The RSL was formed in June 1916 by troops returning from WWI. Its aims were simple: to preserve the spirit of mateship formed amidst the carnage and horror of battle; to honour the memory of the fallen; and to help each other. The underlying philosophy of the League is mateship and this is as true now as when the League was first formed.
In 1916 there were no welfare services such as we know today. The League committed itself to provide for the sick, wounded and needy among those who have served and their dependants including pensions, medical attention, homes and suitable employment. As a result, the RSL was instrumental in the creation of the medical repatriation system and the introduction of service, disability and war widow’s pensions. The RSL was also responsible for the introduction of various employment and retraining programs and for many years operated its own employment bureau, child health program and vocational guidance service.
In effect, the RSL was the first national welfare agency in Australia and continues to maintain welfare as its prime function. In 2003 in Victoria the RSL maintains over 800 beds for veterans and their dependants; it provides an average of $2million per annum in grants and financial assistance as well as providing a network of welfare and pensions officers to assist veterans and their dependants with a range of support services including assistance with DVA and MRCS pensions.
At a National level the RSL is represented on the Veterans’ Affairs Conditions of Service Committee and the National Defence Committees, amongst others. Through its involvement in such Committees, the RSL is an advocate for serving members of the Australian Defence Force and has achieved significant benefits for them.
The RSL is very active in local communities, funding a range of projects such as local hospitals, youth programs, and projects for the disabled, to name just a few.
Originally known as the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, or RSSILA, the League changed its name to the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airman’s Imperial League of Australia, or RSSAILA, in 1940.
In 1965, the name was again changed to the Returned Services League of Australia, and in 1990, to the Returned and Services League of Australia. The last name change reflects the fact that membership of the RSL is now open to all ex-service men and women who have not been on active service.
In Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, Affiliate Membership of the RSL is available to the relatives and friends of service men and women.
With over 220,000 members nationally and 59,500 members in Victoria, the RSL remains as relevant today as in 1916.