By Larry Smith, Foundation Member
On Remembrance Day 1993, the VFW Angeles City invited expats, including Australians, to a service at Clark Field Cemetery and later for refreshments at their Canteen at Friendship.
Whilst at VFW canteen, I opined that the Americans were well catered for in regards to ex service facilities, VFW, American Legion and Rumpa, whilst we Australians had nothing.
I related the horrible aftermath of the death of T&PI pensioner Leslie Davis the previous month where he died in the AU Hospital early hours of a Friday but they would not release his body to a funeral home for disposal until his partner Linda paid P21,000.Linda was lucky to have had P21. So they refused to release Les.
Linda made her way to Moon’s bar where Les played on their pool team.She related to ‘Terry Moon’ that Les had died.Terry advised her to see Dave Donney at Swagman as he knew Embassy staff.
When Dave contacted the Embassy they had been given an EKO (early knock off) so there was no one to advise.
Mid Monday morning, the then Consul, Ric Munro arrived in Angeles, saw Linda and paid the hospital and Les’s remains were released to a funeral home. There he was immersed into a bath of embalming fluid for 14 days until the Embassy and DVA worked out what to do with him.
Finally DVA authorized the embassy to bury Les and they made arrangements with the funeral home for his burial.
We were told that a service was to be conducted at 3.00pm on a certain day.Two jeepney loads of family and friends arrived a few minutes to 3.00pm to find out that the service was scheduled for 2.00pm. A quick glimpse of him and he was loaded into a hearse and transported to a horrible cemetery.
When his coffin was carried over dozens of other grave sites, it was found that the hole was too small to accommodate it so the diggers dug in through a neighouring grave to extend it.
As they were re-filling the hole, it was evident that the top of the coffin had collapsed as the soil slumped a foot or so whilst his family watched in horror.
We were later to find out that DVA had paid for him to be interred in a better cemetery, but as there was no one in authority to supervise things, the funeral home interred him in an inferior one and obviously pocketed the difference.
At the VFW I stated that had we had an RSL there we could have taken responsibility and seen that Les was buried with dignity.Not one thing about his disposal was pretty or dignified.
I went on to say that ANZAC Day celebrations were conducted by the initiative of Dave Donney, the manager of Swagman Narra Resort. They invited all and sundry to march and play on 25 April. A function of an RSL surely.
On that day at the VFW, we were unaware that a long term expert who everyone knew, a lovely quiet man, Ken Slide was taking in what I was saying and on his own initiative, wrote to what he thought was RSL National HQ and posted it to Kent Street in Sydney.They in-turn realized that it was intended for Canberra so on forwarded it.
In reasonably short time, National HQ responded to Ken’s letter.Ken then placed notices in places that Australians were known to frequent asking them to come to the Platinum bar for a meeting about the RSL.
Twenty two Aussie turned up plus Yankee Jack as an observer.Ken outlined what he had done, read the questions he had posed to National HQ, such as (incomplete list):
- How many does it take to form an RSL sub-branch;
- Who is eligible to apply for membership;
- Fees applicable, and
- If, after a demand for start-up fees, would RSL still be talking to us.
Ken then read the response from RSL HQ, again incomplete:
- It takes only six members to start up an sub-branch;
- Veterans who served in countries that formed a coalition against a common foe could apply for membership;
- We could set our own fees, and
- Yes, a demand for start-up fees would be looked at favourably.
Ken then asked the assembled if they wanted to start up an Australian RSL in Angeles City.
There were no dissenters, so the process started.Incidentally, Ken Slide was a British Korean veteran, and was an ex resident of Darwin, Northern Territory.
At that meeting we decided to form a Steering Committee to check out things such as, will we impinge upon Philippine laws, can we start up a club bank account, who could we get to be Patron.
If I recall correctly, that group consisted of:
George Bradman, ex WW2
Ken Slide, Korea
Allen Thomas, Vietnam
Terry O’Callaghan, Army
And others I cannot recall.
The meeting reconvened a couple of weeks later, The committee presented their findings so we decided to appoint a ‘temporary’ committee. So we virtually converted the Steering Committee as our temporary committee.
We also appointed three ‘Trustees’ as per normal RSL organization.
George Bradman had previous appointments as President of Bronte RSL on Sydney’s southside.His experience was recognized as essential if we were to get a sub-branch up and running correctly.
George organized his committee into writing our by-laws, setting up banking accounts, decided to appoint the position of Military Attache at the Embassy as our patron and wrote to the current incumbent asking for ratification.
George used to return to Sydney annually and in 1994 went a bit early to organize sub-branch things in Australia.
MAJGEN ‘Digger’ James was National President at the time, and George asked him to postdate our Charter to read 25 April 1994.Digger did that and George returned to Angeles with it and we conducted our first Anzac Day activities, still at the Narra but under control of Angeles RSL Sub-branch.
