Forged in Gallipoli
BY 1915 the Great War had been raging overseas for nearly a year and some Australian servicemen – many of them wounded or disabled – were returning home.
Soon after the Gallipoli landings in April 1915, the Commonwealth Government formed War Councils in each state, which until 1917 were specifically responsible for the repatriation of invalided men.
Several prominent citizens and various philanthropic organisations also formed returned servicemen’s clubs throughout the country, and issues of repatriation, rehabilitation, and support were dominant topics of conversation in these clubs.
These discussions turned to the need for a support organisation with a wider base and a bigger voice, and led to formation of the Returned Soldiers’ Association.
Representatives from various returned soldiers’ groups met informally in the eastern states on 10 May 1916 and agreed to create a national body to represent and support the needs of returned servicemen.
The first meeting of what is now known as the RSL was held in in Melbourne on 6 June 1916, a date generally accepted as the organisation’s foundation.
Delegates attended from Queensland, NSW, Victoria and SA and decided to name the organisation the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia (RSSILA) and drafted a constitution ratified at the first Federal Congress in Brisbane in September 1916.
By 1918, NSW, Tasmania, and WA had also joined the league, making it a national body recognised by the Federal Government as the official representative of Australia’s returned servicemen.
The name was changed in 1940 to the Returned Sailors, Soldiers and Airman’s Imperial League of Australia (RSSAILA) before becoming the Returned Services League of Australia in 1965.
Members adopted the current title of Returned and Services League of Australia in 1990.
5000 WA veterans unite
WA ALSO faced problems in rehabilitating and supporting its returnees and by 1918 there were two WA returned soldiers’ organisations; the Returned Services League and the Returned Services Association.
The two had similar aims but the national body said they could not affiliate with it until the two WA bodies amalgamated.
The new state organisation was known as the Western Australian Branch of the RSSILA, and by mid-1919 had 67 sub-branches in WA, with 21 in Perth and more than 5000 members statewide.
First Toodyay meetings
THE TOODYAY Branch of the Returned Soldiers’ Association (RSA) was officially founded on 7 October 1919.
A Toodyay Herald article in May 1919 noted that the “Toodyay and Districts Branch of the Soldiers’ Association has been in existence for six months”, which suggests that the first meetings occurred in November or December 1918.
The first Toodyay RSA president was Earle Joseph Sinclair Wroth, the son of Joseph Ablett Wroth who was secretary of the Toodyay Road Board (now Shire of Toodyay).
The RSA secretary in May 1919 was H W Love and by December 1919 the secretary was M Heffernan.
The first recorded treasurer (May 1920) is listed as Milton Taylor Lloyd Wroth.
The first RSA meetings were held at Toodyay’s Freemasons Hotel but later moved to the Victoria Hotel.
Earle Wroth served as Toodyay sub-branch president from 1919 to 1922 and 1929 to 1931, and also served as secretary from 1932 to 1938.
He had earlier joined the 10th Light Horse Regiment’s C Squadron in the Australian Imperial Force on 7 January 1915 and embarked for the Middle East on the 5324-ton troop transport HMATA52 Surada which sailed from Fremantle on 17 February 1915.
Earle Wroth initially saw service in Egypt before being transferred to Gallipoli.
After Gallipoli, he was transferred to the 8th Field Ambulance and sent to the Western Front in France where he was one of six stretcher bearers to be awarded a Military Medal for evacuating wounded soldiers while under heavy enemy attack.
THE CITATION reads:
“At the South West of Bellicourt during 29th and 30th September 1918 these stretcher bearers (E. E. Calf, 4462 F. C. Skiller, 3209 A. A. McGoldrick, 6674 A. A. Wall, 518 E. J.S. Wroth, 4757 A. J. C. Parker) displayed conspicuous bravery in carrying wounded across ground exposed to enemy observation and under heavy shell and machine gun fire.
“Each carry was across the Hindenburg (front trench) System and owing to the rain making the ground slippery each trip took three hours to carry 1000 yards across wire, trenches etc.
“Despite many casualties among the bearers, these men by their endurance, determination and example encouraged the other bearers and, in an extraordinarily difficult situation, made the evacuation of wounded possible.”
“Devotion to duty of these men is deserving of special reward.”
Earle’s son Joseph Charles Wroth was also a sub-branch president and Toodyay Shire President from 1969 to 1971.
His grandson Charlie Wroth is another former Toodyay Shire President (2005-2009) and currently Chairman of the Toodyay St John Ambulance Service, an active member of the Julimar Volunteer Bushfire Brigade, a Toodyay Fire Control Officer and a Toodyay RSL Sub-Branch affiliate member.