The remarkable efforts of a Whanganui woman during World War I have been further recognised by the Belgian government.
Eleanora Angelina Wotton (1872-1938) was in charge of the Belgian and Serbian Relief Society in Whanganui during World War I, organising fundraisers and donations of food and clothing for military hospitals in Belgium.
The society raised the equivalent of $240,000 in today's money and after the war the Belgian government awarded Eleanora the Medaille de la Reine Elisabeth (Queen Elisabeth Medal) in recognition of her work.
On Saturday, Eleanora's descendants made a special trip to Whanganui for a ceremony to further acknowledge her achievements.
Honorary Consul for the Kingdom of Belgium Don Staples and Eleanora's descendants, plus historian Imelda Bargas from the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, gathered at her grave in the Heads Rd Cemetery. A plaque on the grave, commemorating Eleanora and her work during World War I, was unveiled by Staples and Eleanora's grandson, Chris Wotton.
Staples said the Queen Elisabeth Medal was awarded to 33 New Zealand women, as well as women from Belgium and other countries, after World War I.
"Some of the key individuals during the war were women who organised from their home country to help Belgium," Staples said.
"Eleanora Wotton led the local relief society. As a medal recipient, her grave has been restored. It has been an ongoing venture requiring support from Whanganui, Wellington, [the Embassy of Belgium in] Canberra and Brussels."
The Belgian government wanted to express its gratitude to New Zealand for the service people provided during World War I, he said.
"Their memories do live on in our hearts."
Chris Wotton said family members had come from as far as Auckland and Waikato for the occasion.
"Over 100 years ago the Whanganui-Rangitikei area was mobilised to produce a range of desperately-needed goods to supply the Belgian Serbian Relief Society," he said.
"It was an amazing project undertaken by the community in Whanganui-Rangitikei. Dressing gowns, jackets, knitted hats, long-armed mittens, khaki handkerchiefs, socks, shirts, woollen underwear and face towels were among the clothes produced by sewing and knitting bees held in homes and church halls."
The Westmere Dairy Company donated and shipped 13 crates of cheese to Belgium.
The goods were distributed in Belgium by Beatrice Maunder, a nurse from Marton who was a director of military hospitals.
Eleanora knew Maunder from when both lived in Marton and she organised women in Whanganui and Rangitikei to assist with the war effort.
"We are all here today to honour a citizen who was not only a friend to the Belgian people but a grandmother, great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother," Wotton said.
"We acknowledge her strength, her leadership and her determination in achieving such an outcome in those hard times.
"This is a story of what can be achieved when a community chooses to band together for the benefit of those less fortunate."
The family was grateful for the Belgian Government's ongoing recognition of Eleanora's work and for the commemoration plaque which publicly recognised part of the community's history, he said.
Bargas, who worked on the grave project as part of the World War I centenary, said it had been "a labour of love" that had helped people understand the importance of New Zealand's connection with Belgium during World War I.
"People have been learning their family's stories during this project."
Bargas said the turnout by the Wotton family was the largest at any of the grave commemoration ceremonies held, including those where a number of women were acknowledged at one ceremony.
Eleanora is buried alongside her father, Captain Clifford Iveson, in the Heads Rd Cemetery.