Poppy abuse shows Kiwis' 'dark side'

By Hayden Donnell, James Beech of the Otago Daily Times

The one on the left is made in China, the one on the right is made in New Zealand. Photo / Jason Dorday
The one on the left is made in China, the one on the right is made in New Zealand. Photo / Jason Dorday

Abuse hurled at war veterans and volunteers collecting money for Poppy Day shows a "dark side" of the New Zealand psyche, the RSA chief executive says.

Members of the RSA Queenstown branch had abused hurled at them on Friday and Saturday by people who believed the poppies they were selling were from China.

They were offering 8000 traditional poppies, were made by a disabled group associated with the Christchurch RSA and left over from last year's appeal.

However, other major centres are selling poppies made in China this year, after the RSA moved production offshore in a bid to save more than $100,000.

RSA chief executive Steven Clarke said the some of the criticism faced by collectors over the move showed an element of xenophobia.

While the abuse handed out to the Queenstown volunteers was "extreme", collectors in other centres had also faced criticism, he said.

"It does seem to have struck a bit of a dark side in the New Zealand psyche."

Dr Clarke said many of those criticising the shift in production were happy to buy other products made in China.

He said Australia had moved production of its poppies offshore about 30 years ago.

The abuse over the move against the spirit of ANZAC Day, he said.

"It really misses the point that the poppy is a symbol of remembrance for veterans. It's about remembrance and unity."

Minister of Veteran's Affairs Nathan Guy said it was "very disappointing" to hear that veterans and those collecting money have been abused.

"It's important to remember that poppy sales directly help veterans' and their families, and people should respect those collecting for such a worthy cause."

RSA Queenstown president and Vietnam War veteran David Geddes said yesterday RSA members "were surprised at the depth of feeling" about Chinese poppies, which are identical to those made in New Zealand.

"Some collectors were abused ... and we find that quite sad.

"People were saying they shouldn't be touching stuff from China. I find it quite offensive to the Chinese people who live and work here.

"We found it very disappointing because people are losing sight about what the poppy is about - remembrance."

Mr Geddes said he hoped the attitude was not a factor in the Poppy Day appeal, with noticeably less collected so far this year for veterans' and veterans' immediate dependants.

"We're about $10,000. My feeling is we're down a couple of thousand dollars."

Volunteers will be out with collection buckets on Anzac Day at the parade assembly beside the Queenstown Memorial Gates at 9.15am and along the parade route to the service in the Queenstown Memorial Hall at 10am.

Dunedin RSA president Jenepher Glover said there were no such problems with poppy collection in Dunedin, although some members of the public had commented about poppies being made in China.

She said members of the public generally "had more respect" than to abuse veterans and collectors.

Central Otago RSA members say many many people have been commenting about the "Chinese" poppies.

Alexandra-Clyde RSA member Jock Braidwood said he had heard a "few grumbles" but nothing serious.

However, donations were down on previous years and he attributed it to people possibly thinking the poppies were made in China.

Maniototo RSA secretary Margaret Lockhart said it seemed as though people might be donating less for the poppies this year and thought some were "a bit hot under the collar" and had commented. However, there had been no abuse or complaints about where the poppies were made.

In North Otago, the number of poppies sold is expected to be "slightly down" on previous years, but North Otago RSA president Norman Foley feels donations could be similar. He will not know the total until the end of the week.

Some people who objected to poppies made in China still made a donation, he said.
"North Otago people have always been very supportive of their RSA and while some did ask [about the poppies' origin] and objected, they still made donations."

The Auckland Museum has the official Book of Remembrance open again this year for the public to post messages during the ANZAC period.

The public can also download the Dawn Service programme here.

- Otago Daily Times

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