Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 53, September 2009
(by Graham Watton)
With the majority of the men from the Paeroa district returning from the First World War by late 1917, those early arrivals became aware of the need for an organisation to prepare for their fellow soldiers homecoming and on-going welfare.
The New Zealand Returned Soldiers' Association had been established in Wellington on February 28, 1916, and branches were quickly formed throughout the country. Among the first branches in the Thames Valley was in Paeroa when, on February 18, 1918, a public meeting held in the Central Theatre formed a branch of the Waikato Returned Soldiers Association, based in Hamilton.
One of the first "locals" to leave for overseas with the Main Body of the New Zealand Forces in early 1915, Sgt D. A. Vincent, was wounded and unable to continue to serve. He returned home on March 1, 1916, and once recovered sufficiently, turned his attention to the welfare of others soldiers returning home many wounded and maimed.
He took the chair of the public meeting in February, 1918, and there was an enthusiastic support to form a local branch. The main aim was to keep in touch with the returning soldiers and attend to matters directly and indirectly affecting them.
The branch saw an urgent need for a common meeting place in the form of a Soldiers Club and set about raising funds, with the project being launched at Anzac Day, 1918. Dance evenings were held, a complimentary social hosting the Paeroa Patriotic Committee and the Ladies of district who spent many hours knitting garments and making up parcels for the "boys at the front", raised £100. The Paeroa Golf Club donated £19/2/- from its Labour Day tournament.
The association played a prominent part of the welcoming home functions, given to the soldiers on their return from The Front.
By September, 1919, the Paeroa branch was able to put a deposit on sample rooms in Wharf Street cost £350 ($700), part of the Royal Mail Hotel. This was "home" for returning soldiers from Paeroa, Netherton, Komata, Karangahake and Hikutaia. Mr J. Donovan was president at the time.
In the wider district, the Hauraki Returned Soldiers Association had been formed embracing the No. 2 Military District, including Paeroa, Waihi, Thames, Te Aroha and Coromandel. Representatives from the member associations formalised the association and its headquarters at the meeting in Thames on September 19, 1919. The committee comprised four members from Thames, three each from Paeroa and Waihi and one each from Coromandel and Hauraki Plains.
However, by December the same year the Paeroa branch became concerned that there was no progress being made by the Hauraki association and withdrew. Thames and Waihi both wanted to go alone. This brought the demise of the Hauraki association.
Upon its withdrawal the Paeroa branch formed its own Returned Soldiers Association at a meeting on December 1, 1919. There was considerable debate over the name: Paeroa or Thames Valley, which would embrace the area from Karangahake to Coromandel. The latter was supported.
The Thames Valley association was short-lived. After adopting a constitution in February, 1920, a planned sports day in Paeroa in March was cancelled owing to weather and finally held in May. This was an excellent day on the Paeroa Domain with 20 events.
The Paeroa association was "doing its own thing" by March, 1920, with an energetic committee of Major Tattersall, president; F. C. Hubbard, vice-president; P. C. Furley, secretary, and Messrs Bush, Bishop, Finlayson, Hart, Johnson, Gilmore, Leach, Walmsley, Rae, Shaw and Vincent.
The Auckland Provincial RSA, on July 2, 1920, altered its organisation by splitting into five districts: Auckland (headquarters), North Auckland, Waikato, Bay of Plenty, and Goldfields (Paeroa, Thames, Waihi, Te Aroha, and Matamata).
Paeroa carried out alterations to the clubrooms to provide a large meeting room, a billiard room and the usual facilities. Membership was steady, with another 16 honorary members and ladies.
However, by March, 1921, there was a concerned lack of interest and the annual meeting floated ideas of looking at possible amalgamation with Thames or Waihi. With E. Edwards, president, and R. Hudson, secretary, the association mooted forming a 6th Hauraki Association with Te Aroha, Thames and Waihi.
Nothing came from these suggestions, mainly owing the neighbouring associations wanting to do their own thing. The Paeroa association continue with a successful ball, in July 1921, followed by smoke concerts (men only) to ensure members were kept together.
By the annual meeting in March, 1924, there were very few financial members and the clubroom was put up for sale by tender and sold. Once the association's liabilities were met the balance was to be donated to the local swimming baths project, but never was. The hall continued under the name of "Soldiers' Club".
