A hundred years of the RSL – a history in badges

16 June 2016 by Kerry Neale

In June 1916, a conference of state-based returned soldiers associations recommended the formation of The Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia (RSSILA).  The RSSILA was founded by returning soldiers from the First World War with the aim of continuing to provide the camaraderie, concern, and mateship shown among Australian troops while they were at war.  Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria were the founding states, with New South Wales admitted to the League the following year, and Western Australia in 1918. In 1927, the Australian Capital Territory formed a branch and was admitted.


The badge design

The League’s badge represents a readiness at all times to render service to Queen and country and to former comrades.   It can’t be purchased and may only be worn by those who have served their country.   The shield design is symbolic of the protection provided to those who wear it. Within the badge, red represents the blood ties of war that exist between comrades; white stands for the purity of the motives in joining the league – to render service without personal gain or ambition; and blue indicates a willingness to serve a comrade anywhere under the blue sky.  The wattle represents Australia, with the leek, the rose, the thistle and the shamrock standing for Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland respectively.


The evolution of the badge

Over the years, the badge has changed as the League has evolved.  From 1915 to 1919, there were badges for state-based associations, but in 1916 a national badge appeared and gradually replaced these.  By 1919 the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League badge had been widely accepted, and remained in use until 1941. 

Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League Badge: Lieutenant Colonel J F Donnelly DSO, 1 Pioneer Battalion, AIF

During the Second World War, the League changed its name to the Returned Sailors Soldiers and Airman’s Imperial League of Australia (RSSAILA).   Initially only the wording on the badge was changed, with a third figure representing an airman added later.

Returned Sailors Soldiers Airmen's Imperial League badge : S J Cossart

Returned Sailor's Soldier's Airmen's Imperial League (RSSAILA) / Returned & Services League of Australia (RSL) membership badge : N A E Short

In 1947, at the Annual State Congress of the RSSAILA (NSW Branch), a resolution was formed that an Annual Congress of all Women's Auxiliaries be convened under the auspices of the RSSAILA.  The Australian Imperial Service of Women’s Auxiliary had been formed by mothers, wives, widows, sisters, daughters and aunts of men who served in the First World War. The auxiliaries grew from this beginning to raise money for the welfare of men and women who served and their widows and families.

RSS&AILA Women's Auxiliary Badge : Marjorie Doreen Ingram, Volunteer Aid Detachment

In 1965, the RSSAILA’s name was changed to the Returned Services League of Australia (RSLA).  With a change of crown in 1971, the badge remained in use until 1990.

In 1990, the name was changed to the Returned & Services League of Australia (RSL). This last name change reflects the fact that membership of the RSL is now open to all ex-service personnel regardless of active service status.

In 1990, the present Returned & Services League badge was introduced.   Within the centre circle now march a sailor, soldier, airman and servicewoman, with their arms linked in comradery.

Current RSL logo - www.rslnsw.org.au


For a hundred years the Returned and Services League (RSL) has ensured that adequate care, advocacy and financial assistance is provided to past and present members of the Australian Defence Force, and remains as relevant today as it was in 1916.