The Dunera Boys

We are delighted to announce that ‘The Dunera Boys’ tapestry panel, which has been worked on tirelessly by our embroiderers for a number of years, has finally been completed. We have found a willing volunteer to transport this safely to join the Australian Quaker Tapestry, hopefully in 2022 – flights permitting!

The Australian tapestry project was first mentioned in 2005 when Verley Kelliher, an Australian member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), visited the Quaker Tapestry Centre in Kendal and subsequently had the idea of starting the Australian Narrative Embroidery Project, known informally as the Australian Quaker Tapestry. As the panels are completed, the finished embroideries are mounted and then displayed in Quaker Meetings and other venues around Australia. The project committee say,

“Our project is a community arts project. It is based on the UK Kendal Quaker Tapestry which in turn is based on the Bayeux Tapestry. It is a series of embroidered panels which tell a story and this is why we call it a ‘tapestry’ when it is actually an embroidery.

As of 2021 we have twenty three completed panels and another ten in progress. We envisage at least forty, but we have enough fabric for seventy.”

The Australian Quaker Tapestry

In 2007 the project committee brought Bridget Guest, Exhibition Director of the Quaker Tapestry at Kendal, to Australia to hold workshops both in Sydney and at Woodford, New South Wales, where she demonstrated the stitches and the techniques used at Kendal to create narrative embroidery.

Dunera Boys
Ship and Dolphins Detail

Following on from the initial workshops, Australian amateur embroiderers from every state and territory have created a number of panels showing Australian Quaker history.

As the Australian project was inspired by the British Quaker Tapestry project, the layout, panel sizes, stitches, and embroidery materials used are similar to the Quaker tapestry in Kendal, but there is no restriction on the colours of the woollen crewel embroidery threads that are used, and Australian wool has been hand woven into an unique background material, which is used for each panel.

The panels depict Quaker history in Australia since 1770, with the arrival of the first Quaker, Sydney Parkinson, a botanical artist with Captain Cook’s expedition, until the present day. The intent of the project is to have forty panels. All of the panels are mounted on archival board using Velcro and brought together once a year to be displayed at the Australian Yearly Meeting, a general meeting for all Australian Quakers, which is held each year in a different state.

The Dunera Boys Panel

Dunera Boys
The Dunera Boys Panel Cartoon

Back in 2015 the Australian Quaker Tapestry project invited us to create a panel about The Dunera Boys. The idea was that the panel be designed and stitched in Kendal – reciprocating the panel ‘Elizabeth Fry and the Patchwork Quilts’, which the Australian Quakers stitched for the UK Quaker Tapestry project in the 1980s. However ‘The Dunera Boys’ was a not a subject familiar to us.

After reading a short synopsis Roy Wilcock, Bridget’s partner and Quaker Tapestry volunteer, became enthused with the idea. Tasked with encapsulating this scandalous episode in British history onto an embroidered panel, Roy began detailed research of the events. This enabled him to come up with the final design (drawn by Bridget).

History of ‘The Dunera Boys’

Prior to the Second World War, the anti-Semitic policies of Adolf Hitler had caused many Jewish families to flee Europe to seek refugee status in Britain. They were welcomed and accepted in society to start new lives and businesses away from the tyranny.

At the start of hostilities and not knowing how many had entered Britain, the Wartime Cabinet under Winston Churchill feared that many could be ‘Fifth Columnists’, Fascists or Nazi sympathisers, a threat to national security. The decision was made to arrest all known refugees and categorise them according to their political status. Approximately 71,000 men aged 16-80 were subsequently transported at short notice to internment camps in Britain and the Isle of Man. The government arranged deportation orders to Canada and Australia for those who were perceived as being the highest security threat to wartime Britain.

Dunera Boys
Chris and Adrian Modelling for the Cartoon

His Majesty’s Troopship ‘Dunera’, built to carry 1,600 men was docked in Liverpool and it was used to transport 2,542 refugees on the 10th July 1940. Unfortunately, the armed guard consisted of untrained and ill-disciplined men from the newly formed Pioneer Corps under the command of Lt-Col William Patrick Scott. At the dockside, the men were searched and any items of value were stolen by the guards, roughly bundled below deck and into a poorly lit and smelly hold with an insufficient number of hammocks. Many slept on the floor using their boots as pillows for the 57-day journey and they were only allowed on deck for a half-hour of exercise each day, even then they were beaten by guards.

