As already remarked upon with regard to Australia, it was impossible for Madame Anna A. Guérin to visit New Zealand in pursuit of personally achieving her ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ scheme within all Allied countries.
Madame Anna A. Guérin’s representative, Colonel Samuel Alexander Moffat, arrived in Auckland, New Zealand at 7a.m. on 27 August 1921, from Vancouver, Canada. He sailed into port on the ship ‘Makura’.
The New Zealand and Australian newspapers reported that Colonel Moffat was a Chevalier de la Legion d’Honneur and a former Red Cross Commissioner for the United States. In the newspapers, he was linked to Madame Anna Guérin; French Children’s League; Australian relief work in France & Flanders; Austria; Hungary; Balkan States; the ‘Duchess of Sutherland’s Hospital Fund’; and the Serbian Child Welfare organization. After his Red Cross work, he had began working for Anna’s American-Franco Children’s League. His reputation would have preceded him and his connection with Australian relief work in France (whatever that was) meant he was an ideal person to promote Anna’s memorial poppy scheme “down under”. (See Colonel Moffat’s profile in CHAPTER 7c: THE EMPIRE: DOMINION OF AUSTRALIA : POPPY)
It appears that Colonel Moffat arrived in Sydney, Australia on 13 September – he may have left Wellington, New Zealand around the 6th (?). Before he left, he must have attended a meeting of the Standing Sub-Committee of the Dominion Executive of the Returned Services’ Association in Wellington.
The Wellington Evening Post reported later (16 September) on that meeting:- “LOCAL AND GENERAL: A proposal that the Wellington Returned Soldiers’ Association should adopt the red poppy of Flanders as the national memorial flower, in accordance with the action of the American, Canadian, and English ex-service men’s organisations, was made by Colonel A. S. Moffatt at the last meeting of the Standing Sub-Committee of the Dominion Executive of the Association. After discussion, it was agreed that Colonel Moffatt should make a detailed memorandum on the subject for submission to the Dominion Executive.”
The Hawera & Normanby Star (Taranaki, 28 September 1921) reported much of the same under “LOCAL AND GENERAL – Auckland Star” but included “It was also agreed that if Colonel Moffatt arrived back from visiting the Australian Returned Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Imperial League before September 26 he would be invited to attend the Dominion Executive meeting and discuss the preposition.”
It is believed that Colonel Moffat did make it back in time to attend that meeting. He was probably only in Australia a week before he returned to New Zealand, possibly departing Sydney around 20 September. He may have arrived in Wellington on 25 September (?) in order to attend another Returned Services’ Association Dominion Executive meeting on the 26th, in Wellington – prior to the Executive making its decision later in the day. (There are a lot of question marks and guesses relating to this period of time, so any enlightenment or correction will be welcomed).
On the 26 September, the Dominion Executive of Returned Services’ Association of New Zealand officially passed a motion and adopted the poppy.
Newspapers reported the decision: The Hawera & Normanby Star wrote “R.S.A. – WELLINGTON, Sep- 26- At the New Zealand R.S.A. Conference to-day, a motion regarding soldiers’ graves was passed, namely, that the graves of all soldiers whose deaths are attributed to disabilities received during or were aggravated by their active service should be regarded as war graves, irrespective of any time limit or continuous treatment since discharge. It was decided to adopt the red poppy as the memorial flower of the fallen of the Allies. A subcommittee was authorised to work out details and choose a suitable day.”
The Ashburton Guardian (27 September 1921) reported the same decision passed plus an additional, significant sentence: “Replicas of flowers coming to New Zealand probably will be worn on Armistice or Anzac Day.”
Writing within her 1941 Synopsis, Madame Anna Guérin had been describing the time spent visiting the British Legion men in London (in September 1921) when she added “But Colonel Moffat , meanwhile was doing a very good work in Australia and New-Zealand as was my Organiser in Canada .”
An article in the Northern Advocate (29 September 1921) included what Colonel Moffat had recently written to the Association: “Shortly after the armistice was declared, the French Children’s League was started in France for the amelioration of conditions among the children of the devastated regions. During this last year the French committee agreed to adopt the poppy of Flanders as its emblem, and an invitation has been extended to the world war veterans in the Allied countries to adopt the poppy as the memorial flower of all Allied soldiers who participated in the war. Already the returned soldiers of England, the United States and Canada have adopted resolutions at their national conventions accepting as their national emblem the poppy of Flanders field, known throughout the world in connection with the war. It was immortalised in Colonel McCrae’s great war poem – “In Flanders fields the poppies grow, Beneath the crosses, row on row “
My mission to New Zealand and Australia at this time is to extend a cordial invitation to the Returned Soldiers’ Association to join in wearing the poppy on November 11 this year.
“In order to supply an exact replica of the Flanders poppy the committee has had a large quantity of these made by the war widows and orphans of devastated France. The emblems have been shipped from Paris to the various countries participating, each Government having remitted the duty on the poppies and the steamship companies and railroads, whether under Government or private control, having granted free transportation. It is planned to place these poppies on sale at a nominal price in all local associations throughout the country, in advance of Armistice Day. The net proceeds, after the expenses of the campaign have been deducted, may be divided between the work of the French Children’s League and the relief of wounded soldiers in New Zealand or any other relief which the association may choose.”
On 01 October, Colonel Moffat departed the Port of Auckland to visit Australia again – he was sailing on the ship ‘Riverina’. He went to be in Australia for Armistice Day.
… and so … Armistice Day dawned in New Zealand, Friday 11 November 1921 …
The Ashburton Guardian (of Canterbury, Christchurch) printed this article on Armistice Day 1921: “ARMISTICE DAY. CIVILIZATION’S DEBT. THE WAR’S OBJECT LESSON. OBSERVANCE IN ASHBURTON.
