Euroa RSL - one hun­dred years of ser­vice

Euroa Gazette - - NEWS -

IN Oc­to­ber 1918, one hun­dred years ago this month, 14 men met in one of the ground floor rooms at Euroa’s North East Ho­tel. There were no women. The meet­ing was se­ri­ous ‘men’s busi­ness’ - the creation of a branch of the Re­turned Sailors and Sol­diers Im­pe­rial League. Who were these men?

All, bar­ring two in­di­vid­u­als in at­ten­dance, had re­turned early from the war as a re­sult of wounds or ill­ness. Frank Beaton was miss­ing his right leg; it had been am­pu­tated in Eng­land. The Saxon brothers, Tom and Will, had by co­in­ci­dence both suf­fered gun­shot wounds to their legs and stom­achs, Will at Pozieres and Tom near Bul­le­court. Ernest Hen­der­son had been wounded while at Gal­lipoli. The scar to his leg wound put him back in hos­pi­tal many times. Archi Mor­gan and Jim Leonard had also col­lected leg wounds dur­ing the land­ing at Gal­lipoli at a lit­tle known place called ‘Fish­er­man’s Hut’. It is highly likely nei­ther fired a shot. Jack Walker was blind in one eye while Ed­ward Lind­say, John Lav­ery and Joe McEn­tee suf­fered from rheuma­tism, the re­sult of months in the trenches on the Western Front. Clif­ford Oates was not a “lo­cal”. His fa­ther had re­cently been made sta­tion­mas­ter at Euroa. Clif­ford had been granted com­pas­sion­ate leave. The only civil­ian was Creighton farmer, Ge­orge Threlfall. His son Alex was in France. Ge­orge was rep­re­sent­ing the ‘Fa­thers’ As­so­ci­a­tion’. Frank Tubb was an apol­ogy.

De­spite his ab­sence Frank was elected pres­i­dent, Wil­liam Saxon and Archi Mor­gan were his vice pres­i­dents while Tom Saxon be­came sec­re­tary.

The branch aimed to as­sist in re­cruit­ing – un­be­known to them the end of the war was less than a month away. Its other fo­cus was to as­sist re­turn­ing sol­diers. There were some 450 ex-ser­vice­men liv­ing in the re­gion and it was ex­pected most would join the league. These ex­pec­ta­tions were never ful­filled.

By 1921 Tom Saxon was lament­ing the R.S.&S.I.L.A. had just 70 mem­bers: “It should have had at least 150, … hun­dreds of sol­diers were in the district. ” You would have ex­pected re­turned men would have flocked to the one as­so­ci­a­tion de­signed to sup­port them. In­stead they turned their backs, not only on the as­so­ci­a­tion, but also on any mat­ters as­so­ci­ated with the war. Tom’s po­si­tion was in­flu­en­tial and his fu­ture held great prom­ise. He was the ed­i­tor of both the Ad­ver­tiser and The Sen­tinel. The frus­tra­tion dis­played by the young ed­i­tor was un­der­stand­able. Many of his mates were crum­bling be­fore his eyes.

The story of the Euroa branch has by and large been lost. All records prior to 1980 were de­stroyed. Dur­ing the early years of the of the branch’s ex­is­tence the “cor­re­spon­dent” to the Ad­ver­tiser, most likely Will Saxon, re­ported on each of the fort­nightly meet­ings, as did the Gazette. These re­ports read like min­utes but with­out them and the nu­mer­ous bi­ogra­phies writ­ten af­ter the pass­ing of mem­bers, the dif­fi­cul­ties of re­search­ing and un­der­stand­ing their search for a Meet­ing Hall, the role Neville Stri­b­ling and oth­ers played in re­solv­ing mat­ters con­cern­ing the branch such as the con­struc­tion and un­veil­ing of the branch’s honor boards and shields, would be for­got­ten.

Crit­i­cally, dur­ing the branch’s first decade it was re­ported as be­ing ac­tive in help­ing re­turn­ing sol- diers find work. It was not pre­pared to com­pro­mise; a ‘dig­ger’ should al­ways be put at the top of the list of job ap­pli­cants. It quickly ran foul of the shire over the shires em­ploy­ment pol­icy. It was also a harsh critic of the Soldier Set­tle­ment Scheme; a scheme it be­lieved was bound to fail.

The Re­turned Ser­vice­men’s As­so­ci­a­tion of Vic­to­ria had been formed on 7 April 1915 by naval men who had par­tic­i­pated in the cap­ture of Ger­man New Guinea in Septem­ber 1914, was the first of the or­gan­i­sa­tions of re­turned ser­vice­men formed dur­ing 1915-16 in most Aus­tralian cap­i­tal cities. A meet­ing was held in Mel­bourne in June of 1916. These state bod­ies formed the Re­turned Sol­diers’ and Sailors’ Im­pe­rial League of Aus­tralia (RSSILA), soon fa­mil­iarly known as the RSL. The struc­ture and gov­er­nance of the RSL have re­mained fun­da­men­tally un­changed since 1916.

Though the em­pha­sis has var­ied over time, the cen­tral RSL ob­jec­tives have re­mained con­stant: to hon­our the me­mory of fallen com­rades, pre­serve the fra­ter­nity among the liv­ing, as­sist the repa­tri­a­tion and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of re­turned ser­vice­men and women, and sup­port the fam­i­lies of ex-ser­vice per­son­nel, what­ever their league mem­ber­ship sta­tus.

As a re­cent af­fil­i­ate mem­ber I have been im­pressed by the sen­si­tiv­ity, com­pas­sion and deeply held sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity held by the ex­ec­u­tive and mem­bers to their own and the wider com­mu­nity, all the hall­marks of a branch which is more than wor­thy of its im­por­tant her­itage.

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