Over the next few years the association struggled to keep going. In 1929 the members use some of the funds from the sale of its hall to provide a new set of colours for the First Battalion, Hauraki Regiment.
The handing over of new colours took place after the morning service to consecration and unveiling of the Cenotaph on Tuikairangi or Primrose Hill on Thursday, February 20, 1930. This was, and has remained, the largest military day in the history of the district.
The cenotaph was built by men involved with the Paeroa Borough Council's Unemployment Scheme, who also made the masonry blocks. The monument, in remembrance of the 44 district soldiers who paid the supreme sacrifice in the First World War, is an exact replica of that cenotaph in Whitehall, London, and also the structure in the Auckland Domain.
The Hauraki Regiment was in camp on the Paeroa racecourse and some 250 officers and men marched to the top Tuikairangi Hill, where the Cenotaph was dedicated by the Primate of New Zealand, Rt. Rev. Dr A. W. Averill and unveiled by Major-General R. R. Young, CB, CMG, DSO, General Officer Commanding New Zealand Forces.
In the afternoon the four platoons and their officers formed up on the Paeroa Domain to lay their present colours to rest and accept the new colours in all the military pomp and pageantry associated with such a historic occasion.
The old colours, presented to the Hauraki Regiment by the Second Auckland Battalion in 1914 were laid to rest on a set of drums, and Major Edwards and Mr D. McWatters, trustees of the Paeroa Returned Soldiers Association, formally handed over the new colours, which had the battle honours of the regiment from the Boer War and the First World War embroidered on the two silk flags.
The next day the old Regimental colours were handed over to the Paeroa Borough Council for safe keeping. These are presently on display in the Paeroa and District Museum.
The 6th Hauraki Regiment paraded these new colours until March 10, 1973, when they were replaced by a new set provided by donations from regimental members over the past 50 years.
A few stalwarts kept the local RSA functioning until May 26, 1932, when they called a meeting of ex-servicemen to discuss the future of the association. Mr E. Edwards presided over a meeting of 80, with a large number coming from the Hauraki Plains. They came from Paeroa, Kaihere, Waitakaruru, Ngatea, Hikutaia, Netherton, Karangahake and Tirohia. The meeting was held in the Soldiers Club.
It was an enthusiastic meeting and it discussed at length the future name of the association. Paeroa, Hauraki, and Thames Valley were names put forward. Finally the meeting agreed on the name Paeroa-Hauraki Plains Returned Soldiers Association and affiliated with the New Zealand RSA.
Mr Edwards was elected president and Mr J. Walmsley secretary-treasurer. The president explained to the meeting that when the old club was wound-up in 1924 the sum of £280 ($560) was secured from the sale of the Soldiers Club. Of this amount £240 ($480) had been used to purchase new colours for the Sixth Battalion, Hauraki Regiment. Some £24 ($48) had been spent on aiding destitute returned men and the £16 ($32) remaining would available to the new organisation.
Following the meeting the "mess orderlies" were detailed for duty and several toasts were drunk, with the final toast being to the new association.
In 1932 there were two returned soldiers' re-unions held, the first at Ngatea with some 80 returned men attending and the other in Paeroa. It was at this second function that a proposal was put forward that a Thames Valley sub-province be formed comprising Te Aroha, Waihi, Paeroa, Ngatea and Thames. However, it was not accepted.
Two re-union meetings, one at Paeroa the other at Ngatea continued to be held through the 1930s and were well supported. The new association continued through this period looking after members' interests and organising Anzac Day services. The 1937 commemoration service was cancelled owing to the infantile paralysis epidemic sweeping through the country.
In 1934 the Paeroa Girl Guide Company sold the Anzac Day poppies in Paeroa. The poppies were purchased by the association for 3d (3c) each and sold for 1/- (10c) each. On the day there was £25 ($50) collected which went into the fund to assist in meeting the cost returned servicemen's welfare
With the onset of the Second World War (1939-1945), the Paeroa-Hauraki RSA was called upon to provide representatives on the Paeroa Borough and Hauraki Plains County Council's Home Guard committees. From April, 1941, soldiers were beginning to return from the battle zones, mainly in the Middle East, and the welfare section of the local association started to increase its activities.