When the story of the Great War is told to our children’s children by the war-wise men and women whose suffering has ceased and whose anguish is over – they will surely hear of how liberty was saved and tyranny overthrown by the silent working of the law which is inexorable, inevitable, and irresistible. This is the test of our faith, the real index of our inspiration – that Providence watches over men and leads them through the gloom of war to the light of happier years. Ghastly as war is there are ghastlier things bitter as its pain, heavy as its burden, there are pains more bitter and burdens more heavy. Would any free man who has given his life for his country have saved his life by becoming slave and vassal? Would any war broken soldier take health and strength on the Prussian terms?
The qualities that we remember today, on the third anniversary of the armistice between the Allied Powers and Germany, are the qualities of courage and self-sacrifice, exemplified: by New Zealand’s soldier sons, those who gave their lives and of their physical manhood that freedom, liberty and justice might not vanish from off the earth.
Righteous war with its appeal to all that is highest and noblest in the human heart, with its inexorable demand for self-sacrifice, with its stern teaching that the worthy man must offer his life if Humanity is to save its soul, leaves a harvest of moral teaching.
In a little while all our sufferings will be forgotten, and only the heroic memory will endure. Honoured forever, immortalised by a grateful world, enhaloed by a redeemed civilisation will be those who bore the burden and stood to their duty and gave their life’s blood to the service of mankind. Against the German object-lesson will stand a greater and a nobler teaching – of how millions died and tens of millions suffered so that Peace should have its victory and Democracy should not perish.
Thus in Ashburton to-day we remembered the sacrifice of our manhood and how the burden was lifted at the signing of the armistice at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918. The silence which came that day three years ago in the trenches and the muddy battlefields of France has become a symbol associated with the observance of Armistice Day. At 11 a.m. all work, all movement, ceased for two minutes, and a quiet hush fell over the town. The thoughts of most were somewhere away overseas, straying amid the French fields of scarlet poppies, or lingering on a sandy beach lapped by the blue Mediterranean. Beautiful is the sentiment of remembrance; grand is the thoughtful moment wherein we recall those who went hence for the honour of their country. The observance of Armistice Day in Ashburton was simple, but wonderfully expressive.
IN OTHER PLACES.
WELLINGTON, This Day. The House met at 10.55 a.m. At 11 o’clock members rose, and standing in their places, observed silence for two minutes m commemoration of the signing of the armistice. At the termination of this period the hymn, “O God Our Help,” was sung by members and the public who crowded the galleries. The ceremony terminated with a verse of the National Anthem. The House then rose till 2.30 in the afternoon.
CHRISTCHURCH, This Day. Armistice Day was observed with fitting solemnity at the Cathedral. Viscount Jellicoe and staff attended. All movement was stopped, and a two minutes’ silence was observed.
DUNEDIN, This Day. Armistice was observed by a two minutes’ silence. The “Last Post” was sounded at the Town Hall.
GREYMOUTH, This Day. For Armistice Day there was no official ceremony. Two minutes’ silence was observed. Church bells rang muffled peals, and flags were half-masted.”
Newspapers were printed with news of the day’s commemorations elsewhere in the world, mainly in London.
On 09 January, the Auckland Star’s Special Correspondent described the New Zealand’s wreath laid at the London cenotaph – it was a “wreath of laurel and Flanders poppies in its very simplicity and bold colour” which was “to many minds, the most impressive of those laid at the foot of the Cenotaph. Certainly the flaming colour of that flower, with its poignant memories, embodied our Dominion’s pride and sorrow, as did the inscription in its brief simplicity, “From the Government and People of New Zealand.”
The Star’s correspondent also described an encounter outside New Zealand House: “Before midday I met two or three poppy sellers on the steps of New Zealand House, all sold out for some time and waiting for supplies. One told me that her big supply had given out so early that she had joined the queue for the Cenotaph but after being in it over an hour had regretfully given up her pilgrimage to resume her search for more poppies to add to the funds for ex-service men.”
The Press in Canterbury (15 November 1921) printed these pieces on London:
“IN MEMORY OF THE FALLEN. ARMISTICE DAY OBSERVANCE. THE PILGRIMAGE TO WHITEHALL. (By Cable-Press Association —Copyright.) (Australian and N.Z. Cable Association) (Received November 14th, 5.5 p.m.) LONDON, November 14. Two million flower bearing mourners have paid tribute to the fallen at the Cenotaph in Whitehall during the last two days. Whitehall presented a remarkable and touching scene on Sunday, a dense crowd surging towards the Cenotaph which was embanked on all sides with flowers, wreaths and crosses. Two thousand poor people placed their one or two flowers side by side with the rich man’s elaborate offering. There was much comment on the Australian and New Zealand offerings which still stand out prominently, and many affecting references were made in the crowd to the war comradeship of the Imperial and Australian soldiers.”
“LONDON, November 13. “Despite bitterly cold weather, 2000 people witnessed the unveiling of the memorial to the 97 Australians and one New Zealander buried at Harefield, in Middlesex. The vicar of Harefield, assisted by the Rev. Harrington Lees, conducted the dedication service, after which Sir J. D. Connolly (Agent- General for West Australia) unveiled the monument.
At the express wish of Sir Francis Newdegate, Governor of West Australia. Sir J. D. Connolly read his cable message: “Lady Newdegate and myself are with you in spirit.” Among the wreaths was one from Major- General Sir Nevill Smythe, who commanded the 2nd Division of the A.I.F. in France.”
“THE COMMUNIST WAY. PARIS, November 13. The arrangements for the official commemoration of Armistice Day were twice nearly upset. At the Arc de Triomphe 100 Communists unfurled a red flag, which, with a wreath, they attempted to place on the Unknown “Warrior’s tomb. The police ordered the removal of the flag, but allowed the wreath to be placed on the tomb. The Communists returned later with the object of disturbing the official ceremonial. Police reinforcements scattered them. Several arrests were made.”
