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Opening Hours: Mon – Fri 10am – 4 pm, Weekends and Public Holidays 10am – 2pm.

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Our Cambridge Collection has changing exhibitions about Cambridge.  Much of our collection is in storage to ensure its preservation for future generations.


Returned Services Association

The New Zealand Returned Soldiers’ Association was formed in 1916.

Cambridge returned soldiers rallied each Anzac Day and attempted to form an Association. In 1920 the Government declared 25th April in each year, the anniversary of the landing of troops at Gallipoli in the first World War, to be a day in commemoration of the part played by NZ servicemen and of those who gave their lives in that war. (An amendment was passed in 1922 for Anzac Day to be observed as if it were a Sunday – prohibiting horse racing and the opening of hotels.)

Poppy Day started in Cambridge in 1922 when the ladies set in motion a three-day campaign, just prior to Anzac Day, to sell 1,000 poppies. They set about canvassing the town, calling at the bowling and croquet clubs, and around the country areas as well as putting up stalls in the main streets. They raised £60 – the profit made by each committee was used in the district where it was given to help find employment for soldiers.

Anzac Day was still the catalyst for soldiers to gather and in June 1924 after three years of inactivity, about 100 soldiers including men from Te Miro and Hora Hora rehabilitation farms and several South African War Veterans held a reunion in the Town Hall. The general feeling was that Cambridge should form its own Returned Soldiers’ branch – independent of any other Association. Practically every soldier at the reunion signified they would join the Association.

For Anzac Day in 1925 the RSA organised the voluntary parade calling for ex-servicemen of navy, army and air force and inviting all ex-members of Imperial and Overseas Units. The Cambridge Association advocated for a long time that the Returned Soldier’s Association should encompass all military services.

The mayor, Mr C H Preistley, having placed the first official wreath on the memorial, invited the returned men to afternoon tea at the Triangle Tea Rooms, (a custom which lasted many years) and at a meeting afterwards a local Association was formed with Chaplain-Captain C Mortimer Jones president; Captain and Hon. Lieutenant Colonel T M Peake vice president; Mr T H Hampshire (Lieutenant RAF) honorary secretary and treasurer.

The gathering on Anzac Day of so many ex servicemen made it an opportune time to hold the Annual General Meeting of the RSA. The annual subscription was set at 2/6 and the reunion admission was raised to 7/6.

1939 saw changes when the first Dawn Parade in Cambridge (an idea brought back from Australia ) was held with Frank Green in charge.

In 1930 the first benefit picture screening was given free by Amalgamated Theatres Ltd on Anzac night with a collection in aid of the local association’s relief funds. The council waived the hire of the hall and the Independent newspaper gave free advertising. (The screenings carried on until 1962 when they stopped owing to the poor selection of programmes submitted by the film company.)

In 1936 the social side of the RSA in Cambridge was increased and the first Grand Social Evening in Honour Of The Ladies was organised.

Mr Alf Swayne introduced the idea of a children’s picnic and he felt confident that they could make the function an annual one. Fifty-six events were organised with no other view than to give everyone who attended a good time – and everyone was invited. Every child – and there were 1,000 – received a box of chocolates, free ice cream and drinks and they all dutifully sang God Save the King.

World War Two
At the September meeting of the executive in 1939 Jim Jeans moved and Dave Lundon seconded, “That this association offer its services to His Worship the Mayor to help in any capacity that it can during the present Crisis and that if any meeting is called that all Returned Men be requested to attend same.”

One of the first tasks for the local RSA was to forward the names of applicants to Headquarters for guard duties and patrols. “Certain Communistic persons in the employ of the Department at Arapuni” were also to be investigated.  Any member of the Cambridge Association on guard duty was granted free membership of the RSA and the President arranged for a lamb to be given to the Horahora Guards at Xmas.

Fund raising for the war effort became constant and the first cattle drive for Patriotic Funds raised £712 10/-.

The men and women farewelled from Cambridge were presented with an engraved wallet. At the first farewell Richard Newcombe, president of the RSA said, “Over the top with the best of luck, and may you finish up that which was started 25 years ago”.

On Anzac Day the official wreath for the RSA became a Laurel Wreath with Poppies and all wreaths from the cenotaph were placed on returned soldiers’ graves the day after the Anzac address. After the war in 1949 a new Anzac Day Act was passed to provide that the day of commemoration should praise that part played by our servicemen and women in both world wars.

The RSA Club
The local building firm Speight Pearce Nicoll and Davys made an offer – “We like your scheme to erect and furnish a comfortable social club for Returned Soldiers and as your committee considers our property at the corner of Alpha and Empire Streets to be a desirable one, we shall be happy to make a present of it to your organisation.

“Throughout the years we have noticed the commendable pride and loyalty which your members have displayed in their Association, and their desire to serve the community by all the means in their power, and we feel sure that the maintenance of this spirit will make the proposed club the success we all wish for it. It gives us very much pleasure to pay this tribute to you”.

