Jack Forbes, President of the Robinvale Sub-branch of the Returned Services League (RSL), is a well known face in the community. Here, he shares his story about his time in the Airforce, his thoughts on ANZAC Day, and the important role of the RSL.
Jack was only 18 years old when he joined the Airforce as a Leading Aircraftsman and served in Darwin in the Northern Territory. Jack’s interest for the Airforce began when he was 16 and a half, and he started attending a Training Corps in Mildura every Saturday. Whilst there, he learnt Morse Code and loved hanging out at the nearby Aerodrome.
Jack’s brother and sister were already in Army service. He explained that, at the time, it didn’t occur to him about the worry that his mother must have gone through. It wasn’t until much later, when he was a father himself, that he thought about it. He acknowledges that the Forbes family was very lucky as they all returned home safely, but many of their friends in the Services did not. Jack believes that people expected to return home, and that, because of the army censors, the soldiers were not able to tell their families where they were.
He said, “There was just a telegram for some, that simply said “We regret he has done his duty for his country.”
Jack has noticed over the years how many young people are becoming involved in the ANZAC Day traditions, and he sees this as a very positive thing.
“It’s great to see them there, and I hope that they are taking in the message that we are trying to share,” he said. This message, according to Jack, is of the sacrifices that were made so that we could live in a free country today. He hopes that the youth of today will understand what the men who
didn’t return sacrificed their lives for.
“We all know that no-one went over there to sacrifice their lives. Really we went over there for adventure initially. This second war came in just after the depression, times were very tough and harsh and this was something to lighten their lives, something to be proud of,” he said.
Jack also explained that, after World War 1 in the Mildura area in particular, there were many soldier settlements, and so there was interest created about the Armed Forces through the handing down of stories. Nearly all the children that Jack went to school with were sons and daughters of the First World War settlers, so there may have been some sense of obligation for those children.
“In those days we were also still very tied to the Commonwealth and I think that played a part in our commitment to the cause too. They were in trouble and needed help, so it was a natural thing to put our hands up,” he said.
Jack explained that you were either a volunteer, or conscripted, based on your age group.
“Every young person doing nothing, should undergo military service. It would be good for them.”
According to Jack, people need to be retrained and learn skills so that they can make a contribution to their country.
“The army teaches you those things, and they can be put to good use in civilian life,” Jack argues.
The RSL provides many services to the families of returned soldiers Legacy being one of them. The job of Legacy is to look after the widows of
returned servicemen and their families. Someone who works as a Legatee must have served military service, and they look after a group of about
six widows and assist them with obtaining pensions and other services. When asked what he gets out of being in the RSL, Jack explains that it is not giving but receiving. That is what the RSL is about. There is also a social side to the RSL, which includes an annual dinner. Jack points out that no matter where someone has served, they can be part of the organisation.
The RSL was formulated after World War One for Returned Servicemen, it doesn’t matter which war they served in or place they went to. Jack also said that membership is not just for people who have served. There are also affiliate members who are relatives of servicemen and are an important part of the RSL. Part of the role of the Robinvale sub branch, Jack believes, is to educate our young people on the sacrifices that were made, as well as inform them of the RSL. There are actions as well as words carried out here, as every ANZAC Day, members from the RSL go to the local schools and talk abut these issues with the students. The main message Jack wants the students to understand is sacrifice.
He explains, “When I left to join the Airforce, two boys I knew from school went with me. Unfortunately one of them never came back.”
He believes that experiences like this teach you to appreciate what you’ve got. There was a lot of support for the returned soldiers when they came home, particularly from the RSL.