Having stayed in Australia for the 11 November preparations there and for the day itself, Colonel Moffat arrived back in New Zealand on 15 November 1921. He had sailed out of Sydney on the ship ‘Makura’ and into Auckland.
On 10 December 1921, a writer of an article in the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ National Paper ‘Quick March’ challenged a regret voiced by Lieut-General Sir G. M. Macdonogh (K.C.B., K.C.M.G., Adjutant-General to the Forces). As Lieut-General Macdonogh unveiled the war memorial at Beaumont College, Windsor (UK) he “expressed a regret that the poppy had been chosen to commemorate the fallen, as it was a pagan flower representing oblivion.” The article’s retort was: “… the important thing about the poppy is not what the ancients thought about it but what the moderns think about it. The poppy may have been an emblem of forgetfulness of long ago; today it is an emblem of remembrance.”
Colonel Moffat left Wellington, New Zealand and arrived in Sydney on 13 December. He sailed out of Melbourne, Australia for England on 31 December 1921. One “Samuel A. Moffat” arrived in Liverpool on 20 February 1922, on the ship ‘Aeneas’, “in transit [to] France”. This gentleman had given his occupation as “Publicity Agent” and was aged “44” – all facts point to this being our Colonel Moffat. He would have felt happy and confident that he had been a successful ambassador for Madame Anna Guérin and La Ligue.
… and so, 1922 arrived and the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association began looking ahead to their Anzac Day in April …
A Press Association telegram out of Wellington, of 31 January, enlightened New Zealanders through their many local newspapers to the fact that “The New Zealand R.S.A. has received 396,000 artificial poppies from France for distribution throughout the Dominion prior to Anzac Day, on which anniversary they will be sold and worn in sacred memory of those who fell in the late war. Part of the proceeds will be remitted to the fund for the women and children or devastated Northern France. A portion will be retained by the R.S.A. for the benefit of returned soldiers in need of assistance.”
Thirteen days later, Melbourne’s Evening Post (13 Feb.) printed a ‘Customs Duty Refunds’ list on goods entering the country and the French-made poppies featured in this list: “…; Flanders poppies to be sold for the benefit of wounded soldiers in New Zealand, £376; …”.
Madame Guérin always appeared to secure free entry into a country and free shipping within it. Custom refund entries for the Guérin poppies coming into New Zealand have been found in ‘Appropriations Chargeable on the Consolidated Fund and Other Accounts’ files. These can be found on the ‘AtoJsOnline’ facility, linked to New Zealand National Library’s ‘Papers Past’ online archive. These are the entries discovered:
The Customs Refund for the year ending 31 March 1922: Page 142, Item 46: “Flanders poppies to be sold for the benefit of wounded soldiers in New Zealand” – £376
The Customs Refund for the year ending 31 March 1923: A refund for poppies is not listed.
The Customs Refund for the year ending 31 March 1924: Page 142, Item 38: “Flanders poppies to be sold for relief of unemployment in New Zealand” – £919
The Customs Refund for the year ending 31 March 1925: Page 144, Item 42: “Flanders poppies to be sold for relief of French war orphans and the children of the devastated regions in France, and for the benefit of returned New Zealand soldiers” – £1,748
The Customs Refund for the year ending 31 March 1926: A refund for poppies is not listed.
The Customs Refund for the year ending 31 March 1927: Page 150, Item 39 [sic]: “Flanders poppies to be sold for relief of French war orphans and the children of the devasted regions in France and for the benefit of returned New Zealand soldiers” – £353
The Customs Refund for the year ending 31 March 1928: Page 153, Item 38: “Artificial poppies to be sold for the benefit of returned New Zealand soldiers” – £143. “An amount of £143 paid as duty on artificial poppies imported from England by the R.S.A. for sale to the public is to be refunded.” (Evening Post, Volume CIV, Issue 29, 3 August 1927, Page 10)
The Customs Refund for the year ending 31 March 1929: Page 148, Item 37: “Artificial poppies to be sold for the benefit of returned New Zealand soldiers” – £215. “A refund of £215 is to be made by the Customs Department in respect of the duty on artificial poppies imported by the R.S.A. for Poppy Day sales.” (Auckland Star, Volume LIX, Issue 186, 8 August 1928, Page 12).
After Colonel Moffat’s promotion of Poppy Lady Madame Guérin’s ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ idea and its adoption by the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association, the following article suggests that the country’s women were doing all in their power to get people in the mood, ahead of Anzac Day. On 01 February 1922, Wellington’s Evening Post printed this article in the “WOMEN IN PRINT. TO CORRESPONDENTS.” Column:-
“A well-attended meeting of the committee and stallholders of the Returned Soldiers’ Club effort to raise funds for renovating, etc., was held yesterday afternoon. It was decided that the street day shall be entitled the “Diggers’ Poppy Day,” as the Flanders poppy it so well known and associated with soldiers’ efforts all over the Empire. A committee is to be set up to make the poppies and help for the work will be welcomed. It was announced that there were still three vacant stations for stalls to be filled in—namely, Qinton’s corner, the Post Office, and Winder’s corner, and offers to take charge of these will be gladly welcomed. In addition to the stalls already allocated, there will be an Australian stall and Mrs. Spotteswood had undertaken to organise a “copper trail,” extending from the Evening Post, in Willis-street, to the New Zealand Times, on Lambton-quay. It was suggested at the meeting that the schools should be written to asking if each child could bring an egg to the schools either on the morning of the street day, 3rd March, or the day before, and the committee would make arrangements, to collect the eggs for the stall. The suggestion was approved of. It was also proposed that a plain and fancy-dress masked ball should be held, with a light supper and simple decorations. The proposal is to come under the consideration of the General Committee. Arrangements for raffles were still further discussed, and arrangements are to be made for big posters over the stalls. Letters were received from various sympathisers who, though not undertaking a stall themselves, would assist. Mr. W. Perry presided at the meeting, and among those present were: Lady Luke, Mrs. W. Perry, Mrs. A. Newton, Mrs. A. Gray, Mrs. Gleeson, Miss. D. Isaacs, Mrs. Walker, Miss Saunders, Miss Sievwright, Mrs. A. Walker, Miss Penlington Mrs. J. Myers, Major Hardham, Mr. Walker, Mr. Aldrich, and Mr. A. Walker.”
