Heather Bartlett at the Richmond Anzac Memorial last week. Photo: Simon Bloomberg

End of an era for RSA

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For the first time in 50 years, Richmond’s Heather Bartlett is feeling quite relaxed about Anzac Day.

That’s because, for the first time since she was 18, Heather won’t have to prepare the wreaths and chaplets for this Tuesday’s Anzac Day services around the Waimea district.

The 67-year-old great grandmother ‘retired’ last year, signalling the end of an era for the Richmond-Waimea RSA which has laid her intricate floral tributes at Anzac memorials in Richmond, Brightwater, Wakefield, Kohatu and Murchison for half a century.

A collection of Heather's Anzac Day wreaths.
A collection of Heather’s Anzac Day wreaths.

Heather started making the wreaths and chaplets after taking over Kay’s Floral Studio in Richmond in 1966.

Jeanette Lewis had been making the wreaths at the shop, which was situated where the Queen St entrance to the Richmond Mall is now, for number of years and Heather was happy to continue providing the service for the RSA.

“I just carried it on when I bought the shop,” Heather says.

“Then I left the shop in 1971 but Eddie Armstrong was the RSA president and he lived just down the road, and I’ve always known Terry Richardson (current RSA president), so they just kept coming back to me.”

Heather says the wreaths and chaplets are made from laurel leaves which she initially picked from a tree planted in her father’s backyard and then later came from two trees she specifically planted at her Richmond property.

The leaves are stapled onto a wooden and polystyrene base and the flowers, usually lilies and chrysanthemums as well as some poppies, are weaved into the arrangement using florists wire.

“There’s about 100 leaves for each chaplet and I’d start leafing them up around the 20th,” Heather says.

“Then the flowers would arrive the day before and that was always stressful because you’d order the flowers about three weeks before and you hope they arrive on time – the lilies always came closed up in buds so you’d hope they would open up in time too.

“Making them was the easy part. It would only take me an hour to an hour-and-a-half for each one but mind you, I’d made a few, I had it down to a fine art.”

Although Heather had made hundreds of wreaths and chaplets over the years and it was “just a job that had to be done”, she always thought about their significance and “what Anzac Day means to everyone”.

“It was a job and there was a lot of work in them but it always made me think.

“I never charged for them either, I only covered the costs of the flowers because it was for the RSA and you don’t do that.”

Anzac Day services will be held at Brightwater at the Brightwater Memorial Hall gates at 9am, the Wakefield Hall, Tapawera Memorial Hall and Upper Moutere Domain at 10am, the Lake Rotoiti Community Hall at 10.30am and the Richmond War Memorial Gardens and Mapua RSA Memorial Library at 11am.

The Anzac parade in Richmond and Mapua start at 10.45am.