Thursday, 7 January 2016

Alexandra Seager (1870 - 1950) - Australian

Alexandra was born Alexandrine Laidlaw on 10th November 1870 in Ballarat, Victoria, Australia.  Her father was farmer and miner William Laidlaw and her mother Helen Mickel, nee Dickson.

On 16th June 1891, Alexandrine married Clarendon James Seager, a widower and British Army Officer.  In 1908, by which time they had six children, the family moved to live in Adelaide.   There, Alexandrine started up a business called The Scholastic Agency that found governesses and servants for outlying farms and cattle stations.
The three Seager boys joined the Australian Imperial Force in 1914 and following a visit to one of them, Alexandrine began a campaign to persuade the women of Australia to support the war and the Cheer-Up Society came into being.  Women volunteers visited military camps and hospitals, arranging concerts, lunches and special farewell ceremonies for the troops.   They also organised parcels to send to the troops.  

Alexandrine also started a campaign to have the Violet adopted as the flower of remembrance in Australia and the very first Violet Day was held on 2nd July 1915.

From 1915 onwards, the Cheer-up Society organised refreshments for soldiers in a marquee behind the railway station in Adelaide.  Later a hut was opened to replace the temporary arrangement in nearby Elder Park - The Cheer-Up Hut.

Alexandrine’s youngest son George lost his life at Gallipoli but she continued to write patriotic poems and to support the war effort.   She started the South Australian Returned Soldiers Association.   During the Depression of the 1930s, the Cheer-Up Hut provided meals for the poor.

Alexandrine and her husband retired to live on Kangaroo Island where their sons lived.  She continued to write poetry.  Alexandrine died on 12th March 1950 and was buried in the cemetery at Kingscote.

Sources:  Michael Sharkey, Editor of The Australian Poetry Journal

Here is Alexandra Seager’s poem about Violets, kindly sent to me by Michael Starkey:

‘Violet Verses’

(To the dear memory of George Rothwell Seager, whose good-bye was “If I stop a bit of German lead, be a sport!”)

To-day we wear the clinging violet

            In memory of the brave,

While ever thoughts of fond but proud regret,

            Come surging wave on wave.


Some sleep beside the sobbing Dardanelles,

            And some in gallant France,

‘Mid gardens fair, where medieval bells

            Wake echoes of romance.


‘Twas fitting that the young and brave should die

            To build a nation’s name—

That strong young hands should mould her destiny

            In an undying fame.


In morning’s glory or the moon of life                  [sic] [‘noon’ in VV]

            They fell, our fighting men;

In burning valour–the white heat of strife—

            They passed beyond our ken.


“Whom the gods love,” so the ancients said, “die young”

            How could it other be?

Would love drag glorious youth through weary years

            To age’s misery?


What would we choose, if choose we could, for those

            So infinitely dear?

The glowing beauty of the blooming rose,

            Or dry dead leaves and drear?


The commonplace of life—dull, sordid care,

            Or humdrum safe content,

Inconsequent small things that jar and wear

            And hard words kindly meant?


Ah! theirs was Life—life worthy of a man—                                [‘Theirs’ in VV]

            Whose exit was a thrill;

No weary acquiescence in a plan

            That long, dull years must fill.


In contemplation of what might have been,

            Our aching hearts are filled

With sweet, sad thoughts; and for a little time

            The yearning ache is stilled.


Then suddenly it wakes, as unaware

            There flits across the track

A little, laughing child, whose sunny hair

            Brings crowding mem’ries back.


A snatch of song, the perfume of a flower,

            And all the world grows dim.

The barriers we built and felt a power

            Melt in one thought of Him.


Yet some in all this storm, and stress, and strain,

            When nations reel and rock,

In shameful safety ply their lust for gain,

            Unmov’d whate’er the shock—


While on the altar of the Empire’s might,

            For Love and Honour’s sake,

Proud, passionate young life there claims the right

            The sacrifice to make.


And we, the mothers, sisters, sweethearts, wives

            Of these, our dear young dead,

Leave with them there the sunshine of our lives,

Lost in a mist of red.


For them no tolling bell, no fun’ral pall—

            (Theirs was no common death);                            [‘Their’s’ in VV)

But flowers whose spring-like fragrance touches all

            With love in every breath.


“Far better to have loved and lost,” they say,

            “Than never loved at all,”

For always at some time gold turns to gray,

            And evening shadows fall.


We’ll strew with thoughts of love and fairest flowers

            The paths our heroes trod;

We’ll bless the precious years that made them ours—

            And leave the rest to God.

  Alexandra Seager, August 25th 1916

 Source: A. Seager, ‘Men: A Collection of Verses Written During the War’, ns, nd [Adelaide: The Author, 1919], pp. 15-18.

 NOTE. The same poem is printed in the anthology ‘Violet Verses’, Adelaide, ns, nd [1917], and adds ‘By His Mother’ after the epigraph. Fryer PR8161. W28V56 1917 1.