War-time gift had unlikely recipient

Image: Aotearoa Books
Image: Aotearoa Books
From a little farm in Riverton to the battlefields in France.

The odds of a young girl’s hand-knitted scarf finding its way to her very own brother are vast — but that is exactly what happened.

When the Red Cross visited Violet Cloughley’s school in 1916, the children were invited to knit an item for the soldiers far from home in Gallipoli, serving in World War1.

She got to work knitting a scarf, tagging it "Gift for soldier knitted by Violet Cloughley, aged 8 years, Riverton School".

In several twists of fate, the package arrived after the Gallipoli campaign and was redirected to England before rerouting to France and into the hands of her own brother George.

The unbelievable true story has been turned into a children’s book, Violet’s Scarf, by Auckland community advocate Colleen Brown.

"It’s the most amazing story — it’s so incredible, and yet it’s true," Mrs Brown said.

George Cloughley was a driver in France, carrying goods to and from the frontlines by horseback, often transporting wounded soldiers.

Violet’s package was one of 250,000 sent from New Zealand in 1916, and was tossed from a mail wagon and caught by George.

A member of Ngai Tahu, Mrs Brown discovered Violet’s story at 14 years old while on a hikoi in Riverton with her cousins, and said it immediately resonated with her.

"We didn’t know very much about our Maori heritage, so we were going down there and collecting information — and that’s where I found the story ...

"It’s a long time ago now, but I’ve been sitting on it ever since."

She said the story stayed with her throughout her varied career until she began writing it in 2013. Violet’s Scarf is her third published book.

With close ties to Southland, Mrs Brown said she hoped to return to the region to commemorate the release of the book in some form.

The scarf knitted by Violet and worn by George was unfortunately destroyed in a shed fire some years after the war, although her handwritten tag is now in Hocken Collections.

"I fervently wish for every school in the country to have one or two copies of the book so that children understand their own history," Mrs Brown said.

"It’s a story that everyone can connect to, no matter what age they are."