In June 1994, we held our first AGM and invited our Patron CAPT Mike Webster (RAN) to present our Charter, declare all temporary positions vacant and conducted the first AGM for election of Committee.
Again my memory is not quite sure, but:
We did not have a permanent home so we started at the Narra. Then other places offered us room for meetings.We went to RUMPA for a while until they needed the room we used, a club on Malibanas Street, Moon Doggies until they moved next door and a purpose built room was built for us and the American Special Forces. We shared that room for the rest of the time I was in Angeles. It was then called Lunar Canine.
We used one wall for our memorabilia and Special Forces used the other.An amicable arrangement. I am not sure why they eventually moved.
Graham Webb, then Manager of Fiesta Gardens offered us permanent use of their night club.On inspection we realized that we could only use it until 5.00pm where it reverted back to a ‘girly bar’. We could not have an RSL housed in a ‘girly bar’ so graciously declined the offer.
As in any organization, personalities sometimes upset things.
At an early monthly meeting, Sec/Treas Terry O’Callaghan presented the meeting with his financial statement. Unfortunately, he used an American style report which none of us Aussies could follow. Also, we had no hard copy membership roll. It was on his hard drive.
When he was criticized for this short coming, he spat the dummy, collected up all records, property, un-banked monies and, as a Trustee, deposited all at my doorstep and resigned as Sec /Treas.
Previous to this, Snr Vice Pres Maurie McNarn had to return to Australia and didn’t come back. Jnr Vice Pres Allen Thomas presented to George that he was experiencing personal and financial problems and thought at the time, those problems may reflect on the RSL, so he tendered his resignation.
So George was now presented with the fact that four committee positions were now not available and he could not form a quorum to operate.As a consequence he called in the Trustees to administer the Sub-branch until an extra ordinary AGM was held to elect replacements.
I was the only Trustee that did not have another interest so I went to George’s home each day to organize things.
I firstly audited all of our administration and found that the accounting of monies and property were in excellent order.
In my report to the president I ordered:
- That a hard cover Membership book be purchased and all members to appear in that book in alphabetical order and financial status.
- That a cash book be purchased and all financial transaction be entered.
- All property to be accounted for in a property ledger.
- That the position of Secretary/ Treasurer be split into two positions, so that in future we would not lose two positions with one resignation.
- That a meeting minute book to be used by a recorder of meetings. That a tape recorder be purchased to assist in recording meetings.
After ordering the President to implement these changes, I went ahead and purchased all necessary books of account and started entering data.
I think that George and I did a pretty good job of getting things back on track.
At the Extra Ordinary AGM, I forget who was elected Secretary but an old Army Paymaster, Ray McConkey became our Treasurer.
Every organization has something that arise to upset the applecart, and we were not immune from that.
When we were recruiting, we had quite a few blokes from La Union who wanted to join however the tyranny of distance precluded them from attending meetings with they were entitled to attend.
So we raised what we called an ‘Ad Hoc’ group there. Eventually resident Max Opitz was elected sub-branch Vice President so that he could oversee the ‘Ad Hoc’ group.I must say that Max had a strong personality and he started to almost form a breakaway group.
Unknown to Sub-branch HQ, the ‘Ad Hoc’ group had held raffles and had in their possession a substantial amount of cash. They had organized activities during Anzac Day and the Hong Kong/La Union yacht race and made a handsome profit.
Max made the mistake of asking Angeles to donate these funds to the organisation calling for funds at Sandakan Borneo to raise a memorial for the ‘death march’.
Angeles decided that, as they were the higher office, any funds that the ‘ad hoc’ group had were in fact Angeles funds and they would decide where they would be placed.This upset Max and a power struggle ensued. I believe later that Max became Sub-branch President so I don’t know what eventually happened to those funds.
I ended up in LA Union for a few months in 1997 and reported to Max Opitz that I would be joining the ‘ad hoc’ group.Max viewed me initially as a spy from Angeles and was reluctant to do things in my presence.When I found out about this I fronted him about it, assured him I was not a spy and we got along fine from then on.
I became the ‘representative’ of the ad hoc group to attend meeting in Angeles on their behalf.Angeles I recall had meetings in the first week of the month and La Union had theirs mid month.So I would bring what was discussed in La Union and present it in Angeles for discussion and vice versa.
We did however try to encourage all La Union members to attend AGM’s and would provide transport for the occasion.
We had a group of Vietnam Vets in La Union which wanted to form a breakaway group.This was frowned upon by Angeles and never got to first base. Steve Robson used to regularly turn up after driving all the way from San Antonio in Zambales.
When George Bradman accepted the position of founