A Historical Perspective of the RSL

(3)Coat of Arms








The Returned and Services League of Australia (often abbreviated to RSL) is a support organisation for men and women who have served or are serving in the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

It was formed as the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia in 1916, became the Returned Sailors’, Soldiers’ and Airmens Imperial League of Australia in 1940, and became the Returned Services League of Australia in 1965. The change to its current name was made in 1990 to reflect the organisation’s concern for current as well as former servicemen and servicewomen.

The patron of the RSL is Queen Elizabeth II.

The current National President of the League is Rear Admiral Ken Doolan, AO RAN (rtd).

As of 31 December 2009, the League comprised 186,652 members from 1,306 sub-branches and 5,533 members of the League’s women’s auxiliary from 381 sub-branches.

Membership levels have been declining for at least ten years.

The RSL’s mission statement is: To ensure that programs are in place for the well-being, care, compensation and commemoration of serving and ex-service Defence Force members and their dependents; and promote Government and community awareness of the need for a secure, stable and progressive Australia.

RSL National HQ, at 1 Constitution Avenue, Canberra, near the Australian Defence Force Russell Offices HQ The League evolved out of concern for the welfare of returned servicemen from the (1914–1918) first World War.[4]

During 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. New South Wales was admitted to the League the following year, and Western Australia in 1918. In 1927, the Australian Capital Territory formed a branch and was admitted.

In 1940, the name of the League changed to the Returned Sailors’ Soldiers’ and Airmens Imperial League of Australia (RSSAILA), and a subsequent change of name took effect in 1965, as the Returned Services League of Australia (RSL). Two more name changes occurred, in 1983 to Returned Services League of Australia Limited (RSL) and in 1990 to Returned & Services League of Australia Limited (RSL).

The objects of the League remain relatively unchanged from its first incorporation. RSL badge symbolism At the top of the badge is the Crown signifying allegiance to Queen and country. Below the crown are the national flowers of Australia, Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland – the wattle, the leek, the rose, the thistle, and the shamrock. In the centre of the badge are a sailor, soldier, an airman and service woman who are marching with their arms linked, symbolising friendship and that all services, and all ranks, are united in comradeship. The red of the badge is symbolic of the blood tie of war. The white background stands for the purity of motive – and to render service without personal gain. The blue is a symbol of willingness to render service to a comrade anywhere under the blue sky.[4] The badge may only be worn by members of the League

National Presidents

Order Name Period in office Term of office
1 Lt Col William Kinsey Bolton 1916 – 1919 3 years
2 Sir Gilbert Dyett CMG 1919 – 1946 27 years
3 Sir Eric Millhouse 1946 – 1950 4 years
4 Sir George Holland 1950 – 1960 10 years
5 Sir Arthur Lee 1960 – 1974 14 years
6 Sir William Hall 1974 – 1978 4 years
7 Sir William Keys 1978 – 1988 10 years
8 Brigadier Alf Garland AM 1988 – 1993 5 years
9 Major General Digger James 1993 – 1997 4 years
10 Major General Peter Phillips 1997 – 2003 6 years
11 Major General Bill Crews 2003 – 2009 6 years
12 Rear-Admiral Ken Doolan AO 2009 – present incumbent

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