Formed in June 1916, to care for the welfare of servicemen returning from World War I, the Returned & Services League of Australia (RSL) is Australia’s largest ex-service organisation. There are 170,000 traditional and affiliate members. 2016 marks its centenary, and Australia Post is commemorating this important occasion with the release of the RSL 1916–2016 stamp issue on 31 May.

Originally known as the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia, the organisation has undergone several name changes during its 100 years; the current name came into effect in 1990.

Early in the Great War (1914–1918), it was evident that those returning from Gallipoli and the Western Front would require support, along with the families of those who would never return.

The RSL operates with the values of camaraderie, concern and mateship; values that were shown by the “Diggers”, when caring for their mates, during and after the Great War. This ethos of compassion and service remains today as the motivating influence of the League.

The RSL’s primary mission is to ensure for the wellbeing, care, compensation and commemoration of serving and ex-service Defence Force members and their dependents. This includes:

  • caring for the homeless, sick and elderly
  • providing free advocacy support to veterans seeking entitlements
  • sending care packages to those serving overseas
  • bestowing awards (namely ANZAC of the Year and the ANZAC Peace Prize)
  • providing grants and scholarships
  • continuing close ties of friendship amongst those who have served, through programs such as Adaptive Sports
  • preserving the memory of those who suffered and died for Australia
  • promoting the defence of the nation.

The stamp design, by Janet Boschen of Boschen Design, features the current badge of the RSL.

The RSL badge is worn only by those who have served in the armed forces of the Crown or its allies.Badge of the Returned & Services League of Australia. Image courtesy of the RSL.

The badge has gone through many incarnations over time. The current design, from 1990, is full of important symbolism.

At the top of the badge is a crown, signifying allegiance to Queen and country and Australia’s status as a constitutional monarchy.

Below the crown are the national flowers of Australia, Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland – the wattle, the leek, the rose, the thistle and the shamrock.

In the centre of the badge are a sailor, a soldier, an airman and a servicewoman, marching with their arms linked. This symbolises friendship as well as the notion that all services, and all ranks, are united in comradeship.

The colours used in the badge are also significant, and they are highlighted in the design of the stamp. The red of the badge is symbolic of the blood tie of war. The white background stands for the purity of motive and to render service without personal gain. The blue is a symbol of willingness to render service to a comrade anywhere ‘under the blue sky’.

The stamp also features images of servicemen and women. These were taken from recruitment posters from the 1940s and 1950s. This ‘retro’ style ties in with the artwork used on the RSL badge itself and alludes to the organisation’s long history. Copies of both posters are held in the collection of the Australian War Memorial.

The RSL’s motto is “The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance”, and the RSL’s Ode is taken from the famous poem, For the Fallen, by English writer Laurence Binyon (1869–1943).

As well as its role in all rites associated with the RSL of Australia, the fourth verse of Binyon’s poem is used throughout the Commonwealth, to commemorate and memorialise those who have died in war:

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 RSL 1916–2016 stamp issue is available online from 31 May 2016 at participating Post Offices and via mail order on 1800 331 794, while stocks last.

Technical specifications

Issue date
31 May 2016
Issue withdrawal date
30 November 2016
Stamp design
Janet Boschen, Boschen Design
Product design
John White, Australia Post Design Studio
Printer - gummed
McKellar Renown
Paper - gummed
Tullis Russell Red Phos
Paper - self-adhesive
Avery Dennison B100
Printing process
Offset lithography
Stamp size
26mm x 37.5mm
14.60 x 13.86
Sheet layout
Sheetlet of 10
FDI postmark
Campbell ACT 2612
FDI withdrawal date
28 June 2016

This content was produced at the time of the stamp issue release date and will not be updated.