Poppy Day Controversy

The Returned and Services Association (RSA) decision to import poppies for the 2012 Poppy Day Appeal instead of having them made in New Zealand has stirred up public opinion during this year’s appeal.

Thursday, 21st April 2011

The annual Poppy Day Appeal, which raises funds for returned servicemen and servicewomen and their families in need, is one of New Zealand’s longer-standing traditions.

The idea of using the red poppy as a symbol of remembrance is attributed to Moina Belle Michael in New York in 1918, who was inspired by Colonel John McCrea’s poem “In Flanders Fields.”
The first Poppy Day in New Zealand was held in 1922 using artificial poppies imported from France where they were manufactured by widows and orphans in the devastated areas of northern France.

The inaugural Poppy Appeal was held in the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia on Armistice Day in 1921. However, the shipment of 350,000 small and 16,000 large silk poppies for New Zealand arrived too late to properly publicise the idea, and our inaugural day was held on April 24th 1922, the day prior to Anzac Day. The precedent was set, with the other countries continuing to hold a Poppy Appeal in association with Armistice Day, and New Zealand celebrating a Poppy Day in association with Anzac Day.

From the outset, there was lively debate over whether New Zealand should manufacture its own poppies and provide employment for disabled returned soldiers instead of importing them. However, even though there were difficulties with the supply, the French poppies were imported until 1927 when supplies from the Royal British Legion’s factory in Richmond, Surrey were secured.

In 1931 the NZRSA began producing its own poppies in Auckland and Christchurch, providing employment for disabled soldiers. In the post-WWII period, the Rehabilitation League continued manufacturing the poppies, and the design had changed to a smaller cup-shaped poppy, with fabric petals and a long wire stem wrapped in crepe ribbon. The basic design changed little during the period 1930s to 1970s but the ribbon-wrapped stems, which tended to unravel easily, were replaced with green plastic-coated wire stems sometime around 1970.

A significant change to a flat, almost two-dimensional, stylised poppy in 1978 proved to be controversial with the public. By this time, the Christchurch RSA was solely responsible for the manufacture of the poppies and had contracted the work out to the IHC. Whilst cheaper to produce, the stylised poppy lacked the three-dimensional realistic charm of its predecessor, and some donors were outraged. Nevertheless, the RSA held firm to its decision, and the new poppy has become a well-recognised symbol of the appeal.

This page on the NZRSA website shows the evoloution of the RSA’s poppy over the years.

Controversy is again dogging the appeal, with the decision last year to again import poppies for distribution on Poppy Day. The RSA policy takes effect for the 2012 appeal, but the Auckland RSA has jumped the gun, using an independent supplier for this year’s appeal.

The policy has split public opinion and RSA branches. The Christchurch RSA has held firm to the belief that it is inappropriate to import poppies, and that they should continue to be manufactured by the IHC through its business now known as Kilmarnock. With the passage of time, disabled servicemen and servicewomen no longer rely on the manufacturing work for income, but there is a strong feeling that the work and revenue assists the disabled staff at Kilmarnock.

Auckland’s jumping the gun brought the issue to a head just before this year’s Poppy Day, with members of the public starting to express their opposition to the idea of imported poppies. The origin of the poppies being distributed this year became an issue and the Chritchurch RSA made some effort to assure the public that all South Island supplies had been locally made. The situation in the North Island was less clear. How far were the imported Auckland RSA poppies being distributed?

The Tawa RSA took the sensible step of placing a sticker on its collection pails this morning, assuring donors that their poppy was locally sourced.

NZRSA Poppy 2011

[click for larger image] The RSA poppy 2011 – Made in New Zealand from local and imported “ingredients”

Interestingly, a survey of three collectors in Tawa this morning showed that opinion is divided and that there are some staunch views of the RSA’s decision to import poppies. One collector said that many donors had asked about the origin of the poppies, and were reassured by Tawa RSA’s pail labels. Another collector, who reported collections quieter than normal, had only been asked about the poppies’ manufacture once. Another collector was more vocal about her opinion, saying that most things are manufactured in China nowadays, so why not poppies? “Who cares?” she added. Mind you, she had only just started her “shift” and she may well know by now that a lot of her donors actually do care.

This could be one of the few issues to trigger a strong public response if the NZRSA continues with its plan to change a 70-year tradition of manufacturing poppies for the Poppy Day Appeal in New Zealand next year. It was successful in implementing the change to a stylised poppy in 1978 despite the controversy. When the pacifist white poppy movement was thought to be encroaching on Poppy Day in 2009 and 2010 there was a strong rejection from the public and they desisted.

Some strong opposition to returning to overseas manufacture has been expressed. If this translates into boycotting the annual appeal next year, the forecast savings may well be at the cost of a significant drop in donations.

[ information sources: The Great War website, U.K., NZRSA website, local opinion. ]

2 Responses to “Poppy Day Controversy”

  1. Flying Deldas says:

    A local R.S.A. member informed us that the present poppies are made in Oz and he was not aware of any change in the future for them to be made elsewhere. He said , “The Media have got it all wrong again!”


  2. Lizzie from Gizzie says:

    I, for one, will be watching this space. I agree that they should be produced here providing employment for disabled people. Hope more information is forthcoming.

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