by COLLEEN McMURCHY

On March 18, the Belgian ambassador to New Zealand, Marc Mullie, unveiled a special plaque which has been affixed to the restored grave of Margaret Elizabeth Callan (nee Mowat) at the Waikaraka Park cemetery in Auckland.

This was part of the First World War centenary commemorations and was in appreciation of the work of Mrs Callan, who received the Médaille de la Reine Elisabeth (Belgian Queen Elisabeth Medal) in 1920 in recognition of her fundraising efforts to provide humanitarian, financial and medical assistance to Belgian civilians and soldiers during the First World War.

“It was so wonderful how New Zealanders rallied together to support the Belgians at such a critical time. Their kindness and compassion to relieve the suffering of a nation half a world away was remarkable,” Mr Mullie said.

Just 33 such medals were awarded to New Zealand women, mainly from Dunedin. It’s believed that more than £800,000 (estimated as equivalent to around $NZ100 million today) was raised by New Zealand women for the relief fund to feed and clothe the people of German-occupied Belgium.

A representative of the CWLANZ (Catholic Women’s League
Aotearoa New Zealand), international secretary Colleen McMurchy, was amongst the invited guests at this occasion when the ambassador, representatives from the Maungakiekie Community Board, and Margaret’s granddaughter Louise Callan unveiled the plaque at Onehunga.

Margaret Callan, MBE, a trained teacher, was heavily involved in local charities, especially Catholic Church groups in Dunedin in the 1930s. Her charitable works continued when she moved to Auckland in 1935 with her husband Justice Callan, who had been appointed to the Supreme Court Bench.

In Auckland, Mrs Callan was a founder member of the NZ
Crippled Children Society, and an early member of the Auckland branch of the Society of St Vincent De Paul and of the Catholic Women’s League. In 1960, she was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of
her continued community service.

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