At the 22nd Annual Congress of the RSL, held in Hobart in November 1937, the following resolution was adopted:-
In December 1938, after a relatively negative first response from the Minister for Defence, the Government appointed a committee to examine the proposal.
It wasn't until 6 weeks before WW2 broke out, that 'THE RSL VOLUNTEER DEFENCE CORPS' (RSL VDC) began its formation.
The Corps was raised and maintained during its early years, by the Returned Soldiers League, through its members who had served in WWl.
Retired Generals and other senior WWl officers returned to its service. They included:-
By the 3 September 1939, RSL VDC personnel, who had gained the appropriate military skills in WWl, formed a so called garrison battalion of experienced ex-servicemen, ready for full-time garrison duty.
They were used particularly in the coastal artillery to release the younger soldiers for front line duties
The Garrison Battalion was eventually incorporated into the AMF.
The Federal Executive of the RSL, at a meeting on the 31 May 1940, decided to recommend to the Government that additional, Australia-wide home defence groups of volunteers be quickly established.
Commando and guerrilla type duties as well as traditional infantry responsibilities were offered.
In October 1940, 5 000 men of the RSL VDC marched through Adelaide. The following month 6 000 were reviewed by the Governor General in a Sydney march and General Chauvel reviewed a march of 2 000 in Perth.
By the end of 1940, 37 120 volunteers, unpaid, mainly ex-World War One members of the RSL, made up the many units of the RSL VDC.
RSL VDC units were established in all of the States and Territories.
At the end of 1940, Army Headquarters pressed the War Cabinet for a major call-up of civilians for the AMF and AIF. Until 1940, only the 18 to 25 year olds had been called up for service. Accepting the recomendation, the Government decided to extend this call-up to older classes of men with tens of thousands recruited.
Consequently, the military authorities had so many recruits for the AIF and the AMF, that the issue of uniforms and arms for the RSL VDC was still not possible. Some obsolete Boer War rifles were issued to RSL VDC units and volunteers took their own rifles and shot guns to parades. The Military Board suggested distinguishing arm band for the RSL VDC until uniforms were available. The RSL, in early 1941, requested that the RSL VDC be taken over by the AMF.
It was decided;-
Colonel Murphy CMG DSO, who was the President of RSL NSW, was then appointed Director of the AMF Volunteer Defence Corps. He was placed on the staff of the AMF Adjutant-General. General Sir Harry Chauvel, Inspector-in-Chief, stated:-
The importance of the RSL voe could be assessed by considering that Each Australian army infantry division in WW2 had 9 battalions in 3 Brigades with about 10 000 infantry troops. Associated transport, engineers, artillery and headquarters etc took the total divisional strength to about 15 000.
Note: The Australian Army, in the WW2 consisted of four AIF infantry Divisions 6, 7, 8 and 9 and three AMF infantry Divisions the 3, 5 and 10. The 8th Div was in Malaya and the other 3 AIF Divisions were mostly in the Middle East. The 3 AMF divisions were stationed around Australia and New Guinea.The RSL VDC with its 50000- part-time soldiers, was the equivalent of more than 2 additional infantry Divisions, available to meet the real threat of Japanese invasion 1942-43.
Source of information - 'ON GUARD WITH THE VOLUNTEER DEFENCE CORPS' - published 1944 by the Australian War Memorial.
David Trist OAM, March 2019
In 1941 when I was working in my first job at the Commonwealth Bank at Queanbeyan NSW, a unit of the VDC had been formed in the town. It comprised about 30 men, most of them first world war veterans but with a few under 18 year olds. We paraded on Saturday afternoons and on Sundays. Our CO, Joe O'Rourke, was appointed as an army captain. He had been an NCO at Gallipoli. The Sgt Major was an ex British Army Warrant Officer and he marched and drilled us as if we were part of the Royal Guards. On Mondays he resumed his job as the local newsagent.
One of our troops was a local publican, Spendelove (Spendy), who illegally used to let the unit into his pub after the Sunday parade. I had my first French green absinthe at the pub, as recommended by the ex-WWl diggers. I also learnt the words of some bawdy matching songs, as sung on WWl route marches. I learned to throw Mills Bombs, fire a Boer War carbine and slope arms. I did not get an army uniform but my skill with hand grenades later prove useful in the jungle.
We guarded the Canberra War Memorial at weekends and also the secretive Harman (ACT) Naval Wireless Station, which was mainly staffed by attractive WRANS (to the joy of the old diggers).
The Dutch East Indies Air Force, who had escaped the Japanese drive into the Netherlands East Indies (now Indonesia), were billeted in Queanbeyan and we had some liaison with them and their Timorese ground crews. They did anti-submarine patrols off our South Coast.
