A Short History of the RNZA A​ssociation

The New Zealand Permanent Force Old Comrades Association is born

Gunners of the Auckland RNZA Station began the Association, chief amongst its initiators being WO2 (BSM) Thomas Sinclair Power of the Coast Cadre, North Head.  He called a meeting of serving and retired members of the Permanent Force and Armed Constabulary of whom 30 met in the Masonic Hall, Devonport, on 10 July 1934.

Capt WQ Kewish RNZA Rtd, the senior present, was asked to preside. Lt VG Jones, who had retired in 1931 as a WO1 (Honorary Lieutenant), briefly outlined the object of the meeting, after which the Chairman called upon BSM Power to provide the details. Tom Power gave the reasons why an association should be formed, not least of which was the need to assist former comrades who had fallen upon hard times. Others whose names are not recorded spoke in support.

It was decided at this meeting to call the Association `Past and Present RNZA Assn` but at the first meeting of the Executive Committee on 18 July 1934 the President, Major General Sir George Richardson KBE,CB,CMG, who occupied the chair, moved to the adoption of the title `The New Zealand Permanent Force Old Comrades Assn`. This title, he asserted, was more apt because it indicated the origins of its members.

In support of his motion Sir George gave a talk on the history of the Force, commencing with an account of the NZ Armed Constabulary whence it sprang. He explained that until the NZ Staff Corps and NZ Permanent Force Staff were formed (when the term Permanent Forces came to be loosely used to group all regular soldiers), there was only one body officially recognised as a permanent force, that it was titled Permanent Force, and that over the years it had included ex members of the NZ Armed Constabulary who had served in the Permanent Artillery, Torpedo Corps, and RNZE, as well as the RNZA. Records state that members found his talk most interesting, and that the motion was carried.

Despite the innocuous nature of the Association and the worthy intentions of its members, it soon struck opposition. When the `brass` in Wellington learned of its existence they, like Queen Victoria, were 'not amused'. Within a month an edict was received from the Adjutant General ordering serving soldiers elected to executive offices to resign their office. Perhaps he did not like the sound of the word `comrades`. Thus the Executive were deprived of not only the Secretary and Treasurer, but of the two foundation members who had done more than any other to get the Association started.

Letters of protest to General Headquarters made no impression. The months dragged by until eventually Sir George promised that the next time he visited Wellington he would personally approach the GOC with a request that the ban on serving soldiers be lifted. This he successfully accomplished in 1937, the year Sir John Duigan (who was a member of the Association) became GOC.

Wellington followed Auckland's example and, on 5 Feb 1936, forty prospective members met in the office of Lt Col SG Sandle RNZA Rtd, who was then Sergeant at Arms, Parliament Buildings, to form a Wellington Section of the Association. Lt Col Sandle presided over the meeting and was elected President. The Wellington Section decided to adopt the rules formulated in Auckland, but to modify them where necessary to suit local conditions.

The principal object of the Association laid down in 1934, and which remains unchanged, has always been '….to try in all honourable ways to keep alive the spirit of comradeship amongst members, and to extend a helping hand to all members of the Association who may be in need of assistance'. On joining the Wellington Section, retired soldiers and policemen became 'active' members, while those still serving were 'Honorary Members', a distinction dropped some years later.

All members throughout the country paid the same annual subscription of one shilling. By today's standards this amount seems ridiculously small, but to a man whose sole income was the old age pension of 15/9p a week in 1934 it was a lot of money.  To qualify for aid from the Association`s Welfare, or Benevolent Fund as it came to be called, a member had to be financial according to the rules, but committees soon found there were some who just could not afford the subscription. In genuine cases payment of the annual subscription was waived.  In 1936 the Government fixed the basic wage at 3P-10s-00p a week, which meant the old age pensioner on 17/6d received 23% of it. Compare this with the position of the modern superannuitant!

1936: 3 Field Battery, NZA, moves along what is now Margarita Street, Rotorua

During its first 20 years the Association dispensed relief in various forms to many of its older members, and from time to time to some of the younger, who found themselves in distressed circumstances, as old committee meeting minutes testify. In most cases aid consisted of useful essentials, eg a few bags of coal or firewood, clothing, groceries, tobacco to men in hospital or institutions. Small amounts of Xmas cheer were distributed, or in some cases money to a maximum of 10Pounds to each individual.  Modest though  these gifts may appear, they were gratefully accepted in the comradely spirit in which they were given. When we recall that the annual subscription was only 1Shilling, we cannot give too much credit to past officers of the Association for achieving so much.

With income so low, neither the Executive nor any other member was slow to investigate other sources of cash or kind. Indeed at one meeting heartfelt thanks were recorded for the successful operations of a 'Cadgers Committee', whose activities frequently extracted donations of 'Xmas Cheer' from well known purveyors of that commodity, as well as gifts of food, clothing etc from other tradespeople. All these contributions were gratefully received and faithfully applied.

