RSL fight as Warrnambool sub-branch president claims it's 'no old boys' club'

WARRNAMBOOL’S Returned Services League (RSL) leaders have hit back at critics who claim the organisation is irrelevant to young returned soldiers.

Last week’s open invitation for new blood to lead the Anzac Day march and join the 98-year-old national support organisation sparked several caustic comments from people claiming to be veterans of recent wars.

They accused the RSL of being outdated and holding little interest for them. 

However, Warrnambool RSL sub-branch president John Miles has called for a truce and invited critics to the peace table. “The RSL is no longer an old boys’ club — it is open to any veteran of any age whether they have served overseas or not,” he said.

“The underlying philosophy of the league is mateship and is as true now as when the league was first formed.

“As our Anzac appeal is about to start I would like to see some of these RSL knockers come along and volunteer their time to help.”

One critic who posted a comment on The Standard’s website last week said: “I am one of the younger service personnel and I ask how the RSL is relevant to us? All the RSL does is organise the Anzac events and sit in an old club drinking beers slowly passing each day until the end. 

“Can the RSL explain specifically what the RSL does offer to us, apart from sharing stories and trying to keep old war stories alive each year?”

Another who mentioned serving overseas a few times said the RSL branch “has never once in the last 14 years asked if I wanted to join or tried to explain the benefits of joining”.

However, Mr Miles said the organisation found it difficult to find details of former defence personnel because of privacy laws.

“Our representatives try to keep in contact with those we know about including reservists and serving members,” he said. 

“To the younger veteran who left the remark on The Standard website and in text messages, if you would like to come to the RSL you would be made most welcome and find it is not as you portray it, but is a club that welcomes all veterans from any conflict or service.

“I, and our committee, and all our visitors want to see more younger veterans in the community enjoying the camaraderie that can be forged within the RSL.”

Mr Miles said the RSL was formed in June 1916 by soldiers returning from Gallipoli with the aims of preserving the spirit of mateship formed among the carnage of horror and battle, to honour the memory of the fallen and to help each other.

“There were no welfare services such as we have today, so the league committed itself to provide for the sick, wounded and needy among those who had served and their dependants including pensions, medical attention, homes and employment,” he said.

“In effect, the RSL was the first national veterans’ welfare agency in Australia and continues to provide more than $2.5 million a year in grants and assistance to veterans and dependants in Victoria.”

He said the Warrnambool sub-branch raised more than $50,000 a year for community assistance and had a local welfare officer and an aged-care facilitator available for assistance.

Medical supplies, gardening, mobility scooters and minor housing renovations were among other services provided.

“Within the ranks of the RSL there is an amazing number of volunteers who assist not only RSL members, but any member of the ex-service community and their dependants,” Mr Miles said.

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