The Royal New Zealand Returned and Services’ Association is a service organisation and was formed on the 28th April in 1916 to care for the needs of soldiers returning from WW1, to assist the families of those soldiers who lost their lives. It is one of the largest voluntary welfare organisations in New Zealand and one of the longest established ex-service organisations in the world. It has a responsibility to all those who served their country, irrespective of whether or not they are members of the RSA.
The current membership of the RSA is more than 103,000. The organisation offers friendship, goodwill and fellowship where members and guests can socialise and enjoy one anothers company in a safe environment.
Remembrance plays a special part in the life of the RSA.
A moment of silence is observed whilst the Ode of Remembrance is recited at RSAs in memory of those who made the supreme sacrifice in the service of their country and those who have since died.
On ANZAC Day and on other special anniversaries, RSAs take part in wreath-laying ceremonies of remembrance.
Poppy Day is usually observed on the Friday before ANZAC Day. RSA volunteers exchange the distinctive red poppy in return for a donation in support of the RSA Welfare Trust. The poppy serves to remind the wearer of the sacrifice of life made in times of war, and to show support for the valuable welfare work of the RSA.
ANZAC Day is observed on the 25th April each year to commemorate those who died in the service of their country and to honour returned servicemen and women, past and present. The 25th of April is the anniversary of the Landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps at Gallipoli in 1915.
ANZAC DAY 1917
In 1917, the Government decided to change the date of Anzac Day from 25 April to 23 April so that it wouldn’t conflict with local body elections.
Papers Past highlights the negative public reaction to the move, with many groups deciding to mark it on 25 April regardless. One returned serviceman, writing in the Feilding Star, summed up the sentiment of those opposed to the change:
“Sir, — As an Anzac I would like to express the opinion of every returned soldier I have met, also my own humble opinion as a returned soldier, in regard to the observation of Anzac Day on April 23. On April 25, 1915, a part of the New Zealand Division landed near Gaba Tepe, in Gallipoli Peninsula. Many brave and noble young lives were lost that day; many a mother lost her son, and many a woman was widowed. Those of us who survived that day grieved for many a brave comrade. Now, sir, conscientiously we cannot observe April 23 as Anzac Day, because we were all safe in Mudros (Lemnos Island) on that date. When April 25 arrives, we must observe that day and no other. Christmas Day comes on December 25, and who would dream of observing it on December 23, or who would observe St. Patrick’s Day on March 15? No true Irishman would, neither will an Anzac observe Anzac Day on April 23.” – Feilding Star, Volume XIII, Issue 3218, 18 April 1917.
Armistice Day – 11 November – marks the anniversary of the Armistice that ended the First World War. One minute’s silence is observed at RSAs throughout New Zealand at 11am on 11 November in memory of those who died or suffered in the service of their country in this and subsequent armed conflicts.
RSA in New Zealand has a rich and varied history from its beginnings as the Returned Soldiers’ Association in 1916, to the honour of the appellation ‘Royal’ conferred by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in the year 2000.
Tomb of the Unknown Warrior
On Armistice Day, 11 November 2004, the repatriated remains of an unknown soldier from the battlefields of France were interred in a specially constructed Tomb at the National War Memorial in Wellington.
12 October 1917 represents the worst military disaster in our nation’s history when more than 2,800 New Zealanders were either killed, wounded, or listed as missing.
In 2017 commemorative services will be held throughout New Zealand. This is the RSA’s commitment to ensure that New Zealanders who lie half a world away in the fields of Flanders are never forgotten.