True in spirit

20/04/2016

I’ve come across this on Facebook several times:

A lovely military man selling poppies stopped me today and asked if he could re-position mine – while doing so he told me that women should wear their poppy on their right side; the red represents the blood of all those who gave their lives, the black represents the mourning of those who didn’t have their loved ones return home, and the green leaf represents the grass and crops growing and future prosperity after the war destroyed so much. The leaf should be positioned at 11 o’clock to represent the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the time that World War One formally ended. He was worried that younger generations wouldn’t understand this and his generation wouldn’t be around for much longer to teach them.

There’s no mention of this at NZ History Online:

The red or Flanders poppy has been linked with battlefield deaths since the time of the Great War (1914–18). The plant was one of the first to grow and bloom in the mud and soil of Flanders. The connection was made, most famously, by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae in his poem ‘In Flanders fields’.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly . . .

McCrae was a Canadian medical officer who, in May 1915, had conducted the funeral service of a friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres (Ieper). Distressed at the death and suffering around him, McCrae scribbled the verse in his notebook. In a cemetery nearby, red poppies blew gently in the breeze – a symbol of regeneration and growth in a landscape of blood and destruction.

McCrae threw away the poem, but a fellow officer rescued it and sent it on to the English magazine Punch; ‘In Flanders fields’ was published on 8 December 1915. Three years later, on 28 January 1918, McCrae was dead. As he lay dying, he is reported to have said ‘Tell them this, if ye break faith with us who die, we shall not sleep.’

Many people were moved by the pathos of ‘In Flanders fields’. Among them was Moina Michael (1869–1944) who worked in a YMCA canteen in New York. Two days before the signing of the Armistice (11 November 1918), she wrote a reply to McCrae: ‘We shall keep the faith’.

Michael set herself a mission: to have the red poppy adopted in the United States as a national symbol of remembrance. The American Legion adopted it at its annual convention in September 1920. Attending that event was Madame E. Guérin who, along with Michael, was responsible for making the poppy an international symbol of remembrance. Both were known at the time as ‘The Poppy Lady’.

Guérin saw the potential to make and sell poppies, putting the proceeds towards the welfare of veterans, their families and poor children. For the next year or so Guérin and others approached veterans’ groups in many countries, urging them to adopt the poppy as a symbol of remembrance.

The first Poppy Day

New Zealand was one of these countries. One of Guérin’s representatives, Colonel Alfred Moffatt, suggested the poppy idea to the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association (as the Returned Services’ Association or RSA was originally known) in September 1921. The Returned Soldiers’ Association placed an order for 350,000 small and 16,000 large silk poppies, all made by Madame Guérin’s French Children’s League. . . 

Nor is it mentioned by the RSA.

This isn’t the first time significance is attributed to the colours or design of a symbol after the fact.

The anecdote is true to the spirit of  the poppy but how it’s worn isn’t as important as that it is, and that poppies sales still help returned service people and their families.


Make history peacefully

11/11/2015

It’s Armistice Day and this morning, people in many countries will observe a moment’s silence as they have on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month for nearly 100 years.

Some might think it is dishonouring the sacrifices of so many to discuss changing the flag today.

But, contrary to the argument used by some who oppose change, nobody fights for the flag:

Chris Mullane, a former Lieutenant-Colonel in the New Zealand infantry who served in Vietnam and later advised the US military on leadership after their unsuccessful Vietnam campaign, gave the 24-hour Flag Summit an entirely different perspective from other former servicemen.

“Nobody fights for the flag, I can tell you that right now. All this stuff about fighting and dying under it is a misconception. Now is the time for a flag change.”

The CEO of the RSA, Dave Moger, told the Summit yesterday that over 95% of the 100,000 membership was against changing the New Zealand flag. But Mullane, who is also the president of the Devonport branch of the RSA, said the perception that the flag was emotionally attached to New Zealand soldiers was not correct.

