Remembering together for Poppy Day

RESTLESS: RSA volunteers Mal Sears, left, and Fran Sears collecting in Trafalgar St this morning.
RESTLESS: RSA volunteers Mal Sears, left, and Fran Sears collecting in Trafalgar St this morning.

Husband and wife team Mal and Fran Sears have stuck together through thick and thin, including the Vietnam War, and were this morning among Nelson RSA members in Trafalgar St selling poppies for the annual pre-Anzac Day RSA appeal.

The collection is the Returned and Services Association's major fundraising campaign and allows local RSAs to continue to assist veterans and their families.

Several volunteers were struggling to keep their poppies from blowing away in the wind.

Fran was proud to say today they have been married 47 years, which was a rarity among couples involved in the Vietnam War.

She was embedded in Singapore raising a young family in the late 1960s while Mal, a corporal in the New Zealand Army, went to war in Vietnam.

"It was an adventure. We were only 19 or 20," he said.

Life since then has been a restless journey of finding somewhere to settle. After Sears' five-year tour of duty in the army, the family returned to Trentham, then back to Nelson, where he worked in a furniture factory. Disillusioned, they left for Australia but returned to New Zealand a decade ago and came back to Nelson two years ago.

Fellow Nelson RSA member Adrian Bayly, who has also returned home to Nelson on retirement, was keen to volunteer on Poppy Day as a mark of respect for the sacrifices made by many New Zealanders over several wars. He has been helping to sell poppies each year since 1999.

The 68-year-old army reservist was never called up, but as a territorial was entitled to membership of the RSA.

"They're now taking children of veterans, as the bulk of servicepeople now left are from the Vietnam and Gulf wars."

Poppies were the first flowers that grew in the battlefields of Flanders in Belgium during World War I and are a symbol of remembrance and hope.

Poppy Day has been a part of the New Zealand calendar since 1922, making it one of the oldest nationwide appeals.

Last year Poppy Day in the Nelson region raised $20,210.