RSL Australia President Robert Dick Visits

The Great War Exhibition is offering free admission for all RSA members in November 2018, in recognition for their service to our country. Click here for more information.

President of the RSL (Returned and Services League) of Australia, Robert Dick, visited The Great War Exhibition after the RSA’s national conference last week, and shared his thoughts about the Exhibition.

A keen war historian, Mr Dick enjoyed what he saw. “I like everything in The Great War Exhibition,” he said. “It stacks up with some of the best exhibitions I’ve seen. I loved it all. It shows a genuine picture of what conditions were like over there. You see a small part of it, but you can’t imagine what it was like, in reality, all around you. It reminds people that the job these men went through was very hard, under extremely, difficult conditions and we should remember them.”

Robert Dick also viewed the current temporary exhibition running until mid-December—an audio-visual show about Passchendaele.

“Your temporary exhibition Passchendaele—New Zealand’s Darkest Day is very powerful and confronting”, he said. “It’s similar to the exhibition at Cloth Hall in Ypres, Belgium. The effect you get with the water hitting the ground at your feet, just adds that extra dimension.”

Mr Dick reiterated what he said about the importance of the ANZAC bond at the RSA conference in Wellington last week. “A lot of countries would be jealous of the bond that Australians and New Zealanders have. It was a bond that was formed in the Boer War and cemented at Gallipoli. It’s a bond that lives to this very day. We rag each other, we poke fun at each other, but when the time comes, we stand shoulder to shoulder and take the world on, head on.”

As RSL President, Robert Dick has been involved in many initiatives to help Australians to remember the First World War, including remembrance projects with children.

“We took year nine and ten students on a tour of the Western Front a while ago,” he recalls. “They won the right to attend via a competition, and had to research a soldier who’d died on the Western Front in their local area. We visited the graveside of a Tasmanian soldier, and took a small piece of Tasmania and left it there with a Tasmanian flag, along with letters from his family.”

“Apparently, every few weeks, they go around the cemeteries and retrieve the mementoes that are left there and put them in a museum so they’re there for perpetuity. We left messages at the graveside, from family who had lost grandfathers or great uncles in the war at the Western Front, showing they hadn’t been forgotten. People from home still remember them.”

“These children are now young adults whom we’re very proud of, knowing that they’re going to keep the ANZAC legend alive into the future.”

Some of his own family members were in active service on the Western Front.

“I had two great uncles killed on the Western Front. They were from Scottish regiments and they were killed in the Third Battle of Ypres. No one knew where their records were, because they were destroyed in the Second World War. I eventually found them at Tyne Cot cemetery and laid poppies next to their names. That evening, I had the honour of reciting the Ode of Remembrance at the Menin Gate ceremony [in Ypres Belgium], so it was a very special day.”

When asked about the future of the RSL and RSA, Mr Dick commented, “The RSL is going through a cultural change to bring us into the 21st century. We think of the modern cohort veteran as a male, but there are a lot of females now in the military and we need to respect them more because their job is harder. Females have to win the respect of older chaps. When veterans see females marching with medals, they think they belong to their father or brother or husband, instead of thinking they’re earned them in their own right. This thinking makes it a lot harder to recognise their contribution, so we’re working on that.”

For more information about RSA members’ free entry into the Exhibition during November 2017, click here.

Photo: RSL President Robert Dick with First World War colourised images of New Zealand and Australian divisional staff.