“An Extraordinary Blanket” crocheted by Prisoner of War, Private Donald S Chalmers, WW2, 6 Field Ambulance

In family history terms an acclaimed “discovery” is usually the result of breaking down a “brick wall” after many years of research to find details of a relative. My discovery this week is quite different from this sense, but is one I would like to share with interested parties as well as those with an interest in the Chalmers family descended from James Leslie Chalmers, born in Aberdeen, Scotland, 9 February 1837, who had arrived in New Zealand with his Bride, Eugenie Adelaide Smith, immediately following their marriage at Port Louis, Mauritius in 1873.

My “discovery” relates to Donald Scott Chalmers, a grandson of James Leslie and an “extraordinary blanket” he had stitched while a Prisoner of War in Europe, World War II.

Donald Chalmers' "Extraordinary Blanket"

Donald Chalmers’ “Extraordinary Blanket”


Donald Chalmers' "Extraordinary Blanket" - a close up photograph.

Donald Chalmers’ “Extraordinary Blanket” – a close up photograph.


The following letter (author unknown) accompanied the donation of the blanket:

“The Blanket Extraordinary
Not only did the late Rev. Don Chalmers JP leave a legacy of service before self, but also monuments to his perception and practical ability.  Pre-eminent among the latter, was this remarkable blanket, made by him while he was a P.O.W. For a crochet hook he heated a tooth-brush and bent it to shape.
Materials comprised such items of clothing as discarded socks and jerseys.
Notwithstanding the very limited choice of colour, this open-weave blanket portrays in symmetrical pattern, the colours of the three armed services; truly a remarkable feat. How, you may ask, did he acquire the art of crochet? – by watching an aunt in his younger days.
The essence of a person’s worth is whether he or she will be missed, and Don certainly will be.  Throughout his life he was imbued with a sense of service to humanity.  Pre-war, as a bank employee, he was involved in youth projects.  During WWII his tenure with the Sixth N.Z. Field Ambulance was brief, for on Crete his devotion to the wounded contributed to his capture.
As a POW he regarded blanket-making as an incidental activity for much of his time and energy was devoted to the care and interests of his fellow prisoners.
Post war saw Don enter the ministry and apart from serving the community he was prominent in ex-service affairs.  He was accorded life membership of the NZ Ex Prisoners of War Association, he was Vice Patron and Chaplain of the Crete Veteran’s Association in Auckland, and ex 6 Field Ambulance members will remember his officiation at reunion services.
Don’s wife Noelene lives at their home at Huia, the construction of which over many years epitomises the team effort which was an important factor in their fruitful married life.
Yes, Don will be missed and the blanket extraordinary is a tangible tribute to his determination in adversity.”

More about my Uncle Don’s experiences as a Prisoner of War may be found in the Auckland Star, October 30, 1943, NEW ZEALANDERS BACK FROM GERMANY – VARIED EXPERIENCES Aucklander Travels Far Over Europe.

Many thanks to cousin Julia Brown (on the Berry side of our family) for alerting me to the existence of the Blanket, and to Mrs Sue Stevens, AC Textiles, National Army Museum, Waiouru for providing the photographs.

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