After the event, readers of the Evening Post were updated (Weds., 08 March under the heading “LOCAL AND GENERAL” – the article confirming that the 03 March had been the date chosen:
“Much pleasure was felt and expressed at the meeting of the Returned’ Soldiers’ Club Appeal Committee when Mr. W. Perry (chairman) reported that the sum of £505 16s 9d had been taken as a result of last Friday’s efforts, being exclusive of donations, and only representing what-was taken in the streets. Further amounts would yet be received. The Licensed Victuallers had donated £250, and all kinds of handsome articles had been presented, which were being raffled. It had been decided to open a shop for a week, a place in Willis-street having been secured, and it was suggested that each stall-holder should take a day, or part of a day, in charge there. This was agreed upon, and the following list was made:—To-day (Wednesday), Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Hardham; Thursday, Mrs. W. Perry; Friday, Mrs. Nation; Monday, Mrs. Clark; Tuesday, the Spinsters’ Club; Wednesday, Mrs. Walker. Mrs. Spottiswood has arranged to take the shop from 11 o’clock in the mornings till 3, the above-mentioned ladies and their helpers taking charge after that on their appointed days. Arrangements were discussed in connection with Saturday night’s concert- and the various attractions enumerated, Mr. Perry expressed the gratitude which the returned men felt towards those who had helped so readily and generously, and congratulated all upon the success of their efforts.”
On 02 February 1922, New Zealand R.S.A.’s National Paper ‘Quick March’ reported: “Poppy Day. Work for the R.S.A. Every branch of the R.S.A. and every member of every branch are expected to work hard for a successful Poppy Day, just before Anzac Day this year. By the help of many well-wishers throughout the Dominion, the New Zealand R.S.A. hopes to sell 396,000 buttonhole red poppies (made by children in the ravaged parts of Northern France) to the public at 1/- each. In addition, there will be 4000 large poppies, at 2/- each, suitable for wreaths which school children may place on war memorials. Out of every 1/- thus raised 3d will go to the French children and the remainder will be used for urgent purposes by the R.S.A. in New Zealand.”
It is often reported that the ship carrying Madame Guérin’s poppies arrived in New Zealand “too late” for the scheme to be properly promoted before Armistice Day/11 November 1921 and, as such, it was decided to postpone the remembrance poppy ‘event’ until close to the New Zealand Anzac Day commemoration on 25 April 1922. Logically, that would suggest an arrival of poppies with the 11 November 1921 imminent.
However, could the aforementioned telegram of 31 January 1922 (and subsequent Customs refund 13 days later) suggest the poppy cargo arriving in January 1922? If this was the reality, when it came to choosing “Armistice or Anzac Day”, could it be that the R.S.A. had made a conscious decision to choose Anzac Day instead of Armistice Day anyway? As already quoted, either had been an option initially.
Of course, the fact that the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association did not officially adopt Madame Guérin’s ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’ idea until 26 September 1921 would not have helped the country’s place in the poppy-ordering timeline – other Empire countries had a head-start on it.
The intention of this author is to record everything discovered relating to the subject of Poppy Lady Madame Guérin and, as such, I shall impart recollections recently gleaned from a New Zealander about the “late poppies” subject:
Aged 9 in 1962, this New Zealand gentleman was a pupil at Owairaka School, in Auckland. As part of the New Zealand April Anzac project, his class had two visitors that year:
One visitor to the Owairaka School was a lady who addressed all the classes there. She had been a representative of Poppy Lady Madame Guérin’s French charity in New Zealand and, it seems, had remained loyal (perhaps like many women across the country) to Madame Guérin’s poppy drives. Long after New Zealand had said “au revoir” to Madame Guérin after the 1928 poppy campaign, this woman was still loyal enough to be speaking of Madame’s achievements.
As in all countries that adopted Madame Guérin’s ‘Inter-Allied Poppy Day’, women were in the majority on the Poppy Day committees that had to be established to make all the arrangements for the poppy distribution – a distribution by women, with some veterans.
This gentleman vividly remembers the lady speaking about Madame Guérin. The lady spoke about the poppies and stated, disappointingly, “… we couldn’t get them to your country on time”.
Additionally, around the same time as the lady’s visit, a 70 year old historian came. He had been a professor of the class teacher, Mr. Carter. The professor had been wounded in Flanders and was 29 when World War One ended.
Addressing only Mr. Carter’s class, the professor vividly told the pupils about the late arriving Poppy ship and described how he had been a poppy seller in April 1922. He said the poppy campaign had “caused some confusion and the Returned Soldiers’ Association really had to market hard to get people to buy the poppies that April. After that, the R.S.A. announced it would continue to sell the poppies in April despite what other countries did (including Australia) and despite what the Guérin organisation wanted”.
The view of this New Zealand gentleman is, with New Zealand being quite isolated at that particular time, Colonel Moffat doubted if the shipment of poppies could make it before Armistice Day, so the Returned Soldiers’ Association decided that it was more suitable to choose Anzac Day 1922.
