Euroa RSL - one hundred years of service
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.