A milestone in the Hunter’s military history is marked on Wednesday, with a lunch commemorating the centenary of the City of Newcastle RSL sub-branch.
The Governor of NSW, General David Hurley, and the commanding officer of HMAS Newcastle, Commander Mark Sirois, will be joining local community leaders and about 120 servicemen and women, past and present, for the lunch.
The sub’s-branch’s president, Ken Fayle, said the association was formed in 1917, in the midst of the First World War, as increasing numbers of local men were returning from the Western Front. Mr Fayle said it was the oldest regional sub-branch in NSW.
“With the volume of men coming back, they needed a focal point to look after their interests,” he said. “At one point, there were so many ex-diggers, they had a permanent pension officer here [at the sub-branch].’
The sub-branch was at its busiest in the years after each of the world wars. It had also operated a tent refuge for unemployed former servicemen during the Depression and had often acted as a job placement agency for ex-diggers through the years.
One of its greatest tests came not from conflict but Mother Nature, when the earthquake in 1989 toppled the sub-branch’s club, burying its past in the rubble. Mr Fayle said the association lost its records and nearly all its memorabilia.
Among the few artefacts retrieved were a First World War monument, a crushed bugle, and and a cross, which are on display at the present club in Scott Street. For Mr Fayle, the losses reverberated across generations. His father, Tom Fayle, was the sub-branch’s president at the time of the earthquake.
The City of Newcastle RSL sub-branch has about 100 members. The majority are Vietnam veterans, including Mr Fayle. He served with the Royal Australian Engineers in Vietnam in 1970.
“But we would welcome a lot more younger ex-diggers and serving diggers,” he said of the sub-branch. “It’s the next generation that will take this forward. We’ve survived where others have folded or amalgamated.”
Mr Fayle said in the years after the Second World War, there were 44 sub-branches in the Newcastle district. That number had shrunk to 23.
“Age is the greatest enemy we’ve got,” he said.
To Ken Fayle, the commemorative lunch is about not just acknowledging history but also the sub-branch’s on-going role in the community.
“We’ve been here through two world wars, and the other conflicts, and we’re the custodians of the Anzac Day and Remembrance Day commemorations here, so that’s a really strong community role we hold.
“We’ve been here for the community, and they’ve been here for us, in spades.”