The national organisation, to be representative of both men and women from all the services, changed its name to the Royal New Zealand Returned Services Association. The Paeroa-Hauraki association followed the name change on October 1, 1941.
With an increasing membership, 378 in March, 1944, committees were formed in the main settlements in the association's area. Representatives from these committees attended the association's meetings which were held quarterly.
With ending of hostilities the 1946 membership reached over 400 members and local committees had been formed in Patetonga-Kaihere, Ngatea, Waitakaruru, Kerepehi, Karangahake, Paeroa and Netherton. Representatives from each committee formed the association executive which met two or three times per year and the venue alternated between Paeroa and Ngatea.
By 1952 the membership of Paeroa-Hauraki had reached 501, and the local committees had been granted sub-branch status of the Paeroa-Hauraki association.
Apart from ensuring the needs of servicemen and women and their spouses were looked after, the first major project for the newly formed Paeroa sub-branch was to become involved in raising funds for a new proposed War Memorial Hall.
The Paeroa Borough Council was promoting the venture and seeking total support from the community. The Paeroa sub-branch also discussed with council the possibility of including clubroom facilities in the project and this was provisionally agreed to with a first floor being added to the hall.
The main fund-raising was in the form of a queen carnival and this was commenced at the end of October, 1952, and went through until early March, 1953. The Paeroa RSA sponsored one of the three queens, Miss Aroha Treanor, with the sports queen being Miss June Millar and the Maori queen Miss Kahu Nicholls.
The RSA worked very hard, motivated no doubt by the prospect of clubroom facilities, and their effort of raising £4297 ($8594) was twice as much as the other queens collected. The sports queen had a total of £1718 ($3436) and the Maori queen £544 ($1088). The carnival raised £6560 ($13,120). This left, with a Government subsidy and other funding, a shortfall of £1500 ($3000) to be found to meet the estimated total cost of £17,000 ($34,000) for the project.
When the final costing was done for the proposed building, it was found there were not sufficient funds to cover the cost of a two-storey building, and the top floor had to be deleted. The Paeroa RSA members were bitterly disappointed, especially after their very big effort fund-raising. Instead they were offered an area below the stage, designated for storage, in the new hall. Reluctantly this was an acceptable compromise.
The Paeroa War Memorial Hall was built and opened with a monster street parade on November 24, 1956. The Paeroa RSA moved into their clubroom, which was to become affectionately known as "The Dungeon". Over the next dozen or so years this room saw fellowship and camaraderie rise to great heights with billiards, snooker, pool being played on a large-sized table, darts, cards, and sing-alongs around the piano, with very good bar service.
Around this time the wives of members of the sub-branch formed themselves into the Women's Section and their total support of the Branch across a wide field of duties for the past 55 years has been immeasurable. Their excellent cabaret evenings during the 1960 and into the 1970s, until age caught up with the producers, the actors, the back stage staff, were the social highlights of Paeroa's entertainment calendar.
Among the Section's many activities are to place flowers on the graves in the RSA cemetery for Anzac Day, catering for funerals of members, assisting bereaved families, visiting the sick in their homes and in hospital, providing an annual luncheon for widows, organised indoor bowls and card afternoons during the winter months. There have been bus trips and visits to sister sections.
Many visitors enjoyed the overwhelming hospitality showered on them in "The Dungeon". Some of New Zealand's best known dignitaries accepted invitations, especially before and after completing their duties in the main hall above. Two of these were the American Consul-General Mr K. Franzheim and his wife, who were attending a debutante ball in the hall in June, 1971.
In August, 1966, after several discussions among the members, Messrs P. Goonan and R. Johnstone tabled a notice of motion calling for the Paeroa sub-branch to withdraw from the Paeroa-Hauraki association and form its own branch of the NZRSA. This was finally achieved in February, 1967, when the Paeroa Returned Services Association was granted full branch status by the Dominion office.
The branch's area was from the boundary of the Thames County at Hikutaia, south along the Waihou River to the old Netherton dairy factory and then along Awaiti South Road, including Netherton, Tirohia and across to Karangahake. The new Hauraki association covered the remainder of the Hauraki Plains County.
