A century: to the cricket player, it is 100 runs and a recorded achievement. To the historian, it is a study of evolution, of living styles; to the astronomer, the beginning and expansion of the universe; and to a person, it is a special day in her or his life.
For the Gunnedah RSL Sub-Branch, it is about an achievement of the care and help for soldiers and sailors returned from the battles on land and at sea during World War I.
Records of early meetings of the sub-branch are nearly non-existent and come mostly from some early newspaper reports.
The league evolved out of concern for the welfare of returned servicemen from the First War. In 1916, a conference recommended the formation of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia (RSSILA), which included representation from Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria. The first recorded meeting to form the Gunnedah RSSILA Sub-branch was in 1916 just after the RSSILA was formed.
About a dozen or so returned soldiers met in a small house on Bloomfield Street in 1916 to form a Returned Soldiers Association to help other returned men; Mr C Elliott being elected honorary secretary and Mr G A Higgins elected to be the representative to the Repatriation Committee.
Over the next two years, as more and more soldiers and sailors arrived back from the war, the Returned Soldiers Associations grew in numbers, so on Saturday, May 18, 1918, Private S Friel was welcomed home by an official party presided over by the Mayor Alderman E. W. Westerweller.
For the Gunnedah branch of the Returned Soldiers Association, despite the efforts of Mr C A Kentwell, Hon. Secretary, progress was slow as meetings were not well-attended by returned men. Maybe the cause was in connection with the dealing and treatment of returned soldiers by some of the leading citizens towards the government’s forthcoming Employment Act for Returned Soldiers and Sailors.
They are used as peacekeepers, observers and humanitarian aid workers, well-respected by all nations and always ready for that call to help.- Peter Kannengiesser
However, on Wednesday, May 19, 1918, the members of Gunnedah association discussed and decided to become member of the RSSILA and an application was made.
It is believed that the request to become a sub-branch of the RSSILA was officially approved on Thursday, September 26, 1918, that sub-branch status for Gunnedah was recognised and it was officially granted to be named the Gunnedah RSSILA Sub-branch.
It is known that the Gunnedah RSL Sub-branch (RSSILA) was officially opened and operated from Tuesday, October 8, 1918. Unfortunately, records are not available – they were lost during the “Great Flood” when they were stored in the basement of the RSL Club in Bloomfield Street.
Well-known and some not-so-well-known names of the community have lead the sub-branch through peaceful and turbulent times.
From the early and small gathering, the sub-branch grew and became a place of care, help, information and place of friendship and camaraderie to those who served in that “war to end all wars”. Then, 21 years later, the world erupted again in war. More Australians heeded the call and joined to fight not only in Europe, Africa and Asia, but also the Pacific Ocean and all other seas.
They did that the same way as the sailors and Diggers of World War I and, now, the Royal Australian Air Force.
They came home victorious, some broken in heart and body like their father before them. They came home to a changed homeland, but to a proud nation, which is second to none.
As the years have gone past, we had and still have servicemen and servicewomen serving all over the world: Korea, the Malayan Emergency, Indonesian Confrontation, that highly contentious war in Vietnam, the Middle East including Iraq and Afghanistan, closer to our shores the Solomon Islands, East Timor, the dreadful genocide (as UN soldiers) in Rwanda. The list goes on.
They are used as peacekeepers, observers and humanitarian aid workers, well-respected by all nations and always ready for that call to help.
So, our sub-branch has had its ups and downs – big one day, a little less the next. Well-known and some not-so-well-known names of the community have lead the sub-branch through peaceful and turbulent times.
We have now entered an era where most of our members are getting older and very few of our members from World War II and Korea are with us.
There are ex-servicemen and -women in our district who are entitled to join the RSL (renamed RSL of Australia in 1990) and keep the proud tradition of our Gunnedah RSL Sub-branch alive for years to come.
The community is invited to an open day on Sunday from 11am-2pm at 2 Acacia Street to celebrate our centenary.
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