Bidding battle returns World War One quilt to New Zealand after 100 years

Bidding battle returns World War One quilt to New Zealand after 100 years


A Red Cross quilt made during the First World War is to return to the remote New Zealand town where it was created over a century ago. The quilt, which was made by residents of Otautau in the Southland region of New Zealand, was successfully acquired via a telephone bid from the Royal New Zealand Returned and Services' Association (RSA) during our June auction of Jewellery, Watches, and Textiles.

During World War One, Otautau residents paid a small fee for squares of calico and red cotton which they used to embroider names, pictures and phrases, some of which are dated 1917 and 1918. These 40 squares were then sewn together to make one of the many Red Cross quilts which were sent to soldiers during the war.

The quilt was displayed in the window of J.J. Boyd’s shop in Otautau, before being sent to a military hospital near London for convalescing soldiers from New Zealand. After the war, the Otautau Quilt came into the possession of a Mr M F Ambler of Cumbernauld, near Glasgow and it has remained in the UK ever since.  

“We’re delighted that the Otautau Quilt is returning home after over a century here in the UK,” comments Gildings director Will Gilding. “On hearing about the auction, the local branch of the RSA were understandably keen to get the quilt back on home soil. They faced some competition from UK-based collectors, which pushed the final price over the estimate of £200 up to £320. However, it was ultimately well worth their representatives staying up until 1.30 am New Zealand time to secure this important piece of local heritage. Although the quilt has some iron staining and a few small holes, it’s returning home remarkably intact, considering it’s a fairly delicate item without the wadding and backing of a traditional quilt.”

The story of the quilt is closely linked to Otautau’s local newspaper, The Southland Times, which published an article ahead of the auction alerting the local community to its sale. Previously, in 1976, the newspaper printed a letter from Mr Ambler, resulting in a spate of correspondence from the editor, the secretary general of the New Zealand Red Cross and people who made a square for the quilt or remembered others doing so. That correspondence, comprised of over 20 letters, was included in the auction and is now being sent to the successful bidders along with the quilt.

The quilt bears the names of many Otautau families including Lucy Pullar, (née McNaughton), who was the focus of a Southland Times article on the subject on April 6th, 1976, and the president of the Otautau Red Cross, Jane B Cupples. 

Other embroidery on the quilt includes a British bulldog with a flag, a lifebuoy ring, a songbird, good luck horseshoes, the Māori greeting 'Kia ora' and phrases including ‘Life is just one dashed thing after another’ and ‘We miss the patter of your little feet.’

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Those with similar vintage or collectable items they are interested in selling can arrange a Valuation online or by calling +44(0)1858 410 414.