“When I was in Vietnam, I didn’t see the New Zealand flag at all. We had a regimental flag which had two silver ferns and a Kiwi on it – that’s what flew over our base.

“I didn’t see one New Zealand flag when I was there. Oh, yes…I did – one. It was in Saigon and was flying alongside the national flags of other nations involved in Vietnam.

“The Second New Zealand Division in World War II had a black flag with a silver fern; at Gallipoli, the only New Zealand flag there was taken there by Malone [Lieutenant-Colonel William George Malone, commander of the Wellington battalion] who rolled it up and put it away because the Turks started using it as a target.”

The New Zealand Navy didn’t change from the British ensign to the New Zealand version until 1968; the Air Force similarly didn’t change the roundel on the planes to a New Zealand version until well after the war. Dave Gallaher, the former All Black captain and soldier who died in World War I, was buried with the Southern Cross and the silver fern marking his passing.

“So I’d like to meet anyone who thought they died under the flag,” said Mullane.

“I’d probably need a ticket to another life but no one chooses to fight for a flag; I’m an old infantryman and I know you fight alongside your mates and they rely on you and you rely on them.”

The current flag was iconic, he said, but it was “absolutely” time for a change. He was a fan of the Kyle Lockwood red, white and blue silver fern flag because it reflected our past as well as our future. . .

Nobody fights for a flag, but today of all days we should remember that people fought for freedom.

Many still are and some are still dying for it.

But thanks to the sacrifices so many made, we have freedoms so many don’t and that includes the freedom to make history, peacefully.

Newstalk ZB's photo.

Let’s make history by being the first country tohat peacefully chooses which flag represents us. – Kerre McIvor #ourflagnz


Quote of the day

16/04/2015

Men do not fight for flag or country, for the Marine Corps or glory or any other abstraction. They fight for one another. And if you came through this ordeal, you would age with dignity. – William Manchester

I chose this quote in response to the RSA’s submission against changing the New Zealand flag.

The RSA argues we should ask the second question first so if the majority say no there’s no need for a second referendum.

The problem with that is that we wouldn’t know what the alternative would be and that will influence many people’s decision on whether or not they want change.

One argument against change used by the RSA, and others, is that the flag is the one soldiers fought under and it would be disrespectful to them to change it.

That is very much a matter of opinion.

New Zealanders fought under that flag. But they did that because it was the flag at the time, it doesn’t necessarily mean they had such a strong attachment to it that it would be dishonouring them if it was changed.

Like Manchester I think the armed services went to war for far more than the flag.

One rallying cry was for king and country . Those kings are long dead.

The RSA says it’s particularly disrespectful to be raising the question when we’re commemorating the centenary of Gallipoli.

But given the tragedy that was and the part played by British officers in what was in many ways a debacle, you could mount an even stronger argument that it would be respecting them to have a flag which didn’t carry the Union Jack.

You could also argue that a flag with a silver fern would be honouring them because that is the symbol on the graves of those who died .

My father was one of those who fought under the New Zealand flag although he’d only been out from Scotland a very few years.

He’s no longer here to ask his view on the issue but I can never recall him expressing any emotion about the flag.

He did however have strong views on independence and freedom . It was those for which he fought, not a flag.


One earns the other spends

27/07/2012

The contrast between National and Labour could hardly have been greater this week.

Speeches by ministers at the National Party conference outlined policies for economic growth and emphasised the need to spend public funds carefully.

Then Labour promotes Private Members’ Bills to extend Paid Parental Leave, increase the minimum wage and Mondayise holidays for Waitangi and Anzac Days should they fall on the weekend.

National’s policies acknowledge the difficult international economic climate and that we have to earn before we can spend.

Labour’s show its priority is spending and it has no idea about earning.

The Mondayising of Waitangi and Anzac Days is the least expensive of the measures Labour is promoting. It would be needed only once every seven years and businesses cope with the holidays every other year.