As a footnote: whilst carrying out research in later life, this gentleman saw a note from a commemoration organiser in Invercargill – it related to the choice of poem for Armistice Day 1921. The poem was “to change as there weren’t going to be any of the hoped for Poppies”. Perhaps the poem was originally going to be John McCrae’s ‘In Flanders Fields’ … “In Flanders fields the poppies blow …”?
Here, it is worth recording a hunch of the author – it may generate interest and/or jog the memory of someone. Was the cargo of 1922 poppies shipped to New Zealand on the ‘S.S. Westmoreland’? During research, the ‘Westmoreland’ “jumped out” … here is the timeline which, in the future, may or may prove relevant:
04 January 1922: Auckland Star, Volume LIII, Issue 2, Page 4: “SHIPPING”. … CARGOES FROM ENGLAND. … The New Zealand Shipping Company advise that the Westmoreland is due from West Coast ports of the United Kingdom about January 20, with cargo for discharge at Auckland, Wellington, Lyttelton and Dunedin. …”
21 January 1922: Evening Post, Volume CIII, Issue 17, Page 4: “SHIPPING”. … PORT OF WELLINGTON. OVERSEAS VESSELS. … Westmoreland left Liverpool 3rd December; now at Auckland due Wellington 21st January. …”
21 January 1922: Press, Volume LVIII, Issue 17359, Page 12: “SHIPPING”. … The Federal liner Westmoreland is due at Wellington this afternoon from Auckland, and is not expected to arrive here until Saturday next. …”
23 January 1922: Otago Daily Times, Issue 18460, Page 4: “SHIPPING”. … The Westmoreland, from Liverpool, via ports, is scheduled to leave Wellington on Wednesday for Lyttelton and Dunedin. …”
24 January 1922: Evening Post, Volume CIII, Issue 19, Page 8: “LATE SHIPPING”. … The Westmoreland is to leave Wellington on Thursday afternoon, to complete discharge at Lyttelton and Dunedin. …”
25 January 1922: Otago Daily Times, Issue 18462, Page 4: “SHIPPING”. … The Westmoreland is expected to leave Wellington to-morrow for Lyttelton and Dunedin to complete discharge of her Liverpool cargo. …”
31 January 1922: Press (Canterbury), 1 February 1922, Page 8: “POPPIES FOR ANZAC DAY. (PRESS ASSOCIATION TELEGRAM WELLINGTON, January 31. The New Zealand R.S.A. has received 396,000 artificial poppies.”
The aforementioned New Zealand gentleman, of Christchurch, recalls once seeing (a long time ago) the name of the ship that brought the cargo of poppies to New Zealand. When asked if ‘Westmoreland’ rang a bell, this gentleman replied “The name of the ship I saw mentioned resembled a place name around here. We have a suburb here in Christchurch called Westmorland. It [the name] had several syllables I do remember”.
Madame Guérin may have negotiated a similar travel deal to that arranged for the cargo of Newfoundland poppies (and other Empire countries also, for that matter?) … a sea voyage from France to a south coast port in England plus a train journey to the port of Liverpool – ahead of loading on the assigned ship, for its final destination (?).
Any further facts about the New Zealand poppy shipment would be welcomed.
The Press (Christchurch, NZ: 11 February), detailed a meeting at the Social Hall of the R.S.A. Club on 07 February 1922 of the Womens’ National Reserve Committee. A Mrs W. Wood presided and she gave details ‘Poppy Day’ in Christchurch. “The sale day will be fixed as close as possible to Anzac Day, so that everyone will have the opportunity of wearing a poppy on that day. … One quarter of the money to be returned to the makers of the poppies in France, the balance to remain in Christchurch for the up-keep of the lonely soldiers’ graves. All present promised their support. It was decided it would be necessary to hold a two days’ sale this year, (the dates being approximately the 19th and 21st of April. Mrs Wood also stated that members of the R.S.A. were willing to give their services towards the cause.” Thus the New Zealand women were starting to get organised, just as their Allied counterparts had.
Also on 07 February 1922, residents of Dunedin were given the chance to view samples of the poppies that Poppy Lady Madame Guérin had sent through to New Zealand. The next day, the Otago Daily Times printed the following article about the poppies:
“Samples of the neat little red poppies made in the devastated regions of Northern France were exhibited at the meeting of the executive of the Dunedin Returned Soldiers’ Association last evening. Circulars from headquarters of the association stated that 355,000 of these small artificial poppies and 4000 of the large ones have been received and are to be sold on Monday, April 24, so that they may be worn as a memorial flower on Anzac Day, the day of remembrance of New Zealand’s dead. The large poppies are to be used in wreaths. The small ones are to be sold at 1s each, and (the large at 2s. About a quarter of the net proceeds will be remitted to Paris to be used in helping the widows, and children of Northern France, and the remainder is to be retained by the Returned Soldiers’ Association for a purpose that has yet to be determined. Some 65,600 poppies have been allotted to (Otago and Southland. Members expressed the opinion that the scheme would be more widely supported if portion of the proceeds was to go to the local association.”
On 20 February 1922, The Evening Post (Wellington) promoted the country’s Poppy Day: “FLANDERS POPPIES. POPPIES SALE ON ANZAC DAY. PROCEEDS TO RELIEVE UNEMPLOYED.
Replicas of the Flanders poppy will be sold throughout the Dominion by the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association on Anzac Day. The net proceeds will be used for the relief of unemployed returned soldiers.
