By Catherine Manning, History SA, ‘Violet Day’, SA History Hub, History SA
Before the poppy became the recognised flower for war memorials, the violet in South Australia, was the ‘symbol of perpetual remembrance’. Violet Day was first held in Adelaide on 2 July 1915. Alexandrine Seager, Secretary and Organiser of the Cheer-Up Society, is credited with the creation of the event.
The First Violet Day
The original idea appears to have been to remember the war dead, in reaction to events at Gallipoli in April that year, but the commemoration extended to honouring the wounded and all those who had made sacrifices for their country.
The Daily Herald in Adelaide reported in the lead up that:
“…it is fitting that there should be some public sign of sorrow and honor. The fragrant violet will put us in mind of what Socrates described as “the perfume of heroic deeds.” (The Daily Herald, 2 July 1915, ‘Violet Day’, p. 4)
In 1915 fresh violets were sold to raise money to support returned soldiers, or the Cheer-Up fund. Members of the Cheer-Up Society also sold ribbons with the words ‘In Memoriam’ to be worn with the violets, or violet posies tied with purple ribbon printed with ‘In Memory’ and the Christian cross. In all around 100 women dressed in white carried trays of violets to sell through the city of Adelaide, and raised over £700.00
People gathered at the South African War Memorial, known then as the ‘Soldiers’ Memorial Statue’, for speeches and a performance by the Police Band. The Governor, Sir Henry Galway, addressed attendees, stressing remembrance and honouring of Australian troops and their sacrifice to Empire. He also told the crowd:
“Today we not only honour the day, but our hearts go out with the deepest respect and sympathy to they who are mourning the loss of their nearest and dearest. The British Empire will never be able to repay the debt owed to the women for their calm self sacrifice in this great struggle. …” (The Advertiser, 3 July1915 p. 17 ).
Janice Pavils describes the ‘spontaneous demonstration of Violet Day as a form of grief management’ with the ‘memorial as a substitute communal headstone …’ (Pavils, Janice ‘Anzac Culture’ p. 54) The statue was draped in purple and white ribbons, and memorial wreaths were laid by attendees.
If you would like to crochet your own violet click the link below to access violet patterns: