Back

Starting the New Zealand RSA

Many men who had been invalided back to New Zealand after the Gallipoli campaign found adjusting to civilian life difficult. Those without family support found themselves with little income and in some cases were virtually homeless once they were discharged from the Army. It was not long before a group formed to improve the lot of returned serviceman. In this recording from 1966, radio broadcaster Neville Webber interviews two World War I veterans, Gilbert Lawrence and Ernie Golding, who helped form the Returned Soldiers’ Association (RSA) in Wellington in early 1916.

Year:1916 (Recorded 1966)

Location:Wellington, New Zealand

Close

Starting the New Zealand RSA

Many men who had been invalided back to New Zealand after the Gallipoli campaign found adjusting to civilian life difficult. Those without family support found themselves with little income and in some cases were virtually homeless once they were discharged from the Army. It was not long before a group formed to improve the lot of returned serviceman. In this recording from 1966, radio broadcaster Neville Webber interviews two World War I veterans, Gilbert Lawrence and Ernie Golding, who helped form the Returned Soldiers’ Association (RSA) in Wellington in early 1916.


Year: 1916 (Recorded 1966)

Length: 05:58

Source: Radio New Zealand collection, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Catalogue Reference: S246830 [World War I veterans recall the beginnings of the Returned Soldiers' Association in Wellington]


People: Gilbert Alexander Lawrence, Ernest Alexander Golding, Neville Webber

Location: Wellington, New Zealand


Image Title: Original Returned Soldiers’ Association badge.

Image Source: Courtesy of The Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association (RNZRSA) https://rsa.org.nz/portals/0/Images/badge_big.jpg


From July 1915, wounded and sick men returned from action overseas to New Zealand in large numbers. They soon realised the need for an organisation to represent their interests. Often men found it hard to re-establish connections with family and friends after experiencing the horrors of war. Work was often hard to find, particularly after the war ended and even more soldiers returned home. Many of them had on-going health issues after being wounded, gassed or diseased while overseas.

As Gilbert Lawrence and Ernie Golding explain, a meeting was held at the Alhambra Hotel in Cuba Street, Wellington, as it was a temporary home to some returned men. Groups also met in early 1916 in Christchurch and other locations around the country. They discussed the welfare of the returnees and the need for hostels to house men until they could return to their homes elsewhere in the country, or find work.

Engineer Captain Donald Simson called for a national gathering of these groups that Easter, and on April 28 1916, the New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association was established. The name was later altered to the Returned and Services’ Association, to reflect members who served in other branches of the forces.

Two years after the end of the war, in 1920, the New Zealand RSA had 57,000 members. It was centrally involved in erecting war memorials in towns around the country, and established clubrooms where returned men could meet for a drink and comradeship. The organisation was instrumental in making Anzac Day a public holiday and its members led the annual public commemorations for their mates who had not returned from the war.