A century of caring

THE Osborne Park RSL sub-branch has celebrated a huge milestone in the lead up to Anzac Day – marking a century since its founding.

The sub-branch was founded by returning World War I veterans, only a couple of years after the main RSL itself was established in 1916 (known at the time as the “Returned Sailor’s, Soldier’s, Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia).

Club president Norm Wells says on April 14, 1919, five months after the end of WWI, a group of veterans got together outside John Tyler’s produce store and opened an appeal to raise money to establish a sub-branch in Osborne Park.

The town soon donated two blocks of land near Cape and Main Street for a memorial hall, and the community raised funds and the members baked the bricks themselves to raise the building over the next few years.

On November 22, 1930 the memorial hall was officially opened by general and famed architect Sir Talbot Hobbs.

• Veterans gather outside J Tyler’s Produce Merchants to open an appeal for funds to start up the Osborne Park RSL.

“The memory of the past welds us together more firmly. Our dead sleep side by side even as they fought shoulder to shoulder. For our part we can never respect the memory of our dead comrades too much,” Sir Talbot said at the opening.

Across a century the club’s remit has remained steady: “The function is fellowship for recent veterans, welfare for people that need it, and to make sure people settle back and get good advice,” Mr Wells says.

“We look after the diggers, because sometimes the community doesn’t say nice things about them – they get the wrong viewpoint.”

A military historian with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the sub-branch’s history, he recalls stories from across the generations of people helped.

“We have a photo of a chap, Jim O’Malley, who in 1929 was given a national award … for his dedication to caring for families who had lost their breadwinner.”

• The Osborne Park memorial hall in 1930.

More recently, he recounts a case of a man who served 12 years in the army and was stricken with PTSD. After retiring from the service his wife died and he was left raising two kids alone, while being given the runaround by government departments. In just a couple of weeks they were able to help him secure a disability pension.

In the years between, Mr Wells was one of those helped by the RSL. He served in Malaya and Vietnam, and in the first years after leaving the army he thought he was fine.

PTSD wasn’t a term when he finished his service in 1968, but over the years awareness slowly grew.

“I suffered from it,” he says. “They used to tell you ‘if you don’t get it inside two years, it won’t come’. Bullshit. I finished my active service when I was 25 … I was 55 when I realised I’d had a mental change.”

He was helped, and he helped many in turn. Last year Mr Wells, a North Perth resident, was awarded an OAM for service to veterans, their families, and military history”.

He says the RSL is a place where people understood. He says if a veteran goes to sit in an ordinary bar for a quiet drink, civvies will invariably end up asking questions seeking gory details, pestering them with questions over whether they’d killed anyone.

“War is hell, and people who haven’t been there have no understanding of it, so then they start asking the stupid questions,” Mr Wells says.

He says former defence force members just “want a friendly atmosphere,” and they find it at the RSL.

Having marked 100 years serving veterans, the sub-branch will be holding their Anzac day dawn service on site at 129 Main Street from 6.30am, with a gunfire breakfast at 7.20am. All are welcome.

by DAVID BELL

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