When I was 18, I volunteered for the AIF and left the VDC. I told the recruiting officer at Cowra that I was fully trained and accordingly was quickly moved on to the 18th Battalion in Sydney. It didn't do me much good, as for the next few months, that battalion was used for wharf labouring at Darling Harbour, loading American Liberty boats with ammunition - mostly heavy boxes of 25 pound artillery shells which had to be man handled.
Some of us were sent to Cowra during the POW break-out. We guarded a long convoy of trucks with hundreds of Japanese POW, on a very dusty trip to their new POW camp at Hay after they had broken out of Cowra.
Then to jungle training at Canungra and on to the 58th/59th Infantry Battalion and overseas.
David Trist OAM, March 2019
To complete the story of David Trist's war service we pick up the story of the 58th/59th Infantry Battalion courtesy the Australian War Memorial. The 58th/59th Battalion, originally from Melbourne, was one of a number of militia units that to a man joined the AIF for overseas service, David was transferred into the unit in December 1942 when it was stationed at Cooroy in the Sunshine Coast of Queensland hinterland. At Cooroy the unit was training in anticipation of active service.
In 1943 the 3rd Division moved to New Guinea, with the 58th/59th arriving at Shrapnel Valley, near Port Moresby, in March. The division's ultimate destination though was the Lae - Salamaua front. At the end of May the 58th/59th was flown to Wau and Bulolo and by 1 June the troops had gathered at Bulwa. On 19 June the battalion set out on foot along the difficult Missim Trail to take up position on Bobdubi Ridge.
On 30 June the 58th/59th attacked Bobdubi Ridge. The fighting was fierce. The Japanese poured machine-gun fire from fortified and camouflaged positions but the battalion managed to secure a position on the ridge within two days. From there they were able to wear down the Japanese and eventually captured Old Vickers position on 28 July. Old Vickers was the key to the ridge and its capture opened the way to Salamaua. The Australians captured Salamaua on 11 September and Lae fell on 16 September 1943.
A brief respite followed and the 15th Brigade moved to Port Moresby and the Donadabu Highlands behind the city. The 58th/59th had been in continual contact with the Japanese for 77 days and the rest was certainly appreciated.
In early 1944 the 15th Brigade returned to the front, this time to Dumpu in the Ramu Valley, under the command of the 7th Division. The brigade supported the clearing of the Ramu Valley and the advance on Madang, which was captured on 24 April. After almost a year-and-a-half in New Guinea the 15th Brigade finally returned to Australia in August. The brigade had marched over more of New Guinea than any other Allied formation.
After some leave, the brigade regrouped on the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland in October. It was only a brief stay. The 3rd Division had already moved to Bougainville and the brigade followed.
The 15th Brigade took over Bougainville's Southern Sector from the 7th Brigade in mid-April 1945. In order to continue the Australian advance to Buin, known as the "battle of the rivers", the 15th Brigade moved forward on a two-battalion front. The 57th/60th moved along the Commando Road, known as the north axis; the 24th and 58th/59th leap-frogged along the Buin Road, the south axis. The 24th took up position at Kero Creek, leading the 58th/59th further behind at Barara. On 17 April the 24th opened the brigade's attack by crossing Dawe's Creek and by 7 May reached the Hongoria River. The 58th/59th followed the 24th and assumed lead at the river. In the meantime, the 57th/60th had also reached the river along the north axis. The 15th brigade reached the Mivo River at the end of June and was relieved by the 29th Brigade on 1 July 1945.
After the 58th/59th Bn was disbanded in Torokina in Sept 1945, David was transferred to the 31st/51st Bn to assist with the collection, guarding and then repatriating the surrendered Japanese. He had some nice sea voyages to Nauru and Fauro Islands and then to Rabaul, The last shipment of surrendered Japanese left Rabaul about June 1946. David came back to Ingleburn on the Katoomba and delivered 31st/51st Bn records to army archives. Then to various army camps and hospital until my discharge from Victoria Barracks, Paddington NSW in Nov 1946.
[AWM Website and David Trist.]
David is (June 2019) a member of the St Marys (NSW) RSL Sub-Branch (the sole remaining WW2 veteran at that sub-branch). He was awarded an OAM in January 2016, for his service to the community through a range of organisations including:-
David Trist was also involved in the St Marys Chamber of Commerce, Life Education NSW and the Dunheved Business Park Development Committee, among other organisations.
He was not just a soldier who volunteered as soon as he could becoming a war veteran. After he defended our Nation, he was a valued member of the community.
[Western Sydney Weekender 26 January 2016.]