The president replied: “I have to acknowledge receipt of your letter of the 20th instant making a gift to our Association of your company’s property at the corner of Empire and Alpha Streets.
“On behalf of my executives and the members of my Association I tender you our very sincere thanks. I have no doubt that the club will be a very great success, and I know that so long as it lasts, it will always remind us of the generosity of your company.

“I have in mind the erection within the Club Rooms of a tablet to place on permanent record the fact that the property was the free gift of yourselves”.

By May 1942 the rules of the RSA Club were drafted from those of kindred clubs and applications were called for a manager. In all £2,308 was raised – £1,159 from another stock drive.
The Club was opened on 6 November 1942 with a guard of honour of 55 ex-servicemen in mufti with medals.

Returned Services Association
The NZ RSA put in place means for all servicemen and women to join the Association. In Cambridge the minutes of 18 July 1941 read – “Amendment to Rule 13: This rule to be amended so as to include any person who has been on active service overseas with any of His Majesty’s forces in any war”. In 1942 the name was changed to the Cambridge Returned Services Association Inc.

Twenty-five Cambridge men had lost their lives in WW11 by 1942 and a double honours board was proposed, with names inscribed on slabs of oak cut from a tree which grew in the grounds of the club. It was to be placed in the Hall of Memories at the entrance of the new Soldiers’ Club along with appropriate photos and souvenirs of both wars.

In 1944 the Governor General and Lady Newall visited the club remarking that it was one of the best RSA Clubs they had seen in New Zealand. But with only 62 members it was a little disappointing so the Association took over the administration.

Sports organised through the club were popular. Card evenings were arranged on alternative Mondays – ‘500’ and crib were popular, as was the annual bowling tournament. Cricket was organised between neighbouring clubs and £15 granted for cricket gear.

The RSA Lawn Cemetery arose from the 1945 minutes of the Dominion Conference and it was resolved in Cambridge:- “That the Cambridge Borough Council be approached by Jim Jeans to ascertain what could be done as regards a Lawn Cemetery in the District”.

The government’s policy was to assist branches of the RSA to the greatest possible extent in conjunction with local bodies. To this end the Government would bear the responsibility to cultivate the land; pay for the headstones; and pay for the upkeep of plots in perpetuity. There would be no monetary expenditure on the part of the local body or the local RSA.  Frank Green was then given full power to proceed and the cemetery was made in accordance to his plans. It included a memorial wall, paid for by the RSA, bearing the names of the Cambridge Servicemen who were buried overseas. The plot was to be known as the Cambridge Soldiers’ Avenue.  The Cyprus trees planted at the cemetery were presented by RSA members and next of kin at the cost of £1 each.

In 1947 after a lapse of six years the children’s picnic resumed with Alf Swayne and Ces Russo as organisers. The picnic was not confined to children of ex servicemen, it was free for everyone and every child received ice cream, sweets and drinks. After 45 gallons of ice cream there were a few aching arms as up to 1,000 children joined in the fun.

The 1948 picnic was cancelled because of the poliomyelitis epidemic and by 1959 because of lack of support by members, parents and finances, the picnics stopped. Instead a picture screening was put on for children in December.

Membership boomed after the war and for the 1947 AGM the meeting adjourned to the Oddfellows Hall as the club rooms could not accommodate the 133 members present.As a record number gathered at the 25th reunion in 1947 the old brigade was well and truly outnumbered. There were 260 people with members from three wars including four from South Africa, one nurse from WW1 and four nurses from WW2.

Home Service Association
The Cambridge Home Service Association was registered as branch number 19 in October 1944. And at their AGM the President expressed the hope that there might ultimately be a closer social relationship between the RSA and the HSA.  In spite of RSA HQ’s support of closer relationships as a wise and appropriate step, and confirmation from the Club manager that facilities were adequate, after many arguments for and against the motion was put to the vote and lost.

In September 1949 the first steps towards a charter were initiated. In July 1952 the plans were approved and tenders called for alterations to the clubrooms in anticipation of the granting of a Charter. Membership increased to 526 and the subs also increased to 15/-, but the Association was in debt even though the Relief Fund had a credit of £914.  No tender was received for the alterations and two members put the plans into operation, which included making the meeting room into a comfortable lounge.

1971 saw the upgrading of the bar, coolroom, lounge, ladies’ room and kitchen. But the Club lagged behind the hotels and the licence would not be renewed unless certain improvements were carried out. The chairs were redecorated in blue, gold and brown. There was a rich new body carpet and new tables. The upgrading extended through the reading room, kitchen and men’s and women’s toilet facilities. Removing an old office and shortening the bar provided greater lounge space. Subs were increased by $2 in 1974 to $5 per year and postal voting was introduced in a hope to increase interest in the club.

Additions to the billiard room were completed in 1973 with two new tables and tiled flooring. Charges were by a metering system which also controlled the lights.

The instituting of the War Services Pension in 1971, with a wider scope and admissibility than the War Veteran’s Allowance and Economic pensions, had brought forward a considerable and increasing number of applicants. In consequence a greater work load fell on welfare officers. But welfare officers were still pressing for an improvement in war pension rate and equality for WW1 pensioners.  Colonel Tom Wallace was the first official Welfare Officer to be appointed in Cambridge.

