RSA centennial celebrations
Men were still fighting and dying on the Western Front when the first Anzac Day in 1916 commemorated those killed at Gallipoli. Established as a day of mourning and sombre remembrance, Anzac Day became known over the decades for its ‘‘secular sacredness’’.
The impact that World War I had on the soldiers, and their families back home was unprecedented, reflected in a 1917 editorial in the Manawatu Evening Standard which poignantly commented on ‘‘the number of men coming home injured – or not at all’’.
Palmerston North was one of the first RSA’s established in the country, and is holding its centenary next week on May 13 and 14. Saturday 14 is parade day with veterans, Air Training Corps and Sea Cadets, and vintage military vehicles taking part.
Parade organiser Lieutenant Commander RNZNR David Leese says the parade will muster outside the courthouse on Main St, before marching at 2pm to a short cenotaph service in The Square.
It then proceeds to George St for parade dismiss at Cafe Cuba which occupies the Cuba St frontage of the original 1917 Soldiers Club.
The historic building opened on December 5, 1917 and remained the clubrooms for the Returned and Services Club until December 17, 1966 when it moved to 200 Broadway Ave.
RSA membership was broadened in 1982 to include associate members and spouses. Put into receivership in 2012, it was re-established in July 2015 at the Distinction Hotel, just a block away from its original home.
The RSA’s Joe Hollander says the actual date for the founding of the Palmerston North organisation was May 9, 1916.
‘‘There was hardly a family in New Zealand then that didn’t have a member in uniform.’’
The Saturday 14 occasion will also be recognised by a dinner in the evening.
Current RSA membership Joe says is around 250 ‘‘though unfortunately, we’ve lost a few of our older members’’.
The RSA is also coordinating with the local heritage advisory group to establish a military heritage precinct that would incorporate sites such as the former Soldiers Club and the Maori Battalion Hall on the corner of Cuba and Pitt St.
Taken in 1969, the former RSA Soldiers Club was built for the Manawatu Patriotic Society and completed in 1917. Used by the RSA until 1966, the well preserved building contains many of the original design features including cast iron columns along the verandah.