The scheme placed before the Dominion executive of the association at its meeting on Sunday provides that poppies shall be distributed to the districts in proportion to population. The district secretaries will allocate the poppies to the various towns. Wellington City will get 122,100. The large poppies will be sold to the 300 largest schools in the Dominion for school wreaths to be placed on monuments. Twelve poppies will be required to make a wreath, and the charge will be 2s each, or 24s for the wreath. The small poppies are to be sold at Is each. The gross proceeds, if all the poppies are sold, will be over £20,000. The standing sub-committee recommended that the money derived from the Poppy Day effort, after paying all expenses, should be devoted to soldier unemployment relief during the coming winter. Already there are indications that many of our comrades will have a struggle to exist during the winter,” said the sub-committee, and it is imperative that some scheme should be prepared to cope with hardship among soldiers. The net amount of money gathered in a district would be spent on unemployment relief in that district. The N.Z.R.S.A. would work in conjunction with the Public Works Department and local bodies in all cases, and the allocation of funds in a district would be determined by the N.Z.R.S.A. after consultation with the local associations, the Department, or the local bodies.
It is suggested that the unemployed ex-soldiers should obtain relief in the following order:—
(a) Married men with children and no pension;
(b) Married men with children and a small pension;
(c) Married men and single men with dependents;
(d) Single- men without dependents.
“It is felt by the committee that the maximum amount of good to the maximum number of soldiers will be done if the money is devoted to this purpose; moreover, the absorption of as much soldier unemployment as possible will react beneficially on general unemployment throughout the Dominion.””
On 10 March 1922, the New Zealand R.S.A. printed a rallying article in their ‘Quick March’ paper. It began: “Wear A Poppy.” Every man, every woman, every boy, every girl, who will wear a R.S.A. poppy on Anzac Day will be showing a badge of remembrance.” It described how buying a poppy would help “children in the war-ravaged pasts of France” but would “also help to provide good, helpful work for returned soldiers whose lack of employment is causing much distress to them and their dependants.”
The article documents that, six weeks previous, sixty-three Returned Soldiers’ Association branches had been sent a circular letter by the general secretary. They were each encouraged to be “the most energetic”; to “show the best results”; and “take the most pains to get the help of all willing works” … basically, the branches were set the challenge to be the most successful … to “show the best results, proportionately to population of the districts worked”. The R.S.A. had also been in contact with 240 towns/townships that had no Association branch, to the same end.
Due to geographical conditions, not every New Zealand community could take part in the Poppy Drive. For instance, on 28 March 1922, Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser wrote:
“AKAROA COUNTY COUNCIL. A meeting of this Council was held on Saturday. … …
“The New Zealand Returned. Soldiers’ Association wrote re Poppy Day April 24th. It was resolved that owing to the scattered nature of the district it was hard to make a collection of that nature.” … …
On 31 March 1922, the ‘Press’ newspaper gave a details about North Canterbury’s Poppy Day and Anzac Day arrangements:
“R.S.A. NORTH CANTERBURY BRANCH. The second annual meeting of the North Canterbury branch of the Returned Soldiers Association was held in the Oddfellows Hall, Kangiora, last night. … …
The secretary of the Canterbury branch of the N.Z.R.S.A. wrote advising the local Association that he had forwarded 1000 small packets of poppies and 20 large ones tor sale on Poppy Day, April 24th. It was resolved to leave the matter of the sale of the poppies in the hands of the Mayor of Rangiora and Mr J Horrell, representing the Association. The election of officers resulted as follows: —President: Dr. L. B. Burnett; vice-presidents: Messrs J. Horrell and J. McLeod; lion, secretary and treasurer: Mr T. W. Herron; committee: Messrs W. Gardiner, W. Smith, W. Butters, J.. Marshall, A. Breach, J. A. Thompson, and C. E. Bell; auditor: Mr C. I. Jennings. It was decided to hold a united memorial service on Anzac Day in Victoria Park, and, if wet, in the Drill Hall. … …”
On 15 April 1922, New Zealand’s ‘Auckland Star’ newspaper printed this piece: “Madame Guerin, “poppy lady of France”‘ and director of the French Children’s League, has cabled to the general secretary of the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association, stating that she is forwarding him six French flags to be awarded to the six towns selling the most poppies during the poppy campaign.” Many other newspapers carried the same paragraph.
On 19 April 1922, The Otago Daily Times (Otago Region, South Island) enlightened its readers and began its article with a poignant six line verse:
Back from the place where the soil is red,
And the earth is torn and bare;
Where the sleeping forms of the happy dead
Are free from cankering care.
Better their lot than the man who returns
Broken and worn in the wax.
From information received from headquarters, N.Z.R.S.A., Poppy Day will be a huge success throughout the dominion. Complete preparations have been made in every city, town, village, and hamlet to ensure the success which the venture deserves. Without any doubt it is the biggest philanthropic social undertaking ever put before the public by the Returned Soldiers’ Association for the benefit of returned soldiers, and the objects to which the money raised be devoted must commend themselves to the public.
About a quarter of the money raised will be remitted to Paris, where a committee will disburse it among the, widows and children who made the poppies. The remainder will be solely devoted to the relief of unemployment among soldiers. There are at present between 1000 and 1200 unemployed ex-soldiers throughout New Zealand and the N.Z.R.S.A. has decided to obtain work for these men and thus relieve general unemployment. It should be carefully noted that with the exception of overhead expenses the R.S.A. will not retain one penny of the money raised; the amount gathered in a district will be spent upon work in that district.
Madame Guerin, the Poppy Lady of France, and director of the French Children’s League, has cabled to the general secretary N.Z.R.S.A. that six French flags have been forwarded to him to be awarded to the six towns which sell the most poppies on Poppy Day.”
Other newspapers printed the same above-transcribed article but the ‘NZ Truth’ (22 April) headed up the poem “THE PEBBLED SHORE OF MEMORY”. A Message From The Dead.”. [“ … along the pebbled shore of memory … “ is a quote from the Keats poem ‘Endymion’].
