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RSA National President to Lead a Quiet Revolution

RSA National President to Lead a Quiet Revolution

When Warrant Officer B.J. Clark was posted to the Sinai Peninsula in 1989, he often reflected on the New Zealand troops who fought there in the harsh Egyptian climate more than 70 years earlier.

Clark was a member of the United Nations multi-national force that helped maintain the peace in the Middle Eastern hot spot.

Today as the newly elected National President of the Royal New Zealand RSA, Clark will lead the RSA’s centennial commemorations of New Zealanders who served in the Firstly World War, at Gallipoli, the Western Front and in the Middle East.

It’s an historic time but the RSA and its new National President have the future firmly in mind. Clark wants to quietly revolutionise the iconic RSA movement so it becomes even more effective and relevant to today’s members and the generations to come.

“The spirit of Anzac saw our men and women look out for and support each other and come together in comradeship. A hundred years later I want that same attitude to be enhanced in RSAs throughout New Zealand,” he says.

“My goal is to lead a quiet revolution of attitudes – changing the way Kiwis see the RSA, bringing associations together to share their strengths, showing New Zealand that we welcome them into the RSA movement and championing our current service personnel as well as our veterans.”

Clark says the revolution has already begun. In October the RSA launched its National Association – a new online based RSA for current service personnel who move frequently and Kiwis of all ages and backgrounds who don’t currently have an RSA connection.

The association provides a range of benefits, allows them to access RSAs in New Zealand and RSL clubs in Australia and provides them with a club card which grants exclusive benefits and deals through a range of quality trusted brands.

It also released its cutting edge online Annual Report. The engaging report, which impressed the President of the Australian RSL, showed that membership was stable with some RSAs reporting an increase, revenue streams improved, the Veterans Support Act was passed in parliament, providing a new basis for government support for veterans, new sponsorships were launched and recipients of awards were championed.

As the RSA approaches its own centenary in 2016, Clark sees its work as vital as ever. “While we still have men and women who put themselves in harm’s way to serve their country, we have a role to play in looking after them and providing support,” Clark says.

Clark has been impressed with the resurgence of interest by young people in the milestones leading up to and including the early involvement of New Zealand in the First World War.

“We’ve seen young New Zealanders attending Anzac Day ceremonies in increasing numbers. Many are honouring their family members. Now we want to attract them to an RSA that is relevant and alive,” he says.

Looking to the future the RSA has begun planning its own centenary in 2016. Whatever forms it takes Clark wants to emphasise “the new attitude” as it approaches a second century of service.

He joined the New Zealand Army as a regular force cadet 44 years ago intent on a career as a carpenter/joiner. The cadet school in Waiouru was established to identify the future leaders. At the time it wouldn’t have known the future leader of the RSA was in the class of 1970.

Over the years Clark saw service in Singapore, Fiji, the Antarctic and the Sinai Peninsula. One experience that stood out was the six months he spent in Moscow helping to refurbish the New Zealand Embassy.

“We lived in the basement, often covered in dust. Our job was to make the embassy secure,” Clark recalls. “It’s a memory I’ll always have.”

Another defining recollection was in seeking out the British War Grave cemeteries in Sinai, the resting place of hundreds of Kiwis who fought there during the First World War.

“There was so much sadness reading the names of soldiers and not a dry eye anywhere. They were so far from home and unable to be brought back. I thought of the sacrifices they made in the desert.”

Clark left the army in 1991 as a Warrant Officer and Senior Trades Instructor. “The army shaped me. It taught me skills, leadership, camaraderie, how to accept differences in people and work with them,” he says.

Early in his army life he was attracted to the RSA. He joined in Christchurch in 1973 and, in 1998, became President of Papanui RSA. From there he was appointed Canterbury District President and then National Vice President in 2008.

Now, as the new, down to earth National President, he wants to visit as many RSAs around New Zealand as possible to emphasise the importance of his quiet revolution.


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