A century of poppies

As the RSA commemorates 100 years of the New Zealand Poppy Appeal this year, Veronica Egan tells her story of organising the Tauranga Poppy Appeal for 37 years. Photo: John Borren/SunLive.

The RSA is commemorating 100 years since the first Poppy Appeal in New Zealand, which first began on April 4, 1922.

This years’ Poppy Day is taking place on Friday, April 22.

Tauranga president of the women’s section at the RSA, Veronica Egan, has been organising the annual Poppy Appeal since 1985 – a total of 37 years.

Veronica says that her background has allowed her to organise the Tauranga Poppy Appeal for so long.

“My father was a policeman and I married a serviceman. After he passed, my partner was a serviceman too. It’s just embedded in me.

“I’ve been so fortunate, I’ve had a great team behind me, and that’s what you need when you’re organising something,” Veronica says.

During the lead up to the annual Poppy Appeal, Veronica says she can sometimes be at the RSA for more than eight hours a day.

“I ring up businesses and ask them if they would like to put poppies on their counter for people to donate, as well as take calls and organise orders that people may have for boxes.

“We start setting up at the end of February, it is a very busy few months.”

Former president of the Tauranga RSA, Heather Waldron, says that the Veronica’s yearly effort is nothing short of amazing.

“She puts in a tremendous amount of work. We are very fortunate to have her. She does an excellent job of organising everything,” says Heather.

Veronica says that usually her team would consist of a few hundred people. This year however, they have had to downsize due to Covid-19, and work in a team of around five people.

“Last year was quite similar circumstances. I didn’t want people to be out and about on the streets selling poppies so we have mainly kept them to the countertops in businesses,” says Veronica.

“We are so fortunate that the businesses are backing us and allowing us to have poppy boxes on their countertops.”

Veronica also says along with schools not being able to help this year due to Covid-19, they have not been able to deliver to a lot of rest homes.

“We have actually sold more boxes this year. This is due to less people selling poppies on the street.

“It’s required a bit of a different approach. There haven’t been as many people out on the street, and not as many people carry cash nowadays.

“Businesses have been more inclined to buying the whole boxes instead of selling poppies individually to their staff.”

Both Veronica and Heather say that they have lots of fond memories of organising the Poppy Appeal.

“We have lots of laughs when we all get together to count the donations,” Heather says.

National RSA Women’s Association president Diane Wilson says that the focus this year is on supporting younger veterans just as much as the older ones.

“We want to recognize the young veterans too. When people think of the Poppy Appeal they tend to think of the older veterans who were involved in World War One or World War Two. We need to support and not forget about the veterans who may have more recently returned that need looking after,” says Diane.

National RSA president BJ Clark says that other measures have been taken place this year in order to support veterans for the next 12 months.

“We have put the poppy boxes out early this year, and they will be available for the full month of April. We are also modernising the RSA by allowing more options for online donations.

“This is being done in the hopes to further fundraise for our veterans, and look after those who may be suffering from post-traumatic stress injury or PTSI,” says BJ.

Heather Waldron also shared a quote about the significance of the Poppy from the RSA. 

“The Poppy is an emblem of sacrifice, a symbol of a life spent in the service of one’s country. It also serves as a link between our late comrades, and those of us who remain. We place/wear it here in remembrance.”

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