Christina Knox is a New Zealand Red Cross member of the Pahia Branch. When she heard that Red Cross Parcels were being revived, she immediately thought back to conversations she had many decades ago with her father.

Archibold Harrison Knox was just 16 years old in 1914 when he ran away from home and enlisted in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders - a line infantry regiment of the British Army. Christina says that her father only began to share stories of what happened over the next few years in the 1970s.

“He never talked about it, like many men at that time,” shares Christina. “But later on,  I used to go and wait for my late husband to pick me up from my parents’ place, and my father and me would be in the sitting room watching for him to come. We would talk and that’s when he told me.”

The story he told? The value of cigarettes and brown bread.

Because, in 1915 while Archibold was serving in Germany, he was shot in the stomach and taken to a German hospital. He was operated on there and, as a soldier of the opposition, was taken directly from hospital to a prisoner of war camp.

Resources were scarce for people in these camps, with one of the few glimmers of hope arriving in the form of Red Cross Parcels. These parcels often contained food, tobacco or cigarettes, knitted socks and personal hygiene items. Goods came from across the world, including from Aotearoa where tens of thousands of Kiwi women knitted socks and mittens, crafted bandages and sewed clothing to be sent to prisoners of war.

For Archibold, like many other imprisoned boys and men, the parcels were a lifeline.

“At that time, he didn’t smoke,” Christina explains. “He was a wee boy, there wasn’t much food. The Red Cross Parcels arrived and he was able to trade his cigarettes for brown bread, which he didn’t like and never ate afterward when he came home from the war.”

Christina may never had heard her father’s story of cigarettes and brown bread, she says, if it hadn’t been for his fervent dislike for this bread even many decades after he returned from war.

“We use to kid him on about eating brown bread. And that’s the reason he didn’t.” The packs of cigarettes might now seem an inappropriate item for a Red Cross Parcel, but as Christina says, “It helped him to survive.”

Left: prisoners of war receive their Red Cross Parcels, right: an advertisement describes the parcels. 

Reviving a symbol of hope

Red Cross Parcels are part of New Zealand Red Cross’ history and have been, in many cases, a symbol of hope. Parcels were a big part of the work New Zealand Red Cross undertook during World War Two and the Knox family story is one of many great examples of how the parcels gave prisoners hope and, in some cases, saved a life by providing vital sustenance. We’re reviving the Red Cross Parcel during this difficult time of COVID-19 to, once again, be a symbol of hope for people in need.

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