Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia

The Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia (RSSILA) the forerunner of today’s Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) was formed in June 1916.1

In late 1918 the RSSILA decided to establish branches in every suburb of Melbourne. 2

To this end, Cr Owen Sinclair presided over a meeting at the Temperance Hall on Thursday 20 March 1919. Fourteen local patriotic bodies were represented. Harry Nugent, a returned soldier, told the meeting that a local branch of the RSSILA was to be formed in Port Melbourne. He explained that the returned soldiers were developing a plan to enlist public support to build a Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Memorial Hall.  Several others spoke with the result that a Pleasant Sunday Afternoon would be organised. Cr James Crichton moved ‘that the whole of the ladies and gentlemen present form themselves into a committee, with power to add, to carry on the Sunday Pleasant Afternoon.’  Mr Moore seconded the motion which was carried.  Mrs Elizabeth Collins (referred to in the article as Mrs D H Collins) was elected secretary of the committee. 3

An ad in The Standard invited all local Returned Sailors and Soldiers and their friends to the Pleasant Sunday Afternoon at Port Melbourne Town Hall on March 30, 1919. 4

Advertisement from The Standard, 19 March 1919.
Advertisement from The Standard, 19 March 1919.

In front of nearly 1,000 people with patriotic flags adorning the walls and stage, the Pleasant Sunday Afternoon opened with the Returned Soldiers’ Band playing the National Anthem followed by range of musical by a variety of artists.  General Brand and Hon F T Derham addressed the meeting along with several other military men and in the end the meeting agreed to pledge “itself to loyally support the members of the executive of the local sub-branch of the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Imperial League of Australia to erect a Memorial Hall in this town.” £11/2/- was raised for the building fund. 5

The returned sailors and soldiers met on April 11 and heard chairman and co-convener of the meeting, Mr Turnbull, say that now was the time to establish a local sub-branch of the RSSILA and with the support of the citizens of Port Melbourne build a Memorial Hall.  He further stated that the meeting would be invited to form a provisional executive, to support a request to the local council for a block of land as a site for the hall.  He continued that some Town Councillors had assured him that the application would be granted. 6

In the following months, the town honoured its pledge to raise funds for a Memorial Hall.  On Anzac Day, Friday 25 April 1919 a button day was held with a gala carnival in Bay Street and at the cricket ground to raise funds for the Memorial Hall.7 The Anzac Memorial Committee set up a “Curosity Shop” for the gala, stocked with donations from the public. 8

There were £1 and £10 buttons available for purchase9 and also stickers produced for the appeal. The Port Melbourne Historical and Preservation Society has in its archives, several stickers from the 1919 Anzac Remembrance Day Appeal in aid of Memorial Building for Returned Sailors and Soldiers attached to a list of Nott Street School ‘Old Boys’ who served in the war.

Sticker from Anzac Remembrance Day Appeal 1919. PMHPS Collection.
Sticker from Anzac Remembrance Day Appeal 1919. PMHPS Collection.

The support for a hall in Port was not unanimous. Miss Adams, representing the Carnival Committee, requested the local members of the Returned Soldiers League to parade in strong force in the Carnival procession on 26 April and show the citizens the local soldiers’ desire for a Memorial Hall was a very earnest one.  The main argument against a local hall seemed to be that a grand structure should be erected on St Kilda Road as a grand memorial to all of Melbourne’s soldiers.  Conversely the local soldiers wanted a hall where they could meet for social activities.10

In the end, 6,000 people attended the gala at the cricket ground11 with £500 raised for the hall fund.12

The fundraising activities continued through May including a bazaar at Bainbridge College on Saturday 17 May.13 But the movement was beginning to drag and the appeal committee met in the Mayor’s room at the Town Hall 19 May to discuss how to infuse some more vitality into the appeal and called a meeting of all interested people to a meeting in the Supper Room the following Monday to discuss the issue.14

By early July, the sub-branch had taken up occupancy of Excelsior Hall at the corner of Bridge and Princes Streets and two billiard tables had been purchased for the Returned Sailors’ and Soldiers’ club. Other furniture had also been bought with a further £100 provided for additional purchases. Mrs Collins suggested she could obtain a Union Jack flag as a donation for the club and Mrs Edwards offered a donation of some pot plants.15

