilts were sent to military hospitals, ostensibly for sick men, but actually as a patchwork code.

She invited her fellow internees to contribute squares, asking each to put “something of herself” into the designs. Some squares convey general messages of patriotism, home and hope. Others conveyed specific messages to loved ones: one told a father that his wife had given birth to a boy.

Three quilts were made: one for British prisoners; one for Australian; and one, in a politic gesture, for Japanese sick. The quilt pictured here is on display in the Second World War gallery of the Australian War Memorial. Three squares of this quilt were made by Australian internees.

Quilt
Reproduction of one of the quilts produced by women interned in Changi Gaol. The quilt includes the names of four Australian women.