What would dead mates have thought?

Auckland City Harbour News - - Opinion - To con­tact Pat Booth email: off­pat@snl.co.nz. All replies are open for pub­li­ca­tion un­less marked “not for pub­li­ca­tion”.

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?

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