Ornithological specimens of identical plumage invariably congregate in proximity is an old axiom. So, it seems to be with the original members of the North Beach Sub-Branch of the Returned and Services League. They were normal servicemen, some still in the force, some were married but missed the occasional company of their fellow servicemen. It was 1945 and the War was still on. These men had a few years of close association with other fellows in the various units and services that formed to, firstly support the issue for freedom of the world, and secondly to defend Australia. There is a strong element of mateship between those who have served in the forces, whether it be Navy, Army or Airforce.
At that time, North Beach was a remote area of Perth. Transport services to this area were poor indeed. It was a very undeveloped area, a few houses among the banksia trees, sandy roads, limited reticulation of water and no sewerage. Few people lived in the area. When young Patricia of Chrysostom Street attended the Embassy ballroom in William Street in Perth and a potential beau asked her where she resided, she knew that to mention North Beach was the end of that romance. Fellows did not take girls out into the wilderness, for the transport did not exist for them to return to Perth from the sand dunes and bush of North Beach.
As the fellows returned from theatres of war, either on leave, or discharge, they invariably call at the headquarters of the RSL in Perth. An official would inspect their pay books to determine that they had served in a combat zone and were eligible to join the League. It was not only for companionship that they joined the RSL. When many had joined the services, in the initial stages by voluntary action, and later by conscription, there was no legislation existence stating that one had to get their job back on discharge. Many service personnel thought that the people who had stayed at home and were not in the services would have the cream of the civil jobs, and the mundane tasks would be offered to the ex-servicemen and women at the end of hostilities. Indeed, many people remained in the services when peace was declared. Security of one’s station in life is an important item. There was an old saying that the bird on the job got the worm, and this also applied to some of their girlfriends. Many knew that after the first World War there had been a Soldiers Settlement Scheme. Where the Scheme had been associated with the dairying industry, and some unsuited agricultural areas, there had been extreme hardships and excessive poverty. Frank Kent, one of the early and dedicated members had first-hand knowledge of those difficult pre-war years with the farmers.
The nomads of North-Beach who had joined the RSL wandered along to the Yokine Sub-Branch. There they were to find that the Sub-Branch had its own building situated near Dog Swamp. It had been established after the First World War. Alas, after the meeting there was not much time to have a friendly chin wag and a glass of the doings. They had to catch the “James Bus Service” or somehow get home to North Beach. There were few cars around at that time, and even if a person had a vehicle, petrol was rationed and in short supply. According to the Daily News of 27th Aug 1947 petrol was further rationed at that time to some consumers.
Hence to join and participate in the Returned and Services League (the name has been changed more than once from that of the original, but retaining the letters RSL) was regarded as joining a union where the interests of Ex-Servicemen and women could be protected and enhanced. Indeed, there was a strong advocacy throughout Australia during 1946 and 1947 for all ex-servicemen and women, irrespective of where they had served, to be eligible to join the RSL. Western Australia, by plebiscite of its RSL members, voted to this effect. One of the strong reasons put forward by Western Australia at that time was that Governments did not like any organisation getting too strong. It was easier to handle fractured groups of people. If service personnel could be split into groups and had to join other organisations, such as the Legion of Ex-Servicemen and Women, the Airforce Association and similar groups, their power was reduced.
According to the Daily News of 15 Oct 1947, this was the membership of the various Australian States.
New South Wales
Federal Congress had resolved some time before 1947, that anyone who had been in any of the services for a period of six months could join the RSL. This decision caused a lot of controversy, especially in the Eastern States. The subject was debated at many RSL special meetings in Western Australia also. Finally, it was resolved to hold a plebiscite at each of the Sub-Branches throughout Australia during 1947, permitting anyone with six months service to be eligible for membership. The Daily News published the results on the 13 June 1947, 90% of Sub-Branches responding.
New South Wales
The newspapers at that time stated that members of the 44th AMF Battalion (retained as a defensive force between Jurien and the South West) and the Armoured Corps (mainly NSW personnel) would be the most affected by the adverse Australasian decision. Lt Col Garner, Commanding Officer of the 44th Battalion, resigned from the RSL in protest.
Many letters were written to the Daily News. One letter stated that conscripts from overseas were permitted to join the RSL as far back as twenty-five years ago, yet volunteers from Australia, who had no opportunity to go overseas, were deprived of the privilege of joining the RSL. The newspapers further observed that City Sub-Branches in most States were more averse to open membership than their country counterparts.
The various Sub-Branches in the Eastern States remained adamant that only servicemen and women who had served in recognised theatres of war were to be the only ones eligible to join RSL. It was many years before the wise men of the East saw the light. Today the members of the RSL in Australia realise that unity is strength. Many troops during the war used to say that their motto should be like Mae West’s brassieres – United we stand and divided we fall.
Housing was a problem. Some of the conditions were tough. Many people got Albert Richards to build a large shed. One could obtain a permit or building licence from the local authority to erect a shed, but not a room. The shed containing a bath and a shower was became first home of many couples. Phyl Somers says it was the best home that she had in North Beach, for there was only one room to clean. By 10 am. there was nothing to do so she spent the rest of the day down at the beach with her infant.
A perusal of the Daily News during 1947 will corroborate these facts. A one room bedroom with a shared use of the kitchen was a fact of life for newlyweds. Petrol was still rationed, in fact, during August 1947 some people, such as lawn mowing contractors, had their ration reduced (Daily News 27-8-47). Topic of the time was that Hirohito should go to trial. Such was the environment in which those stalwarts had formed the North Beach Sub-Branch of the RSL.
The Daily News of 27th June 1947 reported that the people who lived in caravans and cubicles in the Scarborough area were about to be evicted by the Local Authority. The writer recalls the appalling conditions in which the young returned newlyweds were trying to rear a family in the Mosman Park area The RSL could only give advice as to the methods of establishing some priority for securing more adequate accommodation.
The bus to North Beach did not have a late run. A fact that Patricia had already found out, for she had acquired a car. The Returned Servicemen soon realised that there were quite a few of their fellows in the North Beach area, and although there would be some problems and teething troubles in the initial stages, the time was ripe, and very necessary, to form a Sub-Branch.
Initially the attendances at meetings were small, six or seven members appeared to be an average. As the Sub-Branch developed, the membership gradually grew, and attendances at meetings rose to be over ten, and sometimes reached twenty. Towards the middle of the 1950’s two alien factors began to affect the interests of members and attendances at meetings declined. These two factors were the introduction of TV and the development of Bowling Clubs throughout Western Australia.