The next month the Paeroa Anzac Day Trust, in accordance with the Anzac Day Act, 1966, was established with the five trustees being Mr R. E. Morrissey, chairman, (Paeroa Borough Council), Mr P. S. Hannan (Paeroa RSA), Mr B. Duncan (Licensed Victuallers' Association), Mr M. McMillan (Paeroa business interests) and Mr M. Parker (Paeroa sports bodies).
Now came the need for improved club facilities and in August, 1968, there was an informal meeting with the Ohinemuri Club to discuss a joint project. By March, 1969, little progress had been made apart from the association looking at two sections of land, one in Willoughby Street, adjacent to the Hauraki Plains Gazette office (now Woods' Appliances) and the other in Normanby Road, in front of the Ohinemuri Club. The private hospital in King Street was also considered as a possible "home".
When the amalgamation proposal started to run into troubled waters with such issues as subscriptions, the admission of members' wives, facilities especially for RSA members and other matters, the Paeroa branch took up an offer on the King Street property in September, 1969.
Twelve months later little progress had been made on the joint proposal and in November, 1970 the Paeroa RSA resolved that the differences with the Ohinemuri Club were insurmountable and withdrew from further discussions. In the meantime the Ohinemuri Club had applied for a chartered club licence for a membership of 140. The RSA membership was over 160.
The association looked at the former Ministry of Works office building (now Historic Maritime Park), which was due to become vacant on the corner of Normanby Road and Johnson Street (now Ohinemuri Park). Another section seriously looked at was in Station Road connecting through to Corbett Street.
A further section in Belmont Road, owned by the Estate of late Mrs D. A,. Vincent (now Woods Appliances Limited), was being sought in April, 1972. This section, which went through to Willoughby Street, was purchased and the members set about raising funds by debentures. It met with the New Zealand Breweries to discuss its involvement in the proposed club.
It was during discussions with the New Zealand Breweries that the company offered the association the Royal Mail Hotel. The association immediately held a special meeting of members and accepted the purchase price of $35,000 and appointed Mr G. Barclay as its negotiator to finalise the deal.
The Paeroa association now had plenty of issues on its plate. Among these were the formation of a incorporated club and then applying for and operating a liquor licence, finalising negotiations for the purchase of the Royal Mail, withdrawing from the option taken over one section, the sale of another and fitting out the new club.
The NZRSA adopted a change in membership qualifications in 1973 to allow Home Servicemen and those who attended compulsory military training (CMT) to have full membership. There was also "quota" placed on the number of associate members by the conditions of the liquor licence.
The Paeroa RSA Club Inc. came into being in February, 1973, and comprised Messrs A. Fletcher (chairman), C. Moore, R. Taylor, G. Barclay and D. Fitch, representing the community. The Women's Section also to have a delegate.
August, 1973, the Paeroa RSA had taken over the Royal Mail Hotel, renamed it the Paeroa RSA Club and the next month vacated "The Dungeon" after some 17 years. While the Paeroa RSA owned the building the Paeroa RSA Club leased the ground floor for its activities.
The Club was declared officially open on September 22, 1973, with the NZRSA President, Sir Hamilton Mitchell, KBE., doing the honours.
While the club occupied the ground floor the RSA executive looked at renovating the top floor to provide short-stay facilities for members and pensioners, However the cost and building regulations at the time saw the proposal put on the back-burner.
With an increasing membership the Club proposed extensions and took up a first refusal offer over the Paeroa Old Boys Rugby Club's old Civic Theatre in Warf Street.
In October, 1975, a new games room was added, costing $15,000, at the rear the original building. Apart from interior renovations, such as filling in the old hotel cellar and relocating the bar, there have been no further major projects with the exception of the purchase of the Paeroa Old Boys Club's 80-year-old hall, demolishing it and turning the area into a car park.
There have several proposals mooted, such as building own-your-own flats, a restaurant on the vacant section facing Belmont Road, and another look at utilising upstairs, but none passed the "dream" stage.
In early 2000 an alcove was constructed on Belmont Road section and a field gun and anti-aircraft gun installed together with an excellent "services" mural painted by Katrina Crowe.
An administrative change was made in October, 1994, when the RSA Executive and the Club Committee combined to form The Paeroa Memorial RSA Incorporated.
To keep pace with the changing needs of membership another name change was made in July, 2006, to The Paeroa RSA and Citizens Memorial Club Inc.