I don’t have strong feelings about whether or not Waitangi Day is Mondayised, but I do agree with the RSA on Anzac Day:

The RSA policy has always been to preserve the special nature of Anzac Day. The National Executive Committee of the RSA has given this issue very serious consideration and we do not support this legislative change,” says National President Don McIver.

“We would always want to see Anzac Day commemorations fall on 25 April and not on the nearest week day and we understand the proposed bill will preserve that arrangement.”

“However, we are seriously concerned that to allow a holiday long weekend when Anzac Day falls within a weekend will take the focus away from our most solemn day of commemoration in memory of the sacrifice of New Zealanders for their nation and, instead, turn attention towards the holiday itself.”

“We are concerned that this will trivialise the true intent of this very special day of national commemoration.”

Anzac Day isn’t a celebration but a commemoration. If it falls on a week day people have had a day off to remember the sacrifices of the people who fought for peace, it’s not supposed to be just another holiday.

No-one disputes the demands new babies place on families and the importance of parent-child bonding. But I have yet to see a good argument why paid parental leave should be publicly funded, especially when not only isn’t it means tested but it also pays more to wealthy earners than poorer ones.

As for increasing the minimum wage – that’s just another example of Planet Labour’s distance from the real world where, as National knows, the best way to increase all wages is through economic growth.

On Planet Labour it’s all about spending, in the real world National knows only when we’re earning our way can we have choices about spending.


We will remember them

25/04/2012

The Maheno war memorial  records the names of 42 men who died in WWI, a plaque at the entrance to the reserve records the names of those who died in WWII.

Each Anzac Day people gather at this and other similar memorials around the country to remember.

At this morning’s service about 40 people from young children to the elderly came.

One young woman paid tribute to her grandfather, a returned service man who was there.

I’d been asked to give the address. I said:

On Anzac Day we remember and revere heroes and  acts of extraordinary bravery.

Today we also remember and pay tribute to the ordinary people who answered the call, who served and sacrificed, overseas and at home.

One of those was a young Scot who came to New Zealand to work in the Haka Valley during the depression.

He joined the Otago Mounted Rifles as a territorial. When war broke out the following year he enlisted with the 20th Battalion and served with them in Egypt and Italy. 

He was badly burnt when a tank exploded and spent a fortnight in a saline bath. He was also taken prisoner but managed to escape and find his way back to allied troops. He was one of the soldiers described by Battalion commander Jim Burrows as those magnificent men after the break out from Minquar Qaim.

He didn’t talk much about what the war was like – but a photo illustrates it: It shows him with four others from a company of 120 who started the battle of Ruweisat Ridge. These five were the only ones left for the survivor’s parade at the battle’s end.

When his active service finished after the Battle of Casino, he stayed with the New Zealand army and was posted to London as a driver.

While he was away, she was serving at home.

When war broke out she began working a night a week at casualty and also attended first aid classes.

In 1943 she was called up by the army and posted to Trentham.

The new recruits were met by a sergeant at the Wellington ferry terminal who issued their uniforms: men’s greatcoats, battle dress, rain coats and boots. They then continued by train to Trentham where they found their new homes were unlined huts some distance from the ablutions. It wasn’t unusual to wake on winter mornings to find flowers frozen in the vases.

Her duties at the camp hospital included polishing. Everything had to be ready for inspection by the matron and colonel in charge.

The volunteer aides were called on for injection parade and after receiving their own jabs were expected to look after the men receiving theirs.

These two people were my parents. When the war ended Dad returned to New Zealand to take up a rehab apprenticeship as a carpenter and Mum trained as a nurse.

Their service to their country and community continued throughout their lives through the church, a variety of voluntary organisations and in many informal ways, typical of their generation.

It is easy when headlines are so full of the ills of the world to think that younger people don’t have the same selflessness.

But last night the RSA gave the award of Anzac of the Year to the Student Volunteer Army, reminding us that the youth of today can and do put others before self.