The Returned Soldiers’ Association believed the poppy campaign was the “biggest social and philanthropic undertaking ever put before the public” … “Do not step aside from a collector on Poppy Day, and thus side-step your responsibilities to the men who offered their lives upon the altars of duty, home and country.” (Truth, Issue 857, 22 April 1922)
On 22 April 1922, the Hawera & Normanby Star wrote: “From information received from headquarters, N.Z.R.S.A., Poppy Day, Monday, April 24, will be a huge success throughout the Dominion. Complete preparations have been made in every city, town, village, and hamlet to ensure the success which the venture deserves. … … About a quarter of the money raised will be remitted to Paris, where a committee will disburse it among the widows and children who made the poppies. The remainder will be solely devoted to the relief of unemployment among New Zealand ex-soldiers.” Unemployment was a big problem within all the Allied countries after WW1 ended.
… and so … 24 April 1922 dawned, New Zealand’s first Poppy Day – on the eve of Anzac Day. Preparations had been made in every city, town and village in the country and success was expected.
On 10 May 1922, the N.Z.R.S.A. publication ‘Quick March’ printed this article giving interesting feedback on the first New Zealand Poppy Days [sic]:-
“POPPY DAYS. A BRILLIANT SUCCESS.
New Zealand held out a collective hand for the bright red Poppies of Remembrance which the N.Z.R.S.A. offered in aid of unemployed soldiers and their dependants. There were not enough of the large poppies (14,000) to meet the demands of schools and other institutions, and there were not enough of the buttonhole emblems, though the supply was nearly 300,000.
Ladies’ committees throughout New Zealand rallied enthusiastically to the call of the R.S.A., and the result was a sale which will live long in the people’s memory.
Early in the day (24th April) one saw clusters of men around the busy poppy-sellers – men awaiting their turn to be served. This rush continued throughout the city, and by the middle of the afternoon the whole of Wellington’s quota was sold out. People who came into town during the latter part of the day were keenly disappointed when they found they were too late to buy a poppy. Many made a long search through various streets, but always it was a case of “sold out.”
The sales were similarly speedy in all parts of New Zealand. Telegrams poured into the general secretary of the N.Z.R.S.A. requesting the quick despatch of more poppies, but he had no more to send.
Thus, in great warmth of heart the people testified that they wished to help their defenders, the active service men of the war who now desire active service in the tasks of peace.
Where so many people helped gladly in a worthy cause, it is not possible for the N.Z.R.S.A. to thank these active friends individually, but all can accept the heartfelt assurance of the R.S.A. that it is grateful for this kindly remembrance of comrades to whom unemployment has brought anxiety and suffering.
The takings in Wellington city were £1427, and the amount for the city and its environs was £1723.
It is anticipated that the total for New Zealand will reach the figures for which the N.Z.R.S.A. strove (a sum between £10,000 and £12,000), but full details have not yet reached Headquarters. Immediately after the receipt of this information, a complete statement will be published in the daily press.
In a later NZ Returned Soldiers’ National Paper ‘Quick March’ (10 April 1923), the “Sniper” recalled this first poppy campaign. The “Sniper” remembered the first Flanders’ poppies he had seen: “the Battalion to which I was attached had just taken over its first sector of trenches at Houplines, a suburb of Armentieres. Those who were in this sector will remember the sinuous C.T. threading its way through the beautiful orchard en route to the front line. This orchard was dotted all over with beautiful red poppies, and so were some “Tommy” graves in the orchard; it was also well pitted with shell holes. I thought at the time that this flower was quite typical of a soldier’s life; to-day red and full of life, to-morrow a thing of the past, destroyed by War’s deadly blast.
He stated that it was a “happy choice that Madame Guerin … chose the little red poppy as the emblematic flower for sale through the Allied countries on Armistice Day. The “Poppy Lady of France” had hundreds of thousands of miniature silken poppies made in Northern France. … The Government kindly agreed to carry all parcels of poppies free by rail and post, whilst the shipping companies carried then free also … a vast amount of organisation had to be carried out … Opinion was unanimous afterwards that the venture was of the best organised and most successful ever witnessed in New Zealand. 245,059 small poppies were disposed of at 1s each, whilst 15,157 large ones brought 2s each into the coffers of the fund.”
Auckland was the premier place – the city making “slightly over £2000”. Out of £13,166 collected overall, “£3694 15s 7d was cabled to France to relieve distress in the battle-areas … Madame Guerin disclosed the pleasing fact that New Zealand was highest in her contributions to the widows and orphan children who had helped to make the poppies.”
£9471 went to the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association – never in their history had “so much practical good” been done” during the winter of 1922. “The money was not given as a dole, but was used in providing wages for useful work done in cities and towns. The married ex-soldiers were helped first. And many a wife must have blessed the successful “Poppy Day.”
“Sniper” stated that “in every hamlet, town, and city” there had been insufficient supply of the beautiful large poppies in 1922. For 1923, 250,000 small poppies and 30,000 large ones were ordered and each district had received these several months ago.
“… this humble scarlet little flower is doing noble world work by bringing the Returned Soldier organisations of the Allied nations into a compact body, which some day may develop into a compact International Congress of ex-fighting men. To all ex-soldiers, and t the vast array of the relatives of the fallen, the poppy has now become the symbol of proud remembrance.”
By 07 November 1922, the Returned Soldiers’ Association had received a letter of thanks from Madame Guérin – on that date, the Northern Advocate printed an article all about it:
“POPPY LADY OF FRANCE. HIGH PRAISE FOR NEW ZEALAND. “WREATHS FOR FLANDERS GRAVES.
The Poppy Lady of France, for such is the official title of the organiser of the Poppy Day movement, has written to the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association offering her thanks to them and to the people of New Zealand for the success achieved on Poppy Day.
