What would dead mates have thought?
In the month of Anzac Day, a letter from a worried wife has prompted a positive response. The letter:
“My husband, aged 77, has been a member for the last 30 years of the RSA – the only club he belongs to. He was in the British Army for several years so qualified for membership in New Zealand.
“He now has cancer and needs chemotherapy. The side effects of this treatment are well-known – he will lose his hair.
“To my amazement, he says that one of the main reasons he will refuse this treatment is that he won’t be able to wear a hat to cover his baldness when he goes to the RSA.
“Apparently anyone who comes into the building with any sort of hat on is told in no uncertain terms to take it off and then has to “shout the bar” – whatever that means.
“It seems to date back to the times when servicemen entering a mess were required to remove their hats. The rationale appears to involve either respect for the fallen or respect for the Queen – or both.
“I ask: What about the living? I know you might think this is vanity on my husband’s part but with it being his only club, all his friends are there.
“We, as a family, are trying to keep things as normal and comfortable for our loved one as long as we can and preserve his dignity. We would dearly like him to have the treatment but the choice is his.
“It occurred to me that there are many more old soldiers who will be affected by this ruling and some compassion wouldn’t go amiss.
“I rang the president of the local RSA where my husband is a member. He was pleasant and said he had never had to face the situation.
“He said: ‘There is nothing written in the rules but some form of dispensation would be needed. The trouble would be educating the other members not to challenge your husband.’
“A Vietnam veteran, he said he personally would not like to see any member prevented from coming to the club, especially as Anzac Day was coming up.
“An assistant at an RSA club said when I rang there that a relative who had chemo once came in with a cap on. Written on it was: ‘I am a cancer survivor’. He was told to take it off immediately.
“And another: ‘No exception to the rule, anyone with that problem would have to write in person to the president to get a dispensation. At all times he would have to explain himself to everyone who challenged him. RSAs all over New Zealand have the same ruling.’
“So that my husband will not be embarrassed by my efforts to make changes I ask that my name and his and the club involved be withheld.”
Well, the times they could be achanging. When I referred her letter to the national Returned and Services Association president Robin Klitscher of Wellington driving north and near Taumarunui, his reaction was quick and emphatic – so strong that, on reflection, he toned it down to “that attitude, in my personal view, is totally inappropriate”.
A few minutes later, he pulled over, checked with his Wellington headquarters and called me back. There is no rule but he says, like a number of other clubs, there are what he refers to as “various protocols at different places as there are with bowls and golf clubs, for example. I can imagine what would be said if I walked into my golf club with a hat on.”
He readily agreed though this would not be seen as an affront to the memory of the dead or to the Queen or both.
And he did not alter his first reaction.
More than that, quite unprompted, he echoed the feelings of the letter writer about “the need to be understanding and caring”, to find a means to cater for those suffering medical or other misfortune.
“Tell her to write to me,” he said. And, gratefully, she will. For his reply, watch this space. • What’s your reaction, especially if you’re an ex-service man or woman?
Is there a “hats off” drill in your club and that big shout to follow? Do you think it should continue? Is Robin Klitscher right to be concerned?
What do you think those dead comrades would have made of all this?