How the League Evolved

The RSL evolved as a direct result of the camaraderie, concern and mateship shown by the "Diggers" for the welfare of their mates during and after the 1914 - 1918 War. That ethos of compassion and service remains today the motivating influence of the League.

Some key historical dates in the history of the League are:

June 1916
Conference of Returned Soldiers' Association recommended formation of The Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia (RSSILA).

September 1916
First RSSILA Congress (delegates from QLD, SA, TAS and VIC).

March 1917
NSW admitted to the League.

March 1918
WA admitted to the League.

Formation of the ACT Branch.

November 1940
Name changed to the Returned Sailors' Soldiers' and Airmens Imperial League of Australia (RSSAILA)

October 1965
Name changed to Returned Services League of Australia (RSL)

September 1983
Name changed to Returned Services League of Australia Limited (RSL).

September 1990
Name changed to Returned & Services League of Australia Limited (RSL)

The ideals and objectives which had characterised the initiation of the first state associations in 1916 were correlated and finally adopted, in the following form, as the aims and objectives of the League:

  • To perpetuate the close ties of friendship created by mutual service in the Australian Defence Force or allied forces, to maintain a proper standard of dignity and honour among all past and present serving members of the Defence Force and to set an example of public spirit and noble hearted endeavour;
  • To preserve the memory and records of those who suffered and died for Australia;
  • To provide for the sick and wounded and needy among those who have served and their dependents including pensions, medical attention, homes and suitable employment;
  • To inculcate loyalty to the Nation, to guard the good name and preserve the interests and standing of members of the Defence Force; and 
  • To promote our policy on national questions, particularly:
    • the unity of the Commonwealth of Nations,
    • the Defence of Australia
    • the maintenance of a sustainable and selective immigration policy
    • the development of a national Defence infrastructure and Defence industry, and
    • the promotion and proper employment of the nation's natural resources.

The Camden RSL was established on the 1st July 1920 it was known as the Camden Branch of Returned Soldier's Sailor's and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia.

The first President was Brigadier General George Macley Macarthur Onslow with the Vice Presidents Mr Mark Marion Ford and Mr Edger Henry Kirk Downes.
Mr Roy Darrell Stuckey appointed Secretary and Treasurer Mr Cecil William Clifton.
The committee of John D Adams, Rupert Frederick Arding Downes, AF Kylie, Gidley Moore and George Longley.

The First meeting of the branch was on the 16th July 1920 with the following present Cecil William Clifton, Joseph Roberts, Wrapson, Albert Doust, Green, Walter Harold Pike, Gidley Moore, David Roy Asimus, Edwin Clifford Dunk, Edger Henry Kirk Downes, Jack Stapleton, Cecil Clarence Butler, Neugle, Arthur Albert Butler and Arthur Drury Dengate.

Meetings were held in the School of Arts building. (Now part of Camden Museum). The Branch continued to meet into the 1930's when it closed.

The formation of the formerly Camden Returned Soldiers Fraternity was established in April of 1934 and continued to operate until 11 July 1940 when the Camden RSSAILA was reformed.
Mr. Edger Henry Kirk Downes was elected President with Mr L F de Saxe, Jack Stibbard and George Eldrid as Vice Presidents.
The Secretary was Mr Francis Ernest Coates and Treasurer Frank E Donnelly.
It was reported in the Camden News of the 11th July 1940 that the branch had 24 Members.

During the Second World War the Branch organised the establishment of an Observation post manned by the Voluntary Air Observation Corps in Macarthur Park. The post was manned 24hours a day seven days a week. Their purpose was to record and notify details of all passing Aircraft.

They held fundraising dances for the Women's Voluntary Services for The Soldier comfort Funds to Camden troops on active service.

Volunteering for duty at the ACF-YMCA Hospitality Centre (Service Canteen)

RSSAILA authorised formation of Volunteer Defence Corps. Edger Henry Kirk Downes commanded the local S4 division of the Corps, they covered Camden, Campbelltown and Picton areas.
Their purpose was to protect Cataract and Cordeaux Dams and the section of the water supply canal that ran through the local area.

Undertaking fundraising for Anzac House Appeal the branch held a concert in September 1944 and raised £336/13/3 on Button day July 1944.
The Branch organised the screening of the Film Sons of Anzacs at Paramount Theatre on Tuesday 19th September 1944.

Elections were held in 1945 for the positions on the committee with Mr Edger Henry Kirk Downes elected President, W S Cruckshank, L F Downes Charles William Evans and Harold William McKeller as Vice Presidents. Mr Frank C Coates was elected Secretary with Mr Frank E Donnelly Treasurer, Publicity Officer, Mr Harold William McKeller and the Auditors Mr Rupert Frederick Arding Downes and Kenneth B Wilson.

In June 1945 The ANZAC Ball was held in the AH & I Hall.

The Branch Meetings in 1945 and 1946 were held at the ACF-YMCA Hospitality Centre. At the end of the War the Camden Returned Soldier's Sailor's Airmen's Imperial League Australia acquired the hall from the Narellan Military camp and moved it to the corner of Oxley and Mitchell Streets.

(Above) RSL Hall behind the RSL Memorial Garden c1954 seen from John St.

The Camden branch was formed on the 3rd May 1945.
The purpose of the auxiliary was to assist ex-servicemen.

Patroness Mrs H W McKeller
President Mrs L F de Saxe
Vice Presidents Mrs Rupert F A Downes , Mrs F E Coates
Treasurer Mrs S Salt
Secretary Mrs C Evans
Auditor Mr R F A Downes , Mr K B Wilson

The mayor was appointed Chief Warden for the Camden Municipality under the National Emergency Service Regulations. Deputy chief wardens and warden were appointed and their duties were to enforce Black Out in the Camden and Narellan Areas.

The wardens advised and assisted on air raid precautions and shelters, communications, emergency ambulances, first aid parties and first aid posts.

Decontamination squads, fire fighting, scorched earth policy, evacuation plan and registration and civilian war emergency aid services.