In April 2015, Riverhouse Barn launched a community stitch project to commemorate the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign, and the important role of the Mount Felix Hospital in Walton on Thames during the battle and throughout the First World War. April 25, marks the anniversary of the Australian and New Zealand forces – ANZAC, fighting on the Gallipoli peninsular against the Ottoman Empire.
ANZAC Day, held on April 25 is now a national day of remembrance in Australia and New Zealand, that broadly commemorates all ANZACS who have served and died in all wars, conflicts and peacekeeping operations.
The Mount Felix Hospital (New Zealand General Hospital) was established for soldiers from New Zealand, who were wounded at Gallipoli and later battles. Between 1915 and 1919, 27,000 soldiers passed through the military hospital, which was once a large mansion with 18 acres of ground.
According to newspaper from the time, rehabilitation life at Mount Felix was a welcomed break from fighting. As soldiers got better, they were encouraged to take part in sports, regattas and festivities. The nearby Thames was used for fun events like sports days with mixed teams of patients and nurses.
The team at the project researched real life stories of soldiers who were treated at the hospital. They traced their journey from New Zealand, through to fighting at Gallipoli, to their being wounded and being brought to Mount Felix. They identified three stories of soldiers who met and fell in love with their future wives during their time in hospital, along with other stories from the nurses, doctors and members of Walton’s community.
This narrative has been beautifully illustrated by Andrew Crummy, who previously designed the Prestonpans Tapestry, a 104m long, community stitch project in Scotland. His Mount Felix illustrations form a tapestry of 44 panels that were created by an army of more than 600 volunteer stitchers from all walks of life – including, ex-soldiers, WI members, school children, embroiders, nurses and even the wife of the New Zealand High Commissioner stitched a panel – it was truly a community effort.
The stories depicted are of powerful tales of courage and love, the power of community, friendship and family. Preserved in stitch is the story of a community taking in wounded soldiers, far from home, into their hearts and their homes. The finished tapestry was displayed in the Robert Phillips Gallery in April 2017 and it is currently hanging at the Riverhouse Barn Arts Centre in Walton.
The team at the project decided to start a crowdfunder page to raise enough money to be able to tour the magnificent tapestry, as far afield as New Zealand, where some of the tapestry has been stitched and where the descendants of the soldiers and nurses who passed through Mount Felix Hospital now live.
The team need to raise enough money to keep the stories alive and the target is £30,000 which will give them enough money to frame, store, manage the tour and provide transport.
For more information on the rest of the project, visit www.mountfelixtapestry.co.uk or if you would like to contribute to the rest of the project, visit: www.crowdfunder.co.uk/mount-felix-tapestry-tour
By Georgia Lambert