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Symbolism

The Motto

The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance

The motto of the RSL has an interesting history.

In the fourth century BC Demosthenes enunciated the spirit of the motto although he used these words:

"There is one safeguard known generally to the wise,
which is an advantage and security to all,
but especially to democracies as against despots. What is it? Distrust"

In 1770 the following words were apparently first used by John Philpot Curran in his speech upon his election as Lord Mayor of Dublin:

"The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance."

Then Wendel Phillips, in an address before the Massachusetts Anti Slavery Society in 1852 said:

"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty"

Some people have attributed this also to Thomas Jefferson but no one has found any records of Jefferson using the sentence.

In the early 1920's the Victorian Branch of the League suggested that the League should have a motto, and the NSW Branch of the League recommended:

"The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance"

In November 1923 the 8th National Congress of the RSL agreed on the motto recommended by NSW.

The Badge

The badge is a symbol of a readiness at all times to render service to Crown and country, and to former comrades. It is a time-honoured emblem - one that has been worn with a deep sense of pride by the most revered in our land and one that glorifies all privileged to wear it.

Neither wealth, nor influence, nor social standing can purchase the badge, which may be worn in honour only by those who have rendered service in the armed forces of the Crown or its allies.

The wattle is symbolic of Australia. The leek, rose, thistle and shamrock are symbolic of and represent the link with Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland respectively.

In the badge the red represents the blood tie of war that exists between comrades. White stands for the purity of motives in joining the League - to render service without thought of personal gain or ambition. The blue indicates a willingness to render that service to a comrade anywhere under the blue sky - wherever he or she may be.

Depicted in the center of the badge, and encircled by the name of the organisation, are a sailor, soldier, airmen and servicewoman marching together with their arms linked in friendship. This is to show that within the circle of the League, all Services and all ranks march together in unity and comradeship.

We would ask that you look upon your badge as an inspiration to good citizenship, cherishing it as a symbol of all that is best in our national life and living up to the high ideals on which the organisation is based.

The badge has evolved as the League has evolved.

  • 1915 to 1919, badges were state based Returned Soldiers Associations, in 1916 a national Returned Soldiers Association badge appeared and gradually replaced the state badges.
  • By 1919 the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League badge had evolved, after a reduction in size in 1922 it remained in use until 1941.
  • From 1941 until 1966 the Returned Sailors Soldiers and Airmans Imperial League badge was used until a change of name in 1966 when the Returned Services League badge was introduced; with a change of crown in 1971, the badge remained in use until 1990.
  • In 1990, the present Returned & Services League badge was introduced.
  • The Women's Auxiliary badge has remained structurally unchanged since its inception in 1922, reflecting only the change of initials of the League.
  • The changes to name and badge since 1916 reflect the nature of the League and its ability to adapt to reflect stabilised changes about it.
  • In 1923, the 8th National Congress of the League, adopted the Motto "The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance". The motto and its significance is clearly reflected in League policies on National Defence and support for the Australian Defence Force.

The Ode

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
"

The Ode is taken from the elegy For The Fallen, by English poet and writer Laurence Binyon and was published in London in The Winnowing Fan; Poems of the Great War in 1914. The fourth verse, which became the League Ode, was already used in association with commemoration services in Australia in 1921 and not only adorns War Memorials throughout the British Commonwealth but is at the heart of all rites of the RSL.

For The Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn in drums thrill: Death august and royal
Signs sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again:
They sit no more at familiar tables at home;
They have no lot in our labor of the daytime;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
felt as a wellspring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars that are known to the Night.

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
to the end, to the end, they remain.

Binyon
(1869 - 1943)

The Poppy

On and around 11 November each year, the League sells millions of red poppies for Australians to pin on their lapels. Proceeds go to League welfare work. Why a red poppy?

The red poppy, the Flanders poppy, was first described as the flower of remembrance by Colonel John McCrae, who was Professor of Medicine at McGill University of Canada before World War One. Colonel McCrae had served as a gunner in the Boer War, but went to France in World War One as a medical officer with the first Canadian contingent.

At the second battle of Ypres in 1915, when in charge of a small first-aid post, he wrote in pencil on a page torn from his dispatch book:

In Flanders' fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders' fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders' fields.

The verses were apparently sent anonymously to the English magazine, Punch, which published them under the title . "In Flanders' Fields".

Colonel McCrae was wounded in May 1918 and died after three days in a military hospital on the French coast. On the eve of his death he allegedly said to his doctor, "Tell them this. If ye break faith with us who die we shall not sleep".

An American Miss Moira Michael, read "In Flanders' Fields" and wrote a reply entitled "We Shall Keep the Faith":

Oh! You who sleep in Flanders' fields,
Sleep sweet - to rise anew,
We caught the torch you threw,
And holding high we kept
The faith with those who died,
We cherish, too, the Poppy red
That grows on fields where valour led.
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders' fields.
And now the torch and poppy red
Wear in honour of our dead
Fear not that ye have died for naught
We've learned the lesson that ye taught
In Flanders' fields.