Looking back over the years, 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 5 February 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 regarding their serious wounds and health problems as a result of 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 were more or less crowded out. A sympathetic public came eagerly to the rescue, and by providing special club rooms for the use of returned soldiers solely, they indirectly laid the foundations for a century of supporting veterans.
The determination to establish an organisation to continue their dedication to national service grew strong. With an aim to ensure that a fair and equitable amount of treatment and care was available to all, the ‘Returned Soldiers’ Association’ was formed in Queensland.
Almost immediately the Association started to carry out their objectives in helping returned soldiers. The most common requirement in the early days was from those who had returned from war and were experiencing difficulty when trying to obtain what they believed they were rightly due. Similar returned servicemen organisations developed around the country, and united under one banner.
In RSL’s Centenary year we are more determined than ever to draw on our rich history, learn from the past, and reshape our future to the benefit of those we serve – young and old.
One of the most important lessons of the past is that early intervention and appropriate support for transition from the military to civilian life are vital to the welfare and wellbeing of our veteran population and their families.
Although conditions of service may have changed over the years, the underlying challenges faced by current and former ADF members are not new. However, there is increased awareness and commitment to ensuring that these challenges do not impact future generations as they have past generations.