We will remember them

    Returned serviceman Pat Blair and his wife, Dianne, encourage others to honour and remember New Zealand's veterans and service personnel by decorating their fences with poppies as happened during the Covid-19 lockdown last year.

    RED, the colour of blood, the price for peace.

    Among the poppies of Flanders in Belgium, many soldiers of World War 1 perished and were buried.

    So affected by the sight, Canadian physician Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae was moved to write the poem In Flanders Fields after burying his friend and fellow soldier Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, and noticing how quickly the poppies grew around the graves.

    Helmer died during the second battle of Ypres in the Flanders region of Belgium, when the German army launched one of the first chemical attacks using chlorine gas.

    According to legend, it was the next day, Lt Col McCrae composed the poem.

    Invercargill resident Dianne Blair has probably knitted thousands of poppies throughout the years.

    This year, she estimated it may have been “easily 100”.

    Thirty of those were given to The Poppy Flight relay, a fundraiser for the RSA (Returned Services Association), NZ Warbirds Association and The Starship Foundation, when a Tiger Moth and pilot Ben Morrison landed in Invercargill recently.

    Mrs Blair said the poppies were sown on to one of the two giant canvases and the money she raised from the poppies was given to the local Awarua RSA welfare fund.

    “Two hundred dollars was raised from selling the poppies, mainly to our family and friends, with the money staying in the local community by being donated to the Awarua RSA,” she said.

    It wasn’t only about the fundraising, Mrs Blair said.

    “I often give the poppies away, especially to children, to help them learn and understand the importance of Anzac Day.”

    Mrs Blair and her husband, Pat, a returned serviceman, also manned collection points last Friday for the annual Poppy Day street collection, which raised money for current and former service personnel by giving a poppy in exchange for a donation. This year’s theme was Saluting Women and the Military.

    Mrs Blair was based at Elles Road New World, while Mr Blair was stationed across the road at Glasinos, both saying people of all ages contributed, and “a lot of people gave notes”.

    “Anzac Day is important to us, partly because Pat served overseas, and also the importance of what the day represents,” Mrs Blair said.

    Mr Blair served in the New Zealand infantry in Malaya for six months during 1969 and six months in Singapore that same year. He also served one year in Vietnam from 1969-1970.

    “Vietnam is quite the tourist destination now. I wouldn’t recommend it when I was there,” he said.

    Some of Mrs Blairs’ other knitted-poppies-related projects included restoring a big poppy at St Pauls Presbyterian Church on Dee St, and “yarn bombing” the permanent seats at Invercargill Cenotaph on Saturday in time for Sunday’s Anzac service, she said.

    The Blairs had also decorated their street-facing fence with knitted poppies, a plaque of remembrance and other features in recognition of Anzac Day.

    “It’s something we do every year,” Mrs Blair said.

    “Last year, with lockdown, it was lovely to see all the decorated fences, and we would like to challenge everyone to decorate their fences each year for Anzac.”

    For those who would like to donate to the Poppy Day Appeal, donation boxes were still throughout the province or people could donate online.