On display at MTG Hawke’s Bay Museum is a work titled In Memoriam, consisting of three cloth poppies grouped together and displayed in a frame. Two of the poppies have Returned Soldiers Association printed on tags and the third reads In Memoriam, hence the title.
The work can be found in the Octagon, next to the First World War exhibition From the Uttermost Ends of the Earth: Hawke’s Bay At War 1914- 1918. Surrounding the exhibition case, attached to the stark white walls, are hundreds of hand-made poppies. Each poppy has a tag, on which the maker has written a message of remembrance, such as “To our tipuna’s with love; Ka maumahara tonu matou ki a ratou,” translated as ‘We will remember them.’ A child’s hand has written: “I feel sad for the brave soldiers who went to war, thank you for fighting for our country.” Reading another, I’m struck by the poignancy of the words: “To all the men and women who never came home, the ones who mourned them and the ones who returned but were never the same.”
The Flanders poppy is a symbol of war remembrance, linked with battlefield deaths since the time of the Great War. The connection was made by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian medical officer, in his poem In Flanders Fields. The red poppy was one of the first plants to bloom in the barren battlefields after fighting had ceased. Two women were responsible for making the poppy an international symbol of remembrance: Madame Guérin and Moina Michael, each of whom became known as the ‘Poppy Lady’. The New Zealand Returned Soldiers Association (as the RSA was originally known) first placed an order for over 300,000 silk poppies in September 1921, all made by Madame Guérin’s French Children’s League.
Initially the poppies were to be sold to celebrate Armistice Day (11 November) as other countries were doing. However, the ship carrying the valuable cargo arrived too late for the RSA to distribute the poppies, so the Association was forced to wait until Anzac Day, 1922. The poppies went on sale throughout New Zealand the day before Anzac Day, and such was the demand that many of the cities and towns sold out before lunch. The appeal was a huge success and raised £13,166, of which £3,695 went to the French Children’s League to help relieve suffering in Northern France. The remainder was used to support unemployed New Zealand soldiers and their families. This tradition has continued, although the poppies are now sourced elsewhere. The red poppy still symbolises remembrance and is worn on Anzac Day, at major commemorative events and military funerals.
Visitors to the museum are appreciating the growing number of poppies covering the walls of the Octagon. If you would like to add a poppy to the wall of remembrance, please come in and create your own unique poppy. You might like to dedicate yours to a member of your family who fought in a war, or to express your thoughts and feelings this ANZAC Day.
Gail Pope – Curator Social History, MTG Hawke’s Bay
Published in Hawke’s Bay Today Saturday 23 April 2016
- The museum is free all day Monday – ANZAC Day – open from 7am. Switch coffee available for purchase in the foyer.
- Big Bike Film in Century Theatre Saturday 30 April at 7:30pm