Embroidered autographed tablecloth : Mrs Alexandra Fowles, Lunghwa Civil Assembly Centre, Shanghai

Place Asia: China, Shanghai Shi, Shanghai
Accession Number RELAWM32380
Collection type Heraldry
Object type Heraldry
Physical description Embroidery cotton thread, Linen
Maker Fowles, Alexandra
Place made China: Shanghai Shi, Shanghai
Date made c 1942-1945
Conflict Second World War, 1939-1945

White linen tablecloth with a 85 mm wide drawn threadwork hem decorated with multi-coloured stem-stitch embroidery in mercerised cotton embroidery thread.

The centre carries a 'map' representing the Lungwha Internment Camp, with a rectangular 'fence' with three strands of barbed wire in dark blue, containing the outlines of ten buildings which include steps, windows, doors and roof profiles, also in dark blue. The buildings are labelled inside their outlines, 'GUARD [Sic] HOUSE' (x 2); 'F.'; 'D.B.'; 'K.B.'; 'SHOWER'; 'H.'; 'J.'; 'F.B.' and 'Personal Servise [Sic] EnchargE [Sic] Mrs A. FOWLES (surname in red). Two small water tanks marked 'WATER TANK LUNGWHA' in blue, flank a tall tank on a stand marked 'Waterloo', also in blue, and are located between buildings 'D.B.' and 'F.' Building 'F.B., in the centre of the rectangle, carries a Japanese Imperial flag in red and yellow. Between this building and the shower block are the outlines of two soccer goals in blue, with 'Foot-Ball Field' in green.

The outlines of slight rises and depressions within the camp, together with an area marked 'POND', are edged with stem-stitched 'grass' in various shades of green. There are four flower beds arranged in a circle around a formal pool or fountain, inside the main entrance. Each bed is filled with tiny multi-coloured chain stitched flowers.

The entrance carries the following text: 'Monday (green)/. 5th. April. 1942 (blue/red)/ Camp. (red) Lungwha (blue)/ 20/499-2233 (blue) A. FOWLES' (red). Opposite the entrance. Outside the entrance gate is a large cypher, 'AF' in white satin stitch edged with black.

There are nearly 800 signatures around the edge of the cloth, written by the inmates of the Lungwha Camp. Originally in pencil, they were then over-embroidered by Mrs Fowles, with only two remaining in pencil. Some signatures are arranged in family groups. One, for Dick Taylor, Monitor, is dated 7 July 1944. Mrs Fowles husband's signature 'R. (Raymond) C. Fowles', is embroidered in chrome yellow halfway up the proper left side

History / Summary

This tablecloth is one of a number of personal items taken into the Lunghwa Internment Camp near Shanghai by Mrs Alexandra Barr (later Fowles) in April 1942, when she was interned there by the Japanese. With the permission of the Japanese, she embroidered a map of the camp on the cloth and collected the signatures of approximately 800 internees. The signatures were originally marked in pencil and then over-embroidered in colourful cotton threads at a later date. Alexandra worked on the tablecloth throughout the years of her captivity and continued post-liberation. It was likely completed c 1947, after her marriage to Raymond Fowles in that year.

Mrs Fowles, nee Kolesnikoff (also spelled 'Kavlessnekoff'), was born near Vladivostok, Russia, in 1895. She escaped Russia and fled to China with her family following the Russian Revolution, possibly in 1921, where she joined a large group of emigre White Russians in Shanghai. Alexandra’s first marriage was to a Mr Ermakoff, who died at an unknown date. Alexandra married her second husband in Shanghai in 1931, English bachelor Arthur Barr. She maintained a keen interest in historic textiles, and worked as a hospital nurse. It was this latter experience which caused her to be stationed in the medical room at Lunghwa, where she was treated relatively well because the Japanese guards also needed attention for minor medical ailments. Arthur Barr was not interned at Lunghwa with Alexandra, however, the Yorkshire born tailor and designer, Raymond Conrad Fowles, was an internee there. At some stage Alexandra and Arthur divorced, and Alexandra later married Raymond Fowles in Shanghai in 1947. Together Alexandra and Raymond operated a store, but the rise of the Chinese Communists caused them to emigrate to Perth, Western Australia, in 1951. They then travelled to California to join Alexandra’s children in 1955. Raymond Fowles died there in 1963, his wife in 1991. Alexandra signed her tablecloth twice as 'A. Barr'. However, one of the signatures was un-picked at a later date and re-sewn as 'A. Fowles,' with the original pencil signature still visible beneath the threads.

The Lunghwa Internment Camp, or Civilian Assembly Centre, as it was called by the Japanese, was located on the site of the former Kiansu Middle School which had been heavily damaged and abandoned during fighting in 1937. It stood on a site of 60 acres, about two miles from the Lunghwa aerodrome. The camp contained seven concrete buildings, three large wooden barracks (originally stables built by the Japanese in 1937) and a number of outbuildings. There were 59 dormitories and 127 larger rooms for families. The camp held approximately 1,988 internees during the war. A number of the inmates escaped and nine eventually made their way to free China. Mrs Fowles recalled the re-capture of a Russian escapee and his subsequent execution on the football field in the camp.

Over 30 Australian civilians were interned in the camp during the war, including the following seven who signed the tablecloth: Mrs Jules Morris, Mrs V.S. Farmer, Miss C. Coleston, Mr Fred J. Drakeford, Miss G.R. Langstreth, Mr P.J. Colman, and Mr F.A. Hooley. For an unknown reason, at least 15 names have been signed upon the tablecloth more than once. The signatures are arranged in three columns around the edges of the tablecloth. When families were interned together, the signatures tend to appear in family groups. However, the signatures are also often in demographic groups. For example, the young American seamen, elderly missionaries and young mothers often signed their signatures in a specific group location on the tablecloth. Therefore, the tablecloth sheds some light on the social circles of the Lunghwa internees. Of the internees whose signatures can be deciphered, 66% were women. Of the women who signed the tablecloth, 79% were listed as colonial housewives. When women were listed as having an occupation, the most common responses were secretary, nurse and missionary. By contrast, the male internees came from a broad range of occupations, including business, government, shipping and (again) missionary. A number of children’s signatures can also be found on the tablecloth, which may have been signed by adults on their behalf.