The Mount Felix Tapestry – A Community Tapestry created in Walton between 2015- 17, and touring New Zealand in 2018-19.
The Mount Felix Tapestry – A Community Tapestry created in Walton between 2015-
17, and touring New Zealand in 2018-19.
The story of the No 2 NZ General Hospital at Mount Felix in Walton-on-Thames captured
my imagination when I first heard it in 2013. Surprisingly few local residents were aware that
27,000 wounded soldiers from NZ were treated here in Walton during the course of WWI.
Hardly anybody seemed to know why one of the main streets was named ‘New Zealand
Avenue’ or why a pub was called ‘The Kiwi’. Despite the fact that St Mary’s, the local
church, has an annual Anzac Day service and a beautiful NZ memorial with the names of
soldiers inside the church, the stories of the men who recuperated here appeared to have been
lost alongside Mount Felix itself which had largely burned down in the 1960s. Yet for those
four years, Walton welcomed soldiers from the other side of the world into its community.
A few years earlier, I had come across the work of Andrew Crummy when my mother’s
‘Rural’ (Scottish WI) had invited him to talk about a community tapestry he had designed
depicting the story of the Battle of Prestonpans. We had visited the tapestry and were struck
by the wonderful range of stitchers who had contributed. In short I thought we might be able
breathe life into our forgotten stories in the same way, and to my delight Andrew was
inspired to take the project on.
The research began both in NZ and in Walton and we discovered many wonderfully inspiring
stories of soldiers, volunteer nurses and local people, from romances on the wards to tales of
bravery under fire. We began to storyboard ideas for a series of panels. A team of volunteers
was assembled to research, co-ordinate and lead the stitching and we were up and running.
Nobody could have predicted the course the tapestry would take: personal stories, long lost
connections from across the globe, families re-united, tales of immense courage remembered
and all immortalised in stitch.
The stories depicted merely scratch the surface of the lives of the people touched by Mount
Felix, but our hope is that the tapestry celebrates not only individual tales of bravery and
love, but also a heartwarming story of a community coming together to offer solace and
comfort to soldiers far from home and suffering.
We are delighted that the Mount Felix Tapestry will be displayed around New Zealand. It is a
testament to the power of community that these stories have captured the imaginations of
people from Walton to Dunedin. More and more stories are coming to light as relatives of the
people who passed through the hospitals hear about the Tapestry.
The message in the final panel sums up the intention behind the Tapestry:
‘Walton on Thames – Keeping the Stories Alive’
Emily Boulting, Director, Riverhouse Barn Arts Centre, Walton-on-Thames