On February 5, 1915, the hospital ship “Yarra” reached Australia carrying invalided Australian soldiers from Egypt. On that day the history of the Returned Services League of Australia began. As we look back over the years, it is clear that the common bond of comradeship and mutual interest, which later manifested itself in no uncertain manner, had its simple origin in the close association of the mere handful of men who were the first to be affected by the demands of active service.
As the war developed, the loss of life, the shedding of blood, the agony of wounds, the privation and discomfort, drew Australia’s sons together in an unbreakable bond of comradeship. From this source of mutual understanding, there came back home to Australia those rendered unfit for further Active Service. As they grew in numbers, there developed a determination to convert an indefinite and undirected desire, which they sensed to be common to them all, into an organized endeavor to continue in some form their undertaking of national service and to ensure that each and all should receive such measure of treatment and care as well considered fair and equitable.
These veterans formed state Returned Services Associations in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland and it was an informal meeting of one representative from each of these associations in Sydney on 10 May 1916, which set the date for the founding conference. On June 6, 1916, representatives from the respective RSAs of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia met in Melbourne to draw up a provisional constitution and statement of the aims and objects of an Australia-wide body. After four days of debate, they adopted the Name of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, The RSSILA ever since known to Australians as the RSL.
With about 270,000 members in 1549 sub-branches, the RSL is the largest ex-service body in Australia. It cements comradeship begun in Service and provides a forum for the Service community with the aim of securing improved conditions for Service people, their dependents and the bereaved.
Formed in 1916 by wounded from Gallipoli, it was joined later by men returned from the battlefields of France, Belgium, Egypt and Palestine, and 25 years later, those who served throughout the world in WWII and closer to home in the jungles of New Guinea, Borneo, Malaya and the islands of the Pacific. More recently other generations of Australians who fought in Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Gulf War and peacetime serving and ex-service personnel have joined.
The Washington, DC Sub-Branch is the only one located outside the Pacific basin area and was founded on October 31, 1969 by a group of Australian and American uniformed and veteran defence force personnel. It is strictly a social organization of veterans.
Luncheon meetings are held at the Australian Embassy on the second Thursday of each month with the exception of ANZAC Day, which is always observed on April 25, and guest speakers' address subjects of interest to our members and guests. Additionally, special functions are held mid-year and December at the New Zealand and Australian Embassies.