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Stacking Up in New Zealand: Anzac Day

Many Kiwis pause on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th Month of the year to mark Armistice and the end of the Great War, but Anzac Day is actually the day of Remembrance. The 25th of April marks the anniversary of the landing of Australian and New Zealand soldiers – the Anzacs – on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915. The aim was to capture the Dardanelles and open a sea route to the Bosphorus and the Black Sea. At the end of the campaign, Gallipoli was still held by its Ottoman Turkish defenders. ANZAC is an acronym for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, a grouping of several divisions created early in the Great War. The first time each nation had troops, not under the direct command of British leadership. The casualty lists that were published in early May made for grimmer reading. Roughly 1 in 6 of the New Zealand soldiers in Gallipoli was killed.

From the outset, the landings evoked national pride. The eventual failure of the Gallipoli operation enhanced its sanctity for many; there may have been no military victory, but there was victory of the spirit as New Zealand soldiers showed courage in the face of adversity and sacrifice. New Zealanders soon demanded some form of remembrance on the anniversary of the Gallipoli landings. This became both a means of rallying support for the war effort and a public expression of grief – for no bodies were brought home. Returned servicemen wanted something else: "the boys don't want to be split up among twenty or thirty different churches on Anzac Day, and it is certain they don't want to go to a meeting to hear people who haven't been [to war] spout and pass resolutions."

So returned servicemen soon claimed ownership of the day's ceremonies preferring a public service conducted by an army chaplain. It included processions of returned and serving personnel, followed by church services and public meetings at town halls. Speeches extolled national unity, imperial loyalty, remembrance of the dead, and the need for young men to volunteer at a time when conscription seemed likely to be introduced.

The idea of selling artificial poppies to raise funds for veterans’ organisations was conceived by a French woman, Madame E. Guerin. She planned to have widows and orphans in northern France manufacture artificial poppies that could be sold to benefit veterans and destitute children.

The idea came back to New Zealand and the Returned Soldiers’ Association (RSA now Returned and Services Association) in September 1921, placed an order for 350,000 small and 16,000 large silk poppies for commemorating Armistice in 1921 (where In Flanders' fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row… and have nothing to do with Gallipoli itself) however the shipment arrived too late for Poppy Day to be properly promoted prior to Armistice Day, so the NZRSA decided to hold it on the day before Anzac Day 1922.

The first Poppy Day was a "brilliant success." Today, the annual Poppy Day Appeal – now usually held on the Friday before Anzac Day – has become the NZRSA’s primary means of raising funds for the welfare of returned service personnel and their dependents.

After Covid-19 caused huge impacts to both Poppy Day and Anzac Day commemorations last year, and because our nationwide team of 5 million has been behind our Covid responses of abiding by social distancing, sanitising, tracking movements, and wearing masks, we are presently in our lowest (and most free) Covid-19 level. This has meant a normal Poppy Day appeal where veterans and service persons take to the streets to take donations in exchange for poppies for the public to wear on Anzac Day.

As part of our Stack here in Aotearoa, we wanted to live up to the credo; Veterans are our Mission, so we took to the streets (and able to enjoy being mask free due to no community transmission of Covid-19) in support of selling Poppies on what turned out to be a lovely, sunny day! Needless to say, it was a great day raising money and reppin' the Red!

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