The conduct of the guards was ignored by Scott and a Courts Martial in 1941 saw only derisory charges and disciplinary measures handed to him and two others.

In Australia, the treatment was more humane as they were distributed to three internment camps, the one at Hay in New South Wales being the largest. Many visits were made by local Quakers who interviewed the men to discover their stories and how they could be helped in their incarceration.

The Quaker involvement reached Britain and persistent lobbying of Parliament led to a drastic reversal of attitudes. About half of the internees returned to Europe but the others stayed to make a great contribution to the artistic, scientific and cultural life of Australia.

These events are so shrouded in secrecy that the official documents of this story are still subject to a 100 year embargo by the British government!

If you are interested you can check out our previous blog for further reading.

Roy Wilcock’s full research can be found here.

So how can such a story be reduced down to a few key images and words?

A difficult task but there were strong elements throughout which were destined to became part of the final design. The heading at the top leads viewers into the story. The ship, Dunera, was a floating prison which concealed the brutality administered by the British army guards to the detainees.

Dunera Boys
Janet Embroidering the Dunera Panel

The panel goes on to show hope and friendship offered by the Quakers in Australia, and later when the story broke in Britain. The two people talking through a mesh screen depicts Quakers talking to internees in the camp and detailed along the bottom of the panel are the tools and books that Quakers gave them to break the monotony; typewriters, books, irons, carpentry tools and shoes to play football. Dolphins in the foreground represent freedom and the waves beneath them have lots of colour to reflect the multifaceted parts of who these boys were.

The Dunera Panel was embroidered by a group of volunteers including our outgoing General Manager, Bridget Guest. The embroidery began in April 2017 by our embroidery group called the PHDs (Projects Half Done) and the finished panel will now join the twenty-three panels of the Australian Quaker Tapestry completed so far.

Throughout the intervening period, the embroiderers worked on The Dunera Boys in our embroidery area of the exhibition, intermittently pausing their work to chat to interested visitors.

Getting it Ready

Dunera Boys
The Dunera Panel Being Hoovered

The panel was vacuumed by volunteers Janet and Roy, which was done through a special net frame to prevent damage and using our special conservation vacuum cleaner. Then the panel was then professionally photographed by Chris Holmes, who used lighting and angles to make sure the texture really stood out in 3D and that the silver thread in the sea foam glinted dynamically.

What Next? – Where is it going?

Now that the panel has been completed, it will be taken over to Australia in the coming months of 2022. It will be hand delivered by a trustee of the museum to ensure it suffers no damage on the trip. On arrival, it will be added to the other panels that make up the Australian Quaker Tapestry, as well as the nine currently in progress.

Dunera Boys
Dunera Panel Hoovering Closeup

Further Information

If you enjoyed reading this article, check out some of our other blog posts:

Discover our new Quaker doll display

Find out about our new Hidden Gem award from Visit England

Explore our new online poetry anthology, ‘Water Courses’

Read about the 27-year tenure of our retiring General Manager, Bridget Guest

Supporting the Quaker Tapestry

We hope you have enjoyed reading our blog and gained an insight into the work that goes into creating a panel.

We couldn’t accept and care for our tapestries and other wonderful artefacts without our dedicated Care and Conservation team. However we need your help to…

– Create an improved database of the extensive Quaker Tapestry collection of supplementary items

– Acquire conservation materials

– Develop best practice of the Care and Conservation volunteers through further training

Your donation will help us achieve our goals and ensure the longevity of the exhibition and collection. Please consider making a donation.

Alternatively, if you are interested in purchasing a gift why don’t you check out our online shop?

Quaker Tapestry Facts

The colourful tapestry panels measure 63.5cm x 53.3cm and are made using a mix of five ancient stiches and a new one, invented for the project. Embroiderers around the world now use the ‘Quaker Stitch’.

World traveller and writer Alexander McCall Smith, says they’re one of the ‘six best tapestries’ to see in the world.

The panels help you find out about famous scientists, engineers, bankers, botanists and non-conformists who pioneered industrial welfare, fair trade, prison reform, peace work and anti-slavery initiatives. Many were Cumbrians.

Begun in 1981 and completed in 1996, they’re the work of 4,000 men, women and children from around the world. Some of the panels made journeys of thousands of miles as they passed from one group of people to another.

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“Who would have thought a wash-day could be so much fun, I have learnt such a lot today!”

Jill, volunteer, Care & Conservation of the Collection Team