Lest We Forget?

As all our readers would be aware we set out three years ago to buy the piece of land described by Charles Bean as “the one place on earth most densely sown in Australian sacrifice”. Many of our Fallen Soldiers still lie in those fields in Pozieres France.

The Australian Government had been given the opportunity to buy the land and had declined.

I thought that buying the land and covering it with gardens to protect the Men’s resting place would be an easy matter.

After all, just looking at RSL support, there is 1500 RSL Sub Branches Australia wide with over 240,000 Members.

Protecting the land in which so many of our Men still lie is in accordance with every principle of the RSL.

The task of selling 7000 bricks Australia wide at $50.00 a brick should have been an easy matter, even if we only approached the RSL.

I wrote to the Executive of every State RSL with the following results:

  1. No response from the then National President of the RSL in 18 months
  2. No response from RSL West Australia in 18 months
  3. Fully supported by RSL Victoria
  4. Fully supported by RSL South Australia
  5. Fully supported by RSL Tasmania
  6. RSL NSW (Mr Don Rowe) advised that no Sub Branch in the State was allowed to support us.
  7. The then CEO of RSL Queensland advised us that no Sub Branch was allowed to support us;
    1. Following the departure of the CEO, the State Secretary rang and advised us that the decision had been made by the CEO without consulting the Board. He advised us that the subject had now been discussed and support approved by the Board.

As a consequence of those decisions above, we were only able to get support from 87 RSL Sub Branches in Australia, with the majority of those being from Victoria (49) – an amazing level of support compared to results from the other States.

Today I wish to discuss RSL NSW only as I am a Veteran Ex Serviceman living in that State.

As I said above – RSL NSW under the Presidency of Mr Rowe refused to allow any of the Sub Branches in the State to support us.

I wrote again to the Committee asking for the decision to be reconsidered after Mr Haines replaced Mr Rowe. The Executive again refused to allow any Sub Branch to support us.

Ten days ago, I rang the Head Office of RSL NSW asking to speak to anyone on the Executive Committee. I would even have settled for the janitor. Unfortunately I was advised that no one was available to speak to me, but they would call me back.

As with Mr Rowe and Mr Haines – I am still waiting.

Frustrated by the decision made by the Executive under Mr Rowe, I wrote to 359 Sub Branches in the State advising them that they could not support us as a Sub Branch, but asked them to tell their Members what we were doing and ask them to support us as individuals. Only 19 of the 359 Sub Branches had at least one Member who bought a brick.

I want to thank those 19 Sub Branches who showed that despite the fact that the Executive lost their way the Members of their Sub Branches were still committed to the objectives of the RSL.

During the Battle, NSW had 1747 Men killed of which 1062 were not found or identified after the Battle and still lie in the fields of Pozieres.

To summarise the attitude to this Battle from NSW:

  1. The Battle of Pozieres has not been commemorated by the State in NSW for 101 years
  2. The Centenary in 2016 of this (the greatest loss of life in Battle for Australia) was not commemorated in NSW
  3. The Executive under Mr Rowe refused to allow Sub Branches to support protecting the land
  4. The Executive under Mr Haines refused to allow Sub Branches to support protecting the land
  5. The Executive under Mr Brown either can’t or won’t return a phone call.

The amount of money reported in the papers that has been allegedly used inappropriately within the RSL hierarchy (not the current Board) is the equivalent of 10 or 12 times the value of what we set out to achieve for the Men of Pozieres.

Unfortunately, not one cent was allowed to protect the resting place of some of those 1062 NSW Soldiers still missing in Pozieres.

Overall I believe that massive damage has been done to the reputation of Sub Branches and their Members by previous RSL NSW Executives.

These actions have also shown that at the higher levels, RSL NSW has completely lost its way, and forgotten entirely the ideals, principles and objectives that have been the background of the RSL for the last 100 years.

As a result of the fact that I could not get Sub Branch support, I wrote to 101 Licensed Clubs within NSW. These are all Clubs with RSL or Ex Services in the names, who dim the lights at night and recite the Ode reaffirming their promise to these Men and all others who fell for Australia.

Even though we are registered as a not for profit charity in NSW and Incorporated, only four Clubs stepped up, Dorrigo RSL Memorial Club – Blacktown Workers Group – Smithfield RSL Club and Seven Hills RSL.

I have had a lot of difficulty in coming to terms with how little support there is for these Men. I considered that I had failed.

I have now come to realise that I have not failed – I have worked as hard as possible to achieve our goals.

These Men have been failed by an RSL system that has forgotten what it is all about and its heritage. They have forgotten that Lest We Forget means them all, not just the select few that the Government has selected for Commemoration. When the Government falls down in its duties to our Soldiers, and in this case to the Men of Pozieres, then the RSL should have stepped up to take up the slack and take action on behalf of our Fallen Men. They didn’t.

As I no longer believe that the hierarchy of RSL NSW is representing our Servicemen, Ex Servicemen and the Fallen – I ask that Sub Branches keep up their efforts in the community to re-establish the credibility of what was once a great organisation.

I still have to raise more money to complete the Park for 23rd July 2016.

Recently I was spat on when Members of the public identified me as an Ex Serviceman. This will not happen again.

On November 11, I will be placing my Army Medals up for auction on our Facebook page to raise money for the Memorial Park. If the RSL won’t support the Men then I have to raise the money in other ways.

For those that are interested the Medals comprise the Australian Defence Medal, the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal with two Bars and the Australian Active Service Medal with Bar Namibia.

For those that are not members of our Facebook page the address is

 https://www.facebook.com/pozieresremembrance

https://www.facebook.com/groups/191880644248073/ (closed group)

If you wish to bid for the Medals, apply to join the closed group and wait till 11th November.

 

Barry Gracey (Legion of Honor)

President

Pozières Remembrance Association

0419 656 480