Excelsior Hall {c1999) from then inside front cover of The Story of Excelsior Hall and How it Served Pprt Melbourne (signed by editor and designer Pat Grainger).  Original photograph by David Thompson
Excelsior Hall (c1999) from then inside front cover of The Story of Excelsior Hall and How it Served Port Melbourne (signed by editor and designer Pat Grainger). Original photograph by David Thompson

On Tuesday 14 July, D W Turnbull from the local branch of the Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Fathers’ Association, Ernest Turnbull, A O Davies and some other members of the Port Melbourne branch of the RSSILA asked the Council to present Excelsior Hall to the local branch for conversion into an Anzac Memorial Hall and a sailors’ and soldiers’ club.  After hearing the deputation the majority of Councillors appeared to be in favour of granting the request.  A conference was organised with three Councillors appointed to discuss the legal points of such an arrangement with representatives of the local Fathers’ Association and local RSSILA.16

The council decided to give Excelsior Hall to the local branch of the RSSILA at their meeting on Tuesday 22 July.17 The clubhouse was officially opened two days later by Brigadier-General Brand, on the evening of Thursday 24 July, in the presence the Mayor, Cr R H Gill and councillors and a large contingent sailors, soldiers and citizens.18

The ‘diggers’ remained there, apart from the years between 1938 and 1946 when they moved to the former Seamen’s Institute Building at the corner of Nott and Beach Streets, until the Port Melbourne branch of the (then designated) RSL closed in May 1998. 19

References:

1‘RSL History.’, RSL Victorian Branch website, viewed 28 Feb 2019http://www.rslvic.com.au/about/rsl-history/

2 1918 ‘RETURNED SOLDIERS’ LEAGUE.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 21 December, p. 2. , viewed 28 Feb 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article88369746

3 1919 ‘RETURNED SOLDIERS’ LEAGUE.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 22 March, p. 3. , viewed 01 Mar 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165260556

4 1919 ‘Advertising’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 29 March, p. 2. , viewed 28 Feb 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165262855

5 1919 ‘RETURNED SOLDIERS’ LEAGUE.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 5 April, p. 3. , viewed 01 Mar 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165261890

6 1919 ‘RETURNED SOLDIERS AND SAILORS.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 26 April, p. 4. , viewed 01 Mar 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165262028

7 1919 ‘ELECTRIC SPARKS’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 19 April, p. 3. , viewed 01 Mar 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165261937

8 1919 ‘”Curiosity Shop.”‘, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 19 April, p. 2. , viewed 01 Mar 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165261916

9 1919 ‘SAILORS’ AND SOLDIERS CLUB.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 5 July, p. 3. , viewed 01 Mar 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165260676

10 1919 ‘APPEAL TO SOLDIERS.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 26 April, p. 3. , viewed 01 Mar 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165262000

11 1919 ‘THE GALA—AFTERNOON.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 3 May, p. 3. , viewed 01 Mar 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165260802

12 1919 ‘ANZAC.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 3 May, p. 3. , viewed 01 Mar 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165260806

13 1919 ‘ELECTRIC SPARKS’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 17 May, p. 3. , viewed 01 Mar 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165262918

14 1919 ‘Final Push Wanted.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 24 May, p. 2. , viewed 01 Mar 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165260777

15 1919 ‘SAILORS’ AND SOLDIERS CLUB.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 5 July, p. 3. , viewed 01 Mar 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165260676

16 1919 ‘EXCELSIOR HALL.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 19 July, p. 3. , viewed 01 Mar 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165262745

17 1919 ‘Memorandum of Gift.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 2 August, p. 3. , viewed 01 Mar 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165261625

18 1919 ‘ANZAC MEMORIAL.’, Port Melbourne Standard (Vic. : 1914 – 1920), 2 August, p. 3. , viewed 01 Mar 2019, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article165261627

19The Story of Excelsior Hall and How it Served Port Melbourne’, ©2006, Port Melbourne Historical and Preservation Society, Pat Grainger

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