The RSA is a huge institution in New Zealand and still today has over 100,000 members. It can be subtly different from region to region and in many places remains in touch with and part of the local community. Looking back we see it initially as a club for the servicemen returned from the First World War. Men went there to rekindle an atmosphere that not loner existed in everyday life. Behind the scenes the RSA campaigned for land settlements and better pensions, as well as creating types of employment suitable for the wounded or the handicapped.
The RSA has changed its name three times over the century, ending as The Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association to better reflect the changing membership, as the number of returned servicemen reduce in number. It has retained the abbreviation of RSA but fitted the words around it. Its role over time is much changed. These days it is all about preserving the memory and respect for the sacrifices made by both those who returned and those that did not. Look back into the past and you will see an organisation firmly rooted in local societies and small towns the length and breadth of the country. These clubs provided support and comradeship for those that came back, while the RSA as an organisation fought to find land for the returning servicemen and for their rights and pensions. It was not always a smooth route and the RSA was at times sitting on the verge of being a political party not just a local club. They were involved when much of the country was opposed to joining the Vietnam War, and they wrongly believed that sport and politics could be separated during the 1981 Springbok Tour. But throughout, they have had at their core the concern for the welfare of the returned serviceman and (eventually) servicewoman.
The last chapter is a very heart-warming one, because you see an organisation which is adapting with the times and embracing the modern world. The way that 2015 and the centenary of Gallipoli was celebrated brought a whole new role alongside the interest from new generations who came in their tens and hundreds of thousands around the country to remember the sacrifices on Anzac Day in 2015.
That the RSA is still around is a sign that it can change with the times. There is no better illustration of this than the fiasco over remembrance poppies in 2010 when the supply was put out to tender, rather than going back to the Christchurch RSA as they had for 80 years. A Melbourne company making the poppies in China won the tender, with the result that thousands of dollars was saved to boost the RSA coffers. The Poppy appeal is after all about raising funds. People were outraged. By the time of the next tender in 2014, the Christchurch RSA came back with winning improvements. Everyone has benefitted from this and that is progress. Not just sentiment but realism too, which for me embodies the Kiwi way.
After the War is an excellent factual history of the RSA. With many illustrations it takes us through a whole century of history, from foundation in 1916 to centenary celebrations in 2016. As well as a narrative about the development and evolution of the RSA, it is also a fascinating piece of social history. Not only do we see the RSA changing over time, but also the changing reflection of views and attitudes across the country.