One operation which did not succeed was an attempt in 1937 to obtain a grant from the Permanent Force Reward Fund. The Defence Act permitted grants being made to men still serving but not to retired men, despite the fact that many of the latter had subscribed to it! Two deputations to the Minister of Defence failed to make any impression.  Members of the second deputation were so upset by the Ministers uncharitable attitude toward the Association and its welfare work that the Executive were moved to lodge a formal protest in writing to the Government.  As might be expected, it proved futile. (Eventually the Army Act 1950 reiterated that the fund, renamed the RNZA Fund, be applied '…for the benefit of serving officers and soldiers of the RNZA (RF) in such manner and at such time as the Governor General directs…'.)

The War Years

With war clouds looming in Europe, and at a time when the Chief of General Staff was endeavouring to build up the strength of the NZ Military Forces, the following Resolution passed at an Executive meeting held in Wellington on 8 Dec 1938 is worth recalling; '…that as the youth of this country have failed to answer the call to arms, we the Executive unanimously offer the Section's services to the CGS when called upon to do so, to do our duty in any direction he may deem fit.' When war was declared in on 3 September 1939, many Old Comrades who were still fit rejoined the Forces, including not a few whose service had begun prior to the South African War. 

In the meantime the Auckland Section was in difficulties. The hostility of the Adjutant-General, which resulted in the forced resignations of its two most active founding members, followed by the death of its President, Sir George Richardson in 1938, were setbacks from which it had not recovered a year later. With the outbreak of war the Auckland Section simply faded away.

On the other hand Wellington, profiting from the Auckland experience, concentrated on attracting retired men, did not elect any serving soldiers to their executive, and thus suffered no interference from Army Headquarters. The Section assumed national responsibilities throughout the war, at the end of which it became the Headquarters of the Association by mutual agreement, for by then it was receiving applications for membership from all over the country, including Auckland.

In 1940 the Wellington Section took the lead in having a members badge produced; a miniature version of the RNZA cap badge became the 'basic structure' . The price to members in those days was 2/6. It should be worn on the right lapel below the RSA badge, or as a tie pin. Although membership remained more or less static during the war years, the Association was active and well supported. The President on one occasion congratulated the ex Armed Constabulary men on the strong contingent they always turned out for the annual reunions.

RNZA Light Anti-Aircraft Battery, WW2

Post WW2

After the end of World War 2, Wellington retained the leadership of the Association. Provincial representatives were elected for Auckland, Canterbury and Otago, although as membership increased the arrangement became inadequate; more were elected and they were renamed District Representatives. The new District Reps were elected Vice-Presidents, but at the same time it was decided that existing Vice Presidents (who had no specific responsibilities) should retain their offices, provided they made the usual annual donation in addition to the prescribed subscription. If they failed to do so they were not re-elected.

With the end of the War came a significant increase in membership. Men who had resigned from the RNZA continued to be accepted as 'active' members, while those who continued to serve joined as 'honorary' members, but as both paid the same subscription, and Army Headquarters no longer objected to serving soldiers holding office, the distinction was eventually dropped. Both then became ordinary or paying members.

From 1949 any paying member who had rendered distinguished service over an extended period could be elected to life membership, and the first so elected was No 775 Alex (Okey) Thomson, who had been Secretary of both the Wellington Section and the National body since their formation. Unfortunately Okey did not long enjoy the distinction for he died in 1950.

At the same time it became customary to elect to life membership any paying member upon his attaining the age of 80 years.
The writer (Mr Wally Ruffell) records that 'he well remembers those old grey beards at the first reunion he attended in 1947; obviously to them it was the highlight of the year, they enjoyed every minute of it, as raconteurs they were without equal, their capacity for beer few of the younger fry could beat'.

Having failed in an earlier attempt to obtain a grant from the Reward Fund through the Minister of Defence, the Executive approached the Minister of Internal Affairs, who not only gave them a sympathetic hearing but expressed a sincere interest in the Association's welfare work. He was instrumental in their receiving a number of grants from the current 'Art Unions', the forerunner of the Golden Kiwi Lotteries and the modern Lotteries Commission. These additions to the benevolent fund were greatly appreciated.

Finding cause for concern over the number of members who, owing to age, physical disability, remoteness of location, or other reasons were unable to attend reunions, in 1949 the Executive resolved to issue newsletters to ensure all were kept supplied with news of comrades as well as activities of the Association.  Only a few were published in the following years.