In 1984 Jim Hyde was elected to the executive and appointed Assistant Welfare Officer. The next year he was appointed chairman of the Welfare Committee. “The Colonel issued his orders to me three years ago and I obeyed”, said Jim.

Associate Members
Talk of introducing Associate Members goes back to the forming of the club in 1942. In 1967 conditions of acceptance were discussed. In 1971 the Licensing Commission was consulted and it was decided that the Cambridge RSA Club Incorporated be formed and all financial members of the Cambridge RSA and 10% of non RSA members admitted.

In 1973 there was a special meeting to discuss incorporation of associate members. “Although the membership was fairly static the time was coming when this would not be so, and facilities had to be kept up”, said Mr Larnach the president. Mr Larnach intimated that the Cambridge RSA was going to take in Associate Members and the hope was that many Homeservicemen would join.  A resolution was moved- “To approve or otherwise to form a separately incorporated club under the heading The Cambridge RSA Club (Inc) according to the Model Rules as adopted and approved by the RSA Dominion Executive Council”. Carried by a substantial majority.

The Licensing Authority granted the RSA the right to have 65 associate members and, without having to be balloted, members of the Homeservicemen’s Association and the Women’s Section became Associate Members of the club by right.

And so again, in 1975 a separate Club was formed to conduct and administer the social activities under the rules of the Association and the Licensing Committee. These rules ensured that the RSA would always have control.

The appointment of a Club Committee resulted with Roy Nairn as chairman, a separate set of books was operated by the club and rental for the Club premises set at $100 a week.

Forty new members were welcomed at a social in the clubrooms in March 1975 and all women who served overseas in any war were added to the ranks of Honorary Members of the RSA.

In March 1975 Honorary Membership was granted to 35 Cambridge WW1 servicemen all aged in their 70s and 80s.

1980 saw the admission of service members.

“The question is”, said Tom Wallace, “in time who is going to look after the ex-servicemen and women, just as we now are looking after the South African and WW1 veterans? Some of the smaller RSA have taken in these people so as to survive.”

With the Club again separate it was important to maintain the RSA membership as 80% of business at the annual conference related to ex-services welfare.

Cambridge boasted the highest homeservice subscription in the country. From a total of 522 there were 339 ex-servicemen and women, 64 associate members, 13 homeservicemen, 40 from the Women’s Section and 6 honorary members.

The Club continued to cater for golf, snooker, darts, housie and bowls as well as social get togethers. The Rod Ellis Memorial for snooker was instigated as the Cambridge Open Snooker Championship.

The poker machine, raffles and housie were carrying the club financially and the club was in dire straits until the president and executive took positive measures to improve the situation. The building was used as collateral for a $15,000 overdraft at the bank and by 1987 the finances were much improved.

In 1988 $16,455 was spent on repairs and maintenance and a gaming machine was acquired to help towards the reduction of mortgages and the overdraft. Subs were $22 for RSA members and $33 plus $30 joining fee for associate members. Rent from the Club was $10,000 and a percentage of bar profits.

Mobility Van
The RSA Mobility van was another venture in 1990 to celebrate the Dominion-wide celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the Gallipoli Landing. The van was made available to Cambridge by the untiring work of Charlie Clelland, raising $30,000 from organisations, businesses and members of the public. Red Cross donated a wheelchair and the hoist was supplied by Cambridge Welding and fitted by Eric Walmsley (the first roster co-ordinator). 1993 also brought forth the new Community Courtesy Van (so people needn’t drink and drive).

House Members
In 1992 another rule change was announced by the NZ RSA to permit the acceptance of non Returned or Service Members and the Cambridge Returned Services Association Inc. met – “To amend the rules of the Cambridge RSA Inc to permit the admission of House Members in accordance with the Dominion Council resolution 8/1992”.

The Cambridge RSA Club Inc resolved, after that meeting – “To wind up the affairs of the Cambridge RSA Club Inc with affect from 1 January 1993 and to transfer, after satisfaction of all liabilities, any property whatsoever to the Cambridge Returned Services Association Inc”.

So back to one Association and the social activities were conducted by a sub-committee.

A further NZ RSA rule change permitted House Members to be elected to local Association’s Executive Committees and a meeting on 12 March 1997 approved rule changes to allow for an Executive Committee of nine members of which no more than four members may be House Members.

In November 2003 the RSA building went on the market.
With the Club running at a loss, a loan for improvements from the Welfare Fund could not be repaid. The RSA building sold for $404,000 in 2003, and was deconstructed in 2013.  An archaeological investigation of the site “provided a valuable opportunity to closely examine and document a unique and important building.” (Archaeology of the Cambridge RSA Building, 59-61 Alpha St, Cambridge (HPA Authority 2012/929).)  Finds from the archaeological dig of the site are held at the Cambridge Museum, along with the archaeological report to Heritage New Zealand by Wesley Maguire.  The RSA now meets at the Cosmopolitan Club.

The Cambridge Museum has received the Roll of Honour and the Cambridge Cavalry Volunteers flag which it has proudly displayed in a special military room.  “People Helping People”.