Centaur Day, 14 May, and Red Roses for Remembrance

Guest blogger, Madonna Grehan, John Oxley Library Fellow for 2015.

The Centaur Fund Series highlights Queenslanders’ special acknowledgement of the nursing profession, in the years after World War II.

The Centaur Memorial Fund (the Fund) was a public subscription campaign, begun in February 1948, to recognise ‘the splendid services rendered by our Nurses in World Wars I and II, on the Home Front, and generally, to the people of Queensland”.[1] The idea was to finance the purchase of an appropriate building where educational and recreational facilities for nurses could be developed. The building itself was to be called ‘Centaur House’, a perpetual architectural memorial to the eleven Australian Army Nursing Service nurses killed in the torpedoing and sinking of the 2/3 Australian Hospital Ship Centaur, just five years earlier off the south eastern coast of Queensland, on 14 May 1943.[2]

The vast sum of £65,000 was needed to buy or build a property. At a time when rationing of petrol and some foodstsuffs still applied, soliciting for good causes was not easy, but Queenslanders whole-heartedly embraced the Fund’s purpose. A major strategy inaugurated in 1948 was the selling of “Red Roses for Remembrance” on the 14 May. That date was proclaimed by the Fund as “Centaur Day”.

Order for crepe paper, undated. Miscellaneous Papers 1948-1949, OMEG 27/2, Centaur House Records, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

Order for crepe paper, undated. Miscellaneous Papers 1948-1949, OMEG 27/2, Centaur House Records, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

The paper blossoms were made of crepe and wire. ‘Aurora’ or ‘Gala’ were the preferred brands of crepe paper, with No 81 or No 66 making up the red petals, and Moss Green paper covering 26-gauge wire as stems. Initially the target was to produce and sell 25,000 roses. Patients at the Brisbane General Hospital joined in the making.[3] In Maryborough, returned servicemen made their own and sold them.[4] Nurses in uniform sold the remembrance roses wherever possible throughout Queensland. Trade Unions were the first to buy up boxes of 100 roses at £5.[5]

Nurses selling red paper roses for remembrance for Centaur Day, Ipswich, 1949. Image courtesy of Picture Ipswich. Ipswich City Council

Nurses selling red paper roses for remembrance for Centaur Day, Ipswich, 1949. Image courtesy of Picture Ipswich, Ipswich City Council

Coolangatta-Tweed Heads Sub-Branch of the Returned Sailors’ Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia bought a box, saying “For such a worthy cause as Centaur House, we will work day and night”.[6] Demand was so strong that supplies of roses ran out. The unions were public spirited in allowing their allocations of roses to be sold again. All up, around 100,000 red roses were distributed throughout QLD.

‘Roses for Remembrance’, Extract from Brisbane Telegraph 13 May 1948, by well-known artist and cartoonist Wilson Cooper, Scrap Book Queen of the Nurses Quest, OMEG 19/1 Centaur House Records, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

‘Roses for Remembrance’, Extract from Brisbane Telegraph 13 May 1948, by well-known artist and cartoonist Wilson Cooper, Scrap Book Queen of the Nurses Quest, OMEG 19/1 Centaur House Records, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

This giant fund-raiser culminated in a ceremony at the General Post Office (GPO) in Queen Street, Brisbane on Friday 14 May 1948. Draped over the balcony of the GPO was an enormous banner, bearing an image of a nurse in uniform with a white veil and red cape, seen in this newspaper report. She points to a motto which reads: “THEY ALSO DIED THAT WE SHOULD LIVE – PERPETUATE THEIR MEMORY – SUPPORT THE NURSES WAR MEMORIAL APPEAL”. In between these exhortations is written Centaur, outlined by what were red and green crepe paper roses.

At the GPO, formal proceedings were ‘dignified and impressive’. Sisters and nurses lined up on the steps in uniform with veils and capes, contributing a splash of colour. The Governor, Sir John Lavarack, “planted” the first rose into Centaur. He also placed a symbol ‘in the form of a crown’ there. When His Excellency returned to the dais, Sister G Raymond of the Women’s Hospital pinned a red rose in the lapel of his coat. Premier Hanlon was represented by Mr Gair MP. He, likewise, “planted” a rose and placed a symbolic Coat of Arms of Queensland. Returned soldiers placed a Rising Sun. Politicians, nurses, and the public then planted their blossoms, until the ship’s name Centaur was filled with crepe paper Red Roses of Remembrance.[7]

‘City arrangements for Centaur Appeal’, Extract from Brisbane Telegraph 13 May 1948, Scrap Book Queen of the Nurses Quest, OMEG 19/1 Centaur House Records, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

‘City arrangements for Centaur Appeal’, Extract from Brisbane Telegraph 13 May 1948, Scrap Book Queen of the Nurses Quest, OMEG 19/1 Centaur House Records, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

In Ipswich the public planted their paper roses into a board which had holes drilled into it, spelling Centaur.[8] Toowoomba, too, had a public memorial board spelling Centaur for planting roses.[9] In 1948, selling Red Roses for Remembrance netted the Centaur Memorial Fund around £3,000. Lest We Forget.

Crepe Paper Red Roses, made by SLQ Staff Member Janette Garrad October 2015. Imaged by Madonna Grehan

Crepe Paper Red Roses, made by SLQ Staff Member Janette Garrad October 2015. Imaged by Madonna Grehan

Further reading:

References

[1] 16 April 1948, Executive Committee Minutes, 1948 and other miscellaneous papers, OMEG 3/2, Centaur House Records, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

[2] Telegraph 10 April 1948, p.5.

[3] ‘Rose Maker’, Extract from Telegraph 27 March 1948, Scrapbook Queen of the Nurses Quest, OMEG 19/1

[4] ‘Bribie to Raise £100 for Nurse Appeal’, Extract from Telegraph 1 April 1948, Scrapbook Queen of the Nurses Quest, OMEG 19/1 Centaur House Records, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

[5] Extract from Brisbane Telegraph 12 April 1948, Scrapbook Queen of the Nurses Quest, OMEG 19/1 Centaur House Records, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland

[6] ‘Debutants in Nurse Uniform’, Extract from Brisbane Telegraph 4 May 1948, Scrap Book, OMEG 19/1 Queen of the Nurses Quest, OMEG 19/1 Centaur House Records, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

[7] ‘Dignity, Colour in Centaur Tribute’, Extract from Brisbane Telegraph 14 May 1948, Scrap Book Queen of the Nurses Quest, OMEG 19/1 Centaur House Records, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

[8] ‘City arrangements for Centaur Appeal’, Extract from Brisbane Telegraph 13 May 1948, Scrap Book Queen of the Nurses Quest, OMEG 19/1 Centaur House Records, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.

[9] ‘In Memory of Centaur’, Extract from Brisbane Telegraph 6 May 1948, Scrap Book Queen of the Nurses Quest, OMEG 19/1 Centaur House Records, John Oxley Library, State Library of Queensland.