“Allow me to thank you,” she writes, “for all your amiability to Colonel Moffatt, my representative, who had the great chance to come first in your beautiful country. We thought that probably a letter from your organisation would have given us some details of the most wonderful ways the campaign was handled, so that so many flowers were disposed of in such a small country; and then, also, I have been travelling in the countries of our European allies, in view of their Poppy Day on Armistice Day, so I pray you all to excuse the delay of my letter, and to accept the expression of our deep gratitude.
“In using those, and so many of those, Flanders poppies, you helped so many poor widows and orphans of those battlefields, where your gallant men came to die at the sides of our French poilus (soldiers) for France and for humanity. I am proud to say that, proportionately, you are the country that did obtain the best result for the first year of Poppy Day.
“For this second year everyone is hoping great results. England and Scotland are hoping to sell fifteen million poppies, France a good portion of it, little Belgium also, and to make by this simple and magnificent way to honour the dead enough money to help during the coming winter all those ex-soldiers who are still in distress.
“We have sent to your great neighbour, Australia, the supply of poppies and wreaths necessary with the balance they had left from last year to have great success on November 11.
“I was hoping to be able to sail at the end of this month for Australia and New Zealand. It would have been a great pleasure to me to give some lectures in all your schools or posts, but I see now I must postpone this pleasure. So, not being able to bring them myself, I am sending you six military fanions, or flags. Please give them to your posts, or to your schools or clubs which have helped the most during the Poppy Day, as a little token of our remembrance and our gratitude. It has not been necessary to send’ them nailed to their staffs, so we are sending everything necessary to have them nailed as they ought to have been.
Allow me to thank you again for your great courtesy to Colonel Moffatt to tell again to your people how happy we are to feel that once a year the flowers of France will flourish on every breast in the far-away but dear land of New Zealand, and to send for you and for all the members of your organisation the expression of our grateful and most sincere sentiments.
“The writer, who is Madame Guerin, of Paris, acknowledged having received the amount forwarded for the purchase of the poppies sent.
“A great number of mothers have asked us,” says the Poppy Lady, in another letter, “how much it would cost them to have a wreath of poppies placed on the grave of their son lying in Flanders field on Memorial Day. In order to do it as economically as possible, we are proposing to each Allied organisation of ex-soldiers having a Poppy Day to make, as part of their publicity of their campaign, an appeal of 10s for each family who has lost a son. Two shillings and three pence should be kept for the relief works of the organisation, and 7s 9d sent to us. A beautiful wreath, of 7s 6d, would be placed on Anzac Day on each grave of New Zealand soldier (the three pennies being to pay the expense to place it). In ease that some mothers or relatives of a dead soldier were not reached or were dead at the end of the campaign, if a few wreaths had not been subscribed, as it is necessary to have each grave decorated, a kind of a national subscription could be made to complete the sum necessary to have a wreath on each grave on Anzac Day. Banks and other large establishments having lost employees would surely send the price of one or several wreaths. Colonel Moffatt has studied this question of wreaths to be placed on the graves. I shall ask him to write to you more fully.”
The New Zealand Passchendaele Society was created to make future generations aware of the courage and sacrifice of New Zealanders at Passchendaele in Flanders and the Western Front during the First World War.
Mindful of the quest to dispel myths in these chapters relating to Poppy Lady Madame Guérin, this author is keen to share information discovered after being enlightened by a New Zealander – about this organisation called The Passchendaele Society.
The uneducated could be forgiven for believing that New Zealand’s one and only part played in the Great War was during the Gallipoli campaign – such are the inferences abound but the country’s participation goes far beyond the highly publicised ANZAC commemorations.
At the time of the Gallipoli campaign, it would appear that neither the Australian nor the New Zealand forces were known as serving officially under an ‘ANZAC’ title … the only ‘ANZAC’ unit, on record, was a mounted unit in the Sinai. Nor, on 25 April 1915, did the New Zealanders land at dawn at Gallipoli, like the Australians … the landing the New Zealanders made was with the 2nd Australian division later on that day. Both the New Zealanders and Australians landed on the other side of the Turkish peninsula: referred to as the landing at Gaba Tepe (now known as Anzac Cove).
The losses New Zealand’s suffered during this campaign were small compared with that of Turkey and Australia (small but, obviously, not insignificant) … and small in comparison to the New Zealanders lost on the battlefields of Belgium (including Passchendaele) and France. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has listed responsibility for 18,063 New Zealanders who fought in World War One – including 4633 in Belgium; 7780 in France; 2347 in Turkey (including Gallipoli).
An aim of The Passchendaele Society (Inc) is “to ensure New Zealand’s darkest day is not forgotten”. As Belgium has never forgotten, the Society’s raison d’etre is to enlighten: in order that New Zealand does not forget either.
Discover more on The Passchendaele Society website http://passchendaelesociety.org/.
The two poppies shown above were knitted by a relative of the author – in response to a call by the New Zealand National Army Museum in Waiouru. ‘The Patriotic Call to Yarn’ project was initiated by the Museum to commemorate all those soldiers who died in World War One. The target was 18,166 poppies (one for every New Zealander who died during World War One), to be used in an art creation for the museum. However, over 30,000 poppies were donated in total. More information can be found on: http://www.armymuseum.co.nz/whats-on/world-war-one-centenary/a-patriotic-call-to-yarn/
New Zealand’s story continues in CHAPTER 8: THE ALLIED NATIONS SAY “AU REVOIR MADAME GUÉRIN”
Please note: All New Zealand newspaper transcriptions, within this Chapter & Chapter 8, were sourced from the National Library of New Zealand’s online facility: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast
Also included, in both chapters, are transcriptions sourced from ‘Quick March’/Our boys, our families: http://ourboys.recollect.co.nz/