Community Focus- Warwick RSL Sub-branch

We are the welfare arm of the Returned & Services League, what we do is what the RSL was established to do in the first place, when injured soldiers and sailors were returning from WWI in 1915 & ’16 only to find the government of the time had enough money to send them to war but didn’t have any idea of how to look after them when they came home.

Wounded and injured soldiers were just turned out on the streets as soon as they could walk, virtually no compensation and a pension so small they were barely able to survive and were left dependant on handouts to feed their families.

It was left up to local groups like Red Cross, the Salvation Army, the churches and other small groups made up of both war veterans and community members who had no government funding, most in fact were penniless and depended on donations from the community to do what they could to help these men (and some women).

The soldiers who returned saw their mates in serious need of assistance, they saw widows whose husbands had been killed, ejected from their rented houses because they had no income, they saw their mates unable to get jobs which had been taken over by those who didn’t enlist and they knew something had to be done.

Eventually, these returned men and most of the groups realised they needed to press the Federal Government for assistance and they needed a larger voice than just the individual small committees.

(The RSL is now the largest lobby group in Australia for ex-servicemen and women and the one which has the ear of government).

Their combined efforts led to the formation of the RSSILA (Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League of Australia) which was founded in 1916.

When speaking with one voice, the Federal Government realised they had to do something for those men (and women) which led to the formation of what is now the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA).

If you think the formation of the DVA sorted all the problems, you are a long way from the truth.

Veterans’ are still fighting for fair pensions and compensation to this day and while things have changed for the better in the past few years, there are still major problems within the system and some of the stories I can tell you would give you nightmares.

In Warwick, the RSSILA was formed on August 4, 1917, and we are now Queensland’s oldest continuing Sub-Branch of the state branch of the RSL.

I think it was at the beginning of WWII the name was changed again to Returned Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia (RSS&AILA) – what a mouthful!!

Reason reigned at some stage after WWII when it became the Returned Servicemen’s League (RSL) – sorry ladies, you weren’t considered but they did allow female members who had been involved in warlike activities.

Unfortunately, no matter what you did in the military during the war years or afterwards, unless you had active service in a war zone, you were not allowed to join.

In 1991, the leaders again saw reason and re-named the organisation the Returned and Services League which allowed all members of the service community, with or without active service, to join the organisation.

The RSL is one of those organisations where you cannot buy membership. Unless you served in one of the military arms you cannot become a member.

The reason?

Well, I can only surmise it was because only people with service in the military truly understand how a veteran feels, how to speak to them and how best to help.

We provide assistance with gaining welfare benefits, we fill out forms for veterans who have trouble doing it themselves – imagine when DVA sends you a 20-page questionnaire and you already have health problems – some people just give up and miss out on their benefits.

We also provide an advocacy service for a veteran experiencing problems with DVA (or other government departments) such as a claim refused or a benefit reduced, where a trained and experienced person can take their case on – and our win to loss ratio is very much in our favour.

We also provide welfare services such as hospital visits, arranging for a veteran’s lawn to be mowed, high windows washed, perhaps shopping done or provide a vehicle to take them down town.

We are able to provide accommodation for homeless veterans, we have programs where we can assist ex-servicemen and women find work after exiting the services, we also have programs to help ex-service people adjust to life after their discharge.

The work we do within the service and ex-service community may also extend to assisting with the challenges faced by the families of veterans.

We offer bursaries for higher education for veterans’ and their children; we offer education programs through primary and high schools, right through to university and post graduate studies.

As part of our program to educate students, we visit all 17 schools in our region for pre-ANZAC Day services where we conduct memorial services or speak about various subjects related to war service and welfare.

One of our major responsibilities is to conduct memorial services for special occasions such as ANZAC Day, Remembrance Day, Vietnam Veterans’ Day and on other special occasions such as war-related anniversaries.

We also keep memorabilia related to service activities either for display or for safe keeping.

At the funerals of ex-service people we conduct what is sometimes called ‘the poppy service’ or the ex-serviceman or women’s rites. That is, we obtain a copy of their service history, research the service, for example, find out where their units were when the deceased was serving, what their role was and more, then present this as part of the funeral service along with the bugle tunes, the Last Post and the Rouse.

My job as president of a board (made up of eight or 10 members with these various roles included), averages over 40 hours a week and we are all volunteers – how would our communities run without volunteers?

John Skinner


Contact Number: 0427 612 087

Warwick RSL Sub-Branch