ANY other centenary in Manilla might have been met with some trepidation.
This week marked 100 years since the RSL sub-branch of Manilla; an occasion which saw the league’s state president, James Brown, visit the the small New England town.
The last club to celebrate a century in town, Manilla’s rugby league team, met an untimely demise shortly after despite its immortal origins, and was unable to field a side in its 101st year, 2018.
Manilla sub-branch secretary Ian Bignall said his club had the ball in its hands and was “heading down the wing at full speed”, to borrow a footballing analogy.
“I think it’s great we have lasted 100 years,” he said.
“We have got a strong sub-branch, we’re getting new members which is good.”
The NSW RSL president said the Manilla centenary was no small achievement and paid tribute to the state’s small sub-branches.
“There are a lot of organisations that have fallen away in Australia and the RSL has survived because of the passion of its volunteers,” Mr Brown said.
“Why has the RSL survived in Manilla, it has been because of that depth of passion in the military people.”
While new members are coming in,the sub-branch president Bill Thurtell held some concern for the future.
“We haven’t got many young people coming into our group at the moment,” he said.
“This area is mainly made up of pensioners and retirees and not too many have been in the services.
“We’re talking about getting affiliates in, but some of the people don’t like the idea of that.”
How it started
Manilla sent relatively large cohorts to the first and second world wars, Mr Bignall said.
“We lost 78 in the first world war and there was about 400 that went,” he said.
“The second world war, there were up to 600-700 men that went from a town like this.
“That’s why the RSL has been strong, because we have had that body of men and women.”
The sub-branch was formed once “wounded and medically unfit” men began to Manilla return from WWI.
An advertisement appeared in the Manilla Express on October 19, 1918 calling on all returned soldiers to attend a meeting in the Manilla Mechanics’ Hall on October 30.
The meeting was held, and was addressed by a Mr. J.A. Lucas, organiser of the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Imperial League of Australia in New South Wales, who gave an address on the aims and objects of the League.
He was supported by Captain Allen, representing the Australian Army Reserve.
After the address was given, a branch of the League was formed in Manilla.
The branch was accepted by organiser Lucas and registered.
The RSL’s NSW president said the league is committed to making sure every sub-branch stays alive for as long as possible.
Mr Brown said sub-branches in small town’s have a particularly important role to play in coming years.
“We know veterans are not moving to the eastern suburbs of Sydney when they get out of the defence force, they are moving to places like Tamworth and Manilla because they can be part of a community, get a job, buy a house and it’s a little bit quieter,” he said.
He said the membership of NSW’s RSLs was greater than all of the state’s political parties combined and there were “tens of thousands” of veterans who were yet to join.
“They will join because they want the camaraderie and they’ll also want a voice,” he said.
“The reason this sub-branch was set up was so they could organise better and have a louder voice when it came to things like getting veterans jobs, making sure veterans got the right entitlements and making sure war widows were looked after.
“And that is a relevant today as it was 100 years ago.”
The Manilla secretary had a vision for the future of his club.
“It would be lovely if in 100 years’ time there’s not a returned servicemen standing here,” he said.
“It can be ex-servicemen, but not a returned one, which would mean there hadn’t been another war.
“That would be the great thing if there was not a returned serviceman in the RSL.”