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100 years on Belgium honours women with a cause

Published: 15 March 2019

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Womenpower to the fore!

Daughters of early settlers, Mary Ann Wick (nee Nicol) a wife and Margaret Callan (nee Mowat) a teacher never have expected awards and accolades. But a century later, we honour these two women for their work during World War One.

On Monday, 18 March, the Belgian ambassador to New Zealand, His Excellency Marc Mullie, will unveil special plaques they commissioned that have been affixed to Mary Ann and Margaret’s restored graves.

The pair received the Médaille de la Reine Elisabeth (Belgian Queen Elisabeth Medal) for their contributions to providing humanitarian, financial and medical assistance to civilians and soldiers through the first world war.

Mary Ann Wick picked up a trowel, threw on some gloves and set to work growing and selling vegetables and flowers from her Takapuna garden, while Margaret Callan immersed herself in local charities, raising money for the Belgian cause.

It’s believed more than £800,000 (estimated equivalent to around $NZ100m today) was raised for the relief fund to feed and clothe the people of German-occupied Belgium.

“It was so wonderful how New Zealanders rallied together to support the Belgians at such a critical time," says Belgian ambassador Marc Muille.

"Their kindness and compassion to relieve the suffering of a nation half a world away was remarkable."

Angela Te Wiata, the great great grand-daughter of Mary Ann Wicks says, “it’s wonderful to have this amazing woman recognised in this way.

"Her generosity at a time when circumstances would have been difficult for her as well is nothing short of outstanding.”

Maungakiekie-Tāmaki Local Board is hosting the event and chair ‎Chris Makoare says, “we were happy to contribute; it is an important part of history and the role of these women played in supporting the Belgian citizens is definitely worthy of recognition.”

Just thirty-three medals were awarded to New Zealand women. As part of the WW1 centenary, Ministry for Culture and Heritage’ Imelda Bargas has identified the medal recipients, and many of the recipient’s graves have been restored and the special plaque of the medal affixed, in close collaboration and with the financial support of the Embassy of Belgium in New Zealand.

The grave work at Waikaraka Cemetery has been carried out by Englishman Martin Horwood of Artemis Conservation, who has a wealth of experience in working with historic material at such places as Hampton Court and the Palace of Westminster.

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