In 1954 the Association received a grant of $50 from the Fort Dorset Sports Club funds, to which all RNZA stationed at the fort prior to the war had contributed. The club's activities had been suspended and its funds frozen on the outbreak of hostilities as fit members of the Regiment were progressively seconded to 2NZEF, or posted to other localities. Making the grant was a thoughtful gesture by the authorities inheriting control of the funds, and was appreciated by the members, although it was after all, their money.

In 1952 the Executive decided to institute an Honours Book to record the names of members who had died. This was to replace the Honours Board set up in 1938 by Maj Gen Ike Parkinson CBE DSO. On the cover embossed in gold are the words 'In Memoriam', the badge, and beneath that 'New Zealand Permanent Forces Old Comrades Assn Inc'.

In 1964 Army sought donations towards a memorial window to be installed in St Paul's Cathedral, Wellington, and the Association gave 25Pounds, with the proviso that the amount be recorded as a grant in memory of Old Comrades of the Permanent Force. The window was unveiled and dedicated on 9 August 1966, and a letter was received from the CGS thanking the Assn for assisting in making the provision of the window possible.

About this time the Executive gave some thought to commemorating the members of the NZ Armed Constabulary who fell during the land wars of the nineteenth century  and in 1969 the opportunity to do something presented itself with the centenary of the city of Taupo. The Executive proposed a bronze plaque be erected at the Taupo Courthouse in memory of the members of the Armed Constabulary who fell during the land wars. Approval from the Historic Places Trust was duly obtained, the wording to be 'This tablet commemorates the 64 members of the Armed Constabulary who fell during the Wars of 1867-1872 and was erected in their memory by the New Zealand Permanent Force Old Comrades Association in 1970'.

 

In the meantime the Taupo Borough Council suggested an alternative site for the plaque in the entrance hall of the new AC Baths project, a modern facility planned to replace the existing baths built on the site of the originals constructed by the AC over a century earlier. The plaque was unveiled on 24 Jan 1970. As the Baths project had not been completed the plaque was temporarily attached to a large stone on the site. The actual unveiling by the Mayoress, assisted by Capt AJ (Jack) Baigent MBE, then President of the Association, was the culminating point of the day's celebrations, which included a Taupo Centennial procession featuring troops in period uniforms, an RF Cadet Guard of Honour, and members of the Old Comrades Association.

In a speech to mark the occasion, Capt Baigent referred to the connection between the AC and the Old Comrades Assn, and the tribute paid to the latter by the playing of the march 'Old Comrades' by the massed bands at the commencement of the ceremony. Upon returning to Taupo members of the Assn were royally entertained by members of the Council. At every annual reunion Old Comrades who have passed away are remembered at a Memorial Service.

Reunions

Annual Reunions have been held every year since the Association's formation, in both Auckland and Wellington Branches until WW2 and subsequently by the National body. For many years these functions took the form of 'smoke concerts' or 'stag parties', ie, they were organised for men only, and always held in the evening.  Members provided their own entertainment with songs, anecdotes, humorous items etc. No less than 149 members attended the first, held in 1934 at Auckland, some having travelled from as far afield as Taranaki, Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Wellington. Among those who gave items were Tom Power, virtual founder of the Association, and W Delaney who was a trumpeter at Orakau in 1864.

Patrons of the Association

2012-2013 Brigadier Graham Birch MBE
2004-2012 Colonel Donal R Kenning MBE
1998-2003 Brigadier Ray J Andrews CBE
1988-1997 Major General Ron DP Hassett CB,CBE, mid
1984-1987 Major General WS McKinnon CB, OBE, mid
1970-1983 Lieutenant General Sir Leonard Thornton KCB,CBE,mid
1953-1969 Major General Sir Stephen Weir KBE,CB,DSO and bar,mid
1949-1952 His Excellency the Governor General Lord Freyberg, GCMG,KCB,KBE
1934- Captain K Meikele, Mayor of Devonport

Presidents of​ the Association

2011- Lt Col (Rtd) AR McLeod
2009-2010 Lt Col (Rtd) FE Hopkinson MBE
2005-2008 Maj Denis Dwane MBE
2000-2005 Mr RG Blankley MBE
1999 Mr Des O`Connor
1995-1998 WO1 Ian Foster
1994 Capt (Rtd) James Gilberd
1987-1993 Mr Allan Boyd MBE
1985-1986 Capt (Rtd) James Gilberd
1977-1984 Mr Wally Ruffell
1975-1976 Capt (Rtd) AJ Baigent MBE
1972-1974 Mr Des O'Connor
1971 Mr LW Woods
1959-1970 Capt (Rtd) AJ Baigent MBE
1947-1958 Maj (Rtd) CH Gallaher MBE
1942-1946 Mr WB McIlveney  MVO, JP
1937-1941 Mr J Spence JP
1936 Lt Col (Rtd) SG Sandle
1934-1935  Maj Gen Sir George Richardson KBE,CB,CMG