Origins of the RNVA
In 1893 an appeal was made by Captain A.W.M. Atthill for funds to entertain the old soldiers of the City of Norwich who seen active service against the enemy. The response was so generous that 74 veterans were entertained to a dinner, held on 15th January 1894 at the Shirehall Tavern. Mr. Samuel Hoare presiding supported by Sir Harry Bullard and others. So many additional names were sent in that a supplementary dinner was held a week later at the same venue, when a further 64 were entertained. These dinners, provided by public subscription, became an annual event until the beginning of the Great War.
After the fifth occasion there was a great desire amongst many who attended to meet more often, and four old soldiers by the names of Col. Sgt. J. Quince, Col. Sgt. W. Neal, Sgt. J. Squire and Sgt. J. Grant, met at "Old John's" 8 Bethel Street, to discuss the possibility. The outcome of this was a largely attended meeting of all those interested at the "King's Arms" in Bethel Street on Thursday, 15th. December 1898, the purpose being to form an association "for mutual help and assistance in time of need".
Captain Atthill, who took the chair, addressed the meeting at length on the advisability of forming an association for Norfolk, on the lines of the Bristol Veterans Society which had started in 1896, and had, by the support of both members and honorary members, been able to relieve by grants of small weekly sums, 25-30 of the most destitute comrades, thereby avoiding some of them having to break up their homes.
The Association Standard
The RNVA cap badge
At the conclusion of the Chairman's address it was unanimously resolved to form a similar society, under the title of The Norfolk Veterans Association, with the following as its objectives:-
a) To band together in goodwill and the sympathy all discharged soldiers, sailors and marines living in Norfolk who are in possession of medals for active service or long service and good conduct. Later expanded to include members of the Royal Air Force.
b) To provide, if possible, headquarters where meetings can be held, and where information can be obtained with regard to the Association.
c) To obtain funds for the assistance of the most necessitous and deserving cases amongst the members..
d) To rescue from the workhouse or from a paupers grave, any old soldier, sailor or marine who, through no fault of his own, is reduced to destitution.
e) To grant pecuniary aid, where necessary, to the widow or relatives of a deceased member so that a fitting burial may be provided for him.
It was further resolved that General Sir E. G. Bulwer KCB be asked to accept the position of President of the Association. The yearly subscription fixed for members at 2/- and the committee of ten was appointed to draw up the rules and to elaborate the details of the Association. Captain Atthill consented to act as treasurer pro tem.
The Norfolk Daily Standard of Monday, 19th December, states "The first meeting of the newly-formed Association, which already had some 150 members, is fixed for 2nd. January next and it is hoped that the veterans, having shown a great desire to help one another, a sympathetic public will in turn assist them by donations or yearly subscriptions to carry out the objectives they have in view, and so to obviate the necessity of relying on the charity of a generous citizen to keep any one of the number from the nightmare of the broken-down soldier - a pauper's grave."
Captain Atthill remained Chairman of the Association for some 28 years, and there is no doubt that it is through his enthusiasm and hard work that the Association thrived.