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WWI fundraisers honoured 100 years on

May 15, 2019

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WWI fundraisers honoured 100 years on

The refurbished graves of two women who were honoured by Belgium for their fundraising efforts in World War I were unveiled at a special ceremony at Waikaraka Cemetery last month.

Mrs Mary Ann Wick and Mrs Margaret Elizabeth Callan were among 33 New Zealand recipients of the

Queen Elisabeth Medal (Médaille de la Reine Elisabeth), awarded in 1920 to those who had performed outstanding services in aid of Belgian citizens and soldiers.

The graves were restored and special plaques added as a centenary project by the Belgium Government and the New Zealand Ministry of Culture and Heritage. Members of the women’s families attended the ceremony along with the Belgian Ambassador, His Excellency Marc Mullie, and Auckland Council heritage experts.

Mary Ann Wick sold flowers and vegetables from her large garden in Takapuna and donated the proceeds to the Belgium Relief Fund and the Red Cross. Her son joined the Allied occupation army in Belgium after being wounded at Gallipoli and serving on the Western Front. Mary Ann died in January 1918; while she knew about the Queen Elisabeth Medal, it was awarded after her death.

Her great-great-grand-daughter Angela Te Wiata said the family only managed to track down the medal after a visit to Belgium two years ago. “We feel incredibly proud to remember and recognise Mary Ann in this way. Her generosity at a time when circumstances would have been difficult for her as well is nothing short of outstanding.”

Margaret Callan was a teacher in Dunedin where she involved herself in local charities and church groups raising money for the Belgian cause. She continued her work after moving to Auckland where she was a founding member of the Auckland Catholic Women’s League and the Crippled Children’s Society. She was awarded an MBE in 1960 and died in April 1967.

Margaret’s grand-daughter Louise Callan said news of the Belgian medal came as a total surprise to her family. “She was a very private and humble person. We knew about the MBE and some of her good works but not about this medal which has vanished from the family.”

Sidebar

The war effort back home

New Zealand women supported hundreds of patriotic societies during World War I. One of the most popular was the Belgian Relief Fund, which raised around £805,000 – equivalent to more than $100 million today. When Germany invaded in August 1914, New Zealanders rallied to the aid of “brave little Belgium”. Women (and children) took the lead in supplying food, clothes and “comforts” to civilians in war-torn Europe as well as soldiers at the front.

At the unveiling, the Belgian Ambassador told the two women’s families that they could be rightly proud of their ancestors. “Their efforts were an exceptional way to show solidarity with and compassion for those in need. They teach us that we can always do something to relieve the suffering of others at such times.”