Feature

RSL built on tradition of Aussie mateship

GOOD MATES: Soldiers at a Brisbane Camp in 1914 ... a long way from the horrors which awaited them in Europe.
GOOD MATES: Soldiers at a Brisbane Camp in 1914 ... a long way from the horrors which awaited them in Europe. Picture Sunshine Coast

TO celebrate the centenary of the RSL, we look at the history of the organisation and its continuing relevance today.

WHEN a group of wounded soldiers got together to discuss their injuries a little over a century ago, little did they know the amazing legacy they would leave.

Looking back, it is clear that the common bond of comradeship and mutual interest that the RSL was formed on had its simple origin in the close association of the men who were among the first to return from active service.

As the war developed, Australia's sons were drawn together by the loss of life and agony of wounds to continue their unbreakable bond of comradeship.

On February 5, 1915, the Hospital Ship Kyarra reached Australia carrying injured Australian soldiers from Egypt.

The first few returned soldiers made use of empty club rooms and recreation tents- which were originally provided for the use of those undergoing training before embarkation - as gathering places which became centres for discussion about their serious wounds and health problems resulting from their war service.

As the number of returned soldiers who were deemed unfit for further active service increased, coincidently with the increase in the number of recruits, the tents became crowded.

A sympathetic public came eagerly to the rescue and by providing special club rooms for the sole use of returned soldiers, they indirectly laid the foundations for a century of supporting veterans.

Soldiers John Selwyn Slack and Allan Ashsford Slack on a day trip to Nambour from the Obi Obi Valley, ca 1941.
Soldiers John Selwyn Slack and Allan Ashsford Slack on a day trip to Nambour from the Obi Obi Valley, ca 1941. Picture Sunshine Coast

With the aim of ensuring a fair and equitable amount of treatment and care was available to all, the Returned Soldiers Association was formed in Queensland.

The first state president, Major R.H. Walsh, was appointed on April 5, 1916, and held the position until 1918.

Almost immediately, the association began to carry out its objective of helping returned soldiers.

The most common requirement in the early days was from those who had returned from war and were having difficulty obtaining what they believed they were rightly due.

At that stage, the process required an application to the Ministerial Head of the Defence Department of the Commonwealth, which was difficult for Queenslanders to do as it was based in Melbourne.

As similar organisations for returned servicemen developed in NSW, South Australia and Victoria, it became apparent that similar difficulties were being faced across the country.

The realisation that without unity it would be difficult to achieve anything prompted a meeting of a representative of each of the four states in Sydney on May 10, 1916, when attendees agreed to hold a more official representative meeting in Melbourne to reach an agreement regarding the formation of an Australia-wide returned soldier's association.

That meeting was held on June 3, 1916, when the name Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia (RSSILA) was suggested and a provisional constitution and statement of aims and objects was compiled and adopted.

These were:

To perpetuate the close and kindly ties of friendship created by a mutual service in the Great War, and the recollections associated with that experience, to maintain a proper standard of dignity and honour among all sailors and soldiers, and to set an example of public spirit and noble-hearted endeavour.

To preserve the memory and records of those who suffered and died for the nation - to erect monuments to their valour - to provide them with suitable burial places and establish in their honour an annual commemoration day.

To provide for the sick and wounded and needy among those who have served, and their dependants, including pensions, medical attention, homes and suitable employment.

To inculcate loyalty to Australia and the Empire and secure patriotic service in the interests of both.

To guard the good name and preserve the interests and standing of returned sailors and soldiers.

To induce members as citizens to serve Australia with that spirit of self-sacrifice and loyalty with which, as sailors and soldiers, they served Australia and the Empire, and to maintain an association non-sectarian and non-partisan, in relation to party politics.

To establish, maintain, furnish and equip clubs, club rooms, information bureaux, libraries, literary, social, education and benevolent institutions for the benefit and advancement of members, and to print, circulate, and publish such papers, books, magazines and circulars, and carry on such other literary and journalistic undertakings as may be conducive to these objects.

The first Federal Congress was held in Brisbane from September 11-16, 1916, at which the formation meeting minutes and the suggested name were adopted.

The RSL had officially commenced operation.

Over following decades, state branches were formed in Western Australia, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and even Papua New Guinea.

Sub-branches were created to service various populated centres within each state.

While each state conformed to the general constitution and aims of the league, they were individually governed by their constitution and by-laws.

In November 1940 the word "Airmens” was added and the name became the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airmens Imperial League of Australia (RSSAILA) and, in October 1965, a change to Returned Services League of Australia was made.

In September 1990, to cater for a wider membership, the name was changed to Returned & Services League of Australia (RSL), which remains today.

Having its first embryonic beginning in the days following February 5, 1916, the league saw itself fully grown, and completely organised, as representing the returned sailors, soldiers and nurses of the Commonwealth of Australia, in August 1918, just three months prior to the signing of the Armistice.

Topics:  rsl, rsl centenary, war veterans


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