Frothy beer at RSL Club

RSL History: A century of support for servicemen and women of the Australian Defence Force

The Returned & Services League of Australia (RSL) has been offering financial, legal,  emotional and physical support to servicemen and women both past and present for more than one hundred years.

Following Gallipoli & the Western Front in 1916, Australia recognised returning soldiers would need help reintegrating into civilian life and families who lost fathers, brothers, uncles and cousins would need compassion and care.

The RSL was formed to support men and women who have served in the Australian Defence Force – but what’s the greater history behind the RSL? How did we end up with RSL Clubs? What do RSL Clubs do?

In this blog, we’re going to delve deeper into the rich history of RSL Australia and discover how the RSL is just as important today as it was in 1916.

The formation of the RSSILA in 1916

World War I was devastating, traumatic and harsh. The world had never seen conflict on such a massive scale – and for surviving soldiers, returning home was lonesome and strange.

In 1916, a conference of returned soldier associations met and recommended the formation of the Returned Sailors & Soldiers Imperial League of Australia (RSSILA).

Queensland, Tasmania, South Australia & Victoria were the founding states.

The purpose of the RSSILA was to honour the spirit of fallen troops and continue the camaraderie and mateship experienced among Australians at war – so returning soldiers would have a familiar sense of comfort and support.

Soon after, RSL clubs were born, providing a venue for service personnel and their families to have a safe and comfortable place to gather, share a meal, socialise and remember the fallen.

Opening RSL Club doors to the general public & expanding services

Originally, RSL clubs were for current and ex-service personnel, but later opened its doors to the general public.

Thanks to the expanded patronage, RSL clubs have been able to improve and expand their facilities, services and events to benefit the whole community, while also supporting veterans and families of veterans.

Some of the services available through the RSL include:

  • Veterans Centre:  a not-for profit organisation which ensures current and former servicemen, servicewomen and their families on the Northern Beaches & Greater Sydney have the opportunity for growth through accessible support. This is an initiative of Dee Why RSL Club.
  • RSL DefenceCare: a not-for-profit organisation supporting veterans and their families in times of illness, injuries and crisis. With the support of the RSL, RSL DefenceCare provides assistance with DVA claims, counselling, grief support following the loss of a loved one, and if required, financial assistance.
  • Veteran Sport Australia: A not-for-profit organisation and legacy of Invictus Games Australia was founded in 2018. This program built on the adaptive sports initiative born out of the RSL in 2011. Founded in 2011, the VSA recognised the importance of sport and activities to the self esteem and mental health of veterans. VSA became an RSL initiative in 2018.
  • RSL Cabs: a charitable car service available in Sydney. Founded in 1946, RSL Cabs maintains a co-operative statement where all members are equal. Originally, the service was provided by ex-servicemen and members of the RSL. Nowadays, drivers do not have to be a member of the league.
  • RSL LifeCare: a charitable organisation caring for 7,500 residents in 25 retirement villages and 26 aged care homes across New South Wales & Canberra. LifeCare has been supporting veterans since 1911 and carries on the ANZAC spirit by providing care to the elderly (veteran and non-veteran), plus providing accommodation to veterans and their families when required.
  • RSL Art Union: a fundraising service providing critical financial support for returning veterans and their families. The service was founded in 1956 when returning veterans found it difficult to reintegrate into mainstream society (a result of injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder). Funds go towards PTSD research, counselling, rehabilitation programs, support services and more.

Changing face of the RSL badge

original RSL badge

Image: Australian War Memorial

The RSL’s badge represents readiness at all times to serve queen, country, and former comrades. Traditionally, the RSL badge has three colours, each representing the bravery and comradery of the ANZACs:

  • Red – the blood ties between comrades;
  • White – the pure motive behind joining the league, offering selfless service without personal gain;
  • Blue – the willingness to serve your comrades anywhere under the deep blue sky.

Over the years, the badge has changed to be more inclusive of ex-servicemen, sailors, soldiers, airmen and servicewomen. The symbolism of the crown has been updated to a more modern design and in 1990, the wording changes to Returned & Services League of Australia (RSL).

current RSL badge

Image: Australian War Memorial

The RSL is as important now as it was in 1916

For more than a century, the RSL has supported past and present members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF). Whether it’s care, counselling, advocacy or even financial aid, the RSL has provided support for servicemen, ex-servicemen and their families – no matter what.

Today, RSL Australia is as relevant as it was in 1916.

Dee Why RSL is proud to provide services to more than 50,000 members. Our doors are always open to servicemen and women as well as ex-servicemen and their families – Dee Why RSL is a safe, welcoming space for all ADF members.

From our membership fees and fundraising initiatives, we’ve developed a Veterans Centre where we offer ongoing support for ADF veterans, including:

  • Paid staff and volunteers to assist the transition from military to civilian life;
  • Assistance throughout rehabilitation;
  • Assistance with the lodgement of compensation forms to the Department of Veterans Affairs;
  • Referrals to trusted partners for specialist legal and financial services;
  • Continued support of you and your family

Help support your local RSL Club – make a donation or join the club and enjoy our family friendly restaurants & events!