In just under ten days it will be Anzac Day. One of the most important days in our national calendar. While at the park with the kids today I observed two people wearing their beautiful red poppy pins in remembrance. As I admired their poppies, I sat there and wondered. I wondered if I might see anyone wearing a red and a white poppy side-by-side this year.
You see strangely enough, because of my heritage on mum’s side, I have a Great-Uncle who fought for Great Britain – and a Great-Aunt (his sister) who had to officially register as an ‘Alien’ while residing here in New Zealand. Their mother, Ellen was Tongan-English and their father, Emil, was German. And to make things even more complicated the children all grew up in Samoa. That was my great-grandfather’s generation.
A couple of years ago while undertaking some family research I discovered a file held by ArchivesNZ in relation to my Great-Aunt. The file contained my Aunt’s ‘Certificate of Registration’ and a Report from the ‘Aliens Authority’ which included the following report by Mr F.L.G West:
The contents of this file are fascinating and perhaps not too unusual for the times. I have previously written about Alien-Enemies interned on Motuihe Island in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf during the first world war and many will be familiar with the courageous leadership of Princess Te Kirihaehae Te Puea Herangi as she asserted her people’s opposition to the government’s conscription policy. The actions of many Conscientious Objectors, such as Archibald Baxter, is also an important part of our war history that shouldn’t be forgotten. And, for me, the white poppy worn alongside of the red poppy feels like the most appropriate way to acknowledge that courage, especially during times of conflict, can take many forms.
When I read up on the controversy that unfolded regarding this back in 2010, I noted that the issue was largely around the timing of the white poppy campaign being too close to Anzac Day. That the debate had come down to one of ‘rivalry’ saddens me but knowing what many of the veterans have gone through, seen and lost, their feelings are understandable. Having said that I don’t think that the comments made by Judith Collins at the time were acceptable given their divisive nature. To me the role of a Minister is to build bridges, hear different perspectives and help to forge constructive dialogue and solutions for moving forward – together. This is perhaps a stretch too far for Crusher Collins though (for further background, here is one of the 2010 articles.)
I guess the question I am left with is: will the ‘red’ and the ‘white’ poppies always be seen as ‘rivals’ in our society-at-large? Or is there a possibility, however small, that one day the symbolism embedded within the two might be seen to represent what they both stand for in equal measure: remembrance and peace. And if so, how far away are we from that day?