These young men and women are of similar ages to the people we remember today. The ones who gave so much in war that we might live in peace.

We haven’t been called to serve as our parents, grandparents and great grandparents were, but we owe it to them and the future for which they fought to do what we can to make the world a better place in big ways or small.

We can’t all be heroes but we can all serve.


Nancy Wake dies

08/08/2011

World War II heroine Nancy Wake has died in London.

Peter Fitzsimons told her story in Nancy Wake, A Biography of our Greatest War Heroine.

The dust cover says:

In the early 1930s, Nancy Wake was a young woman enjoying a bohemian life in Paris. By the end of the Second World War, she was the Gestapo’s most wanted person.

As a naive, young journalist, Nancy Wake, witnessed a horrific scene of Nazi violence in a Viennese street. From that moment, she was determined to do everything in her power to rid Europe of the Nazi presence. What began as a courier job, carrying messages between groups of partisans, became a highly successful escape network for Allied soldiers, perfectly camouflaged by Nancy’s high-society life in Marseille.

Her network was soon so successful – and so notorious – that she had to flee France to escape the Gestapo, who had dubbed her ‘the white mouse’ for her knack of slipping through its traps.

But Nancy was a passionate enemy of the Nazis and refused to stay away. She trained with the British Special Operations Executive and parachuted back into France behind enemy lines. Again, this singular woman rallied to the cause, helping to lead a powerful underground fighting force, the Maquis. Supplying weapons and training the civilian Maquis, organising Allied parachute drops, launching countless raids and ambushes on Nazi convoys, cycling four hundred kilometres through German checkpoints and across a mountain range to find a new transmitting radio – nothing seemed too difficult in her fight against the Nazis. She was, as one of her old comrades remarked, the most feminine of women but she fought like five men.

Nancy Wake is our most decorated wartime heroine, having received the George Medal, the French Croix de Guerre with Star and two Palms, the Untied States Medal of Freedom with Palm, the French Medaille de la Resistance, and the French Chevalier de Legion d’Honour.

Campaigns to award her a New Zealand honour failed although the RSA recognised her with a Gold Medal.

A comment by Lieutenant-General Peter Cosgrove AC, MC, on the dust cover of her biogrpahy says:

 At its core this book is about sacrifice and a willingness to risk all for a higher cause. And it is in this sense, that Nancy’s life has very real contemporary meaning for all Australians . . . This commitment to finish what you have commenced – no matter how difficult or dangers – stands as a guiding beacon.


RSA on-line for Anzac Day

18/04/2011

The RSA has gone on-line for Anzac Day with its poppy appeal and  remembrance website www.anzacpoppy.com.

Visitors to the website will be able to leave a message on the Wall of Remembrance,  find an Anzac Day Service and other activities around the country related to Anzac Day and remembrance and   follow bloggers in Gallipoli, Timor Leste, Christchurch and around New Zealand as they prepare for and commemorate Anzac Day.

It’s also possible for people to upload their own photos of their Anzac Day commemorations and support the RSA’s welfare fund for returned servicemen and women and their families by making a donation to the 2011 Poppy Appeal.


Anzac Day’s about peace too

24/04/2010

If there were any white poppies on sale in Wanaka, I didn’t see them and they didn’t impact on sales of the RSA’s red ones.

When I went to buy one late yesterday afternoon they’d sold out and I had to try a couple of other sales spots before I found some.

The people selling the white poppies got the publicity they were seeking. The red ones are such an established symbol of Anzac Day I doubt that many, if any, would have bought a white one by mistake.

But the whole campaign was misguided.

Anzac Day doesn’t glorify war.

 It commemorates the sacrifice of people in active service.

It’s also reminds us of the sacrifices of those who served in other ways.

It reminds us to be grateful to them and for what we have because of them. That includes the freedom to indulge in misguided PR stunts.

It also includes peace and ANzac day celebrates that too.


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