We are the dead . . .
Take up our quarrel with the foe
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch, be yours to hold it high
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
Recent allegations of financial misconduct by senior figures in the RSL have breached the faith of those who passed the torch of integrity to Australia’s largest ex-service organisation. It appears that some have been more concerned with lining their own pockets on the side than protecting the legacy of the movement and the welfare of their veterans.
The army of volunteers in sub-branches throughout NSW have every right to feel betrayed as their charitable status is now under threat and the image of their RSL has been seriously tarnished.
While the RSL is regarded as the chief custodian of our ANZAC legacy based on the care of veterans, remembrance and education it has become clear for some time that the organisation has become more introverted with its ageing membership. The constitution they operate under belongs to the era of the .303 rifle.
Notwithstanding this the voluntary work of foot soldiers in the movement is selfless and extensive. Welfare officers, women’s auxiliaries and members provide advice and liaison with local, state and federal Government agencies. They conduct Anzac Day services around the country, organise commemorative services on other significant occasions, add dignity to funerals of fellow veterans and care for those unable to care for themselves. Their work is often unheralded but they provide the glue that holds the organisation together.
Unfortunately their leadership has failed them.
In a recent book ‘Anzac’s Long Shadow’ the author, James Brown, wrote of the current situation in regard to military charities:
Duplication of services is rife; data is rare, as is deep cooperation and coordination among charities. Big ideas are lacking. Hundreds of millions of dollars and countless hours are being consumed by a social industry predicated on care, but only the most slender trickle of aid is coming out for veterans in return. While we’ve been focused on the centenary of Anzac, deep problems have developed in the military charity sector.
He went on to observe:
Today the service clubs are a multi-billion-dollar industry employing thousands, with a 40 per cent share of New South Wale’s $3.2 billion of annual gaming machine profits. The RSL and clubs network brings together thousands of unselfish volunteers dedicated to helping one another and bound by the ideal of community. All are linked by the shared sacred rites of Anzac and Anzac Day, the imagery of military service and a mutual commitment to care for the veterans of Australia’s wars.
Except that they’re often not linked.
Brown is a bright young Afghanistan veteran – his book should be compulsory reading for those interested in preserving the future of Anzac and protecting its ideals.
Unfortunately the leadership of the movement has not adapted to change and has vacated the field of public debate. They were silent when radical Islamic hate preacher, Man Haron Monis, wrote grossly offensive letters to the wives of soldiers killed in action. They were silent when a female Brigadier outside the chain of command proceeded with charges against two of our commandos for doing the job they were sent to do. They remain silent over Australia’s membership of the International Criminal Court which could see soldiers we send to war being tried in another country by sympathisers of the enemy.
Their silence on these and other contemporary issues has led to a plethora of breakaway groups such as the Vietnam Veterans Association, Soldier On, Walking Wounded, Mates4Mates, War Widows and countless other battalion, flight and naval associations.
To further complicate matters in NSW RSL sub-branches and clubs are subject to different acts of parliament – as a result they spend millions of dollars fighting each other in court over the ownership of land bequeathed to them. The founding fathers would be greatly distressed over the emergence of the courtroom as the new battlefield. The beneficiaries of their vision were supposed to be veterans – not lawyers!
Reform of the RSL in NSW is now not an option if they wish to regain the trust of their membership, the public and government. They need a wholesale change of guard to provide the leadership necessary to unite the ex-service community and articulate a clear vision for the protection and interpretation of our military heritage; the welfare of current and ex-servicemen and women; and the care of our aged veterans. They need to lobby government to ensure our wartime history is an integral part of our education system at primary, secondary and tertiary level.
And more importantly they need to re-enter the public debate in areas such as the social engineering within the Australian Defence Force; the Marxist indoctrination of young students under the guise of ‘Safe Schools’; and the basic freedoms our veterans fought and died for – particularly freedom of speech.
To paraphrase General Douglas Macarthur in his address to West Point Cadets in 1942 the RSL is the leaven which binds together the entire fabric of our veteran community. If they fail a million ghosts in khaki, royal blue and bellbottoms will rise from their white crosses thundering those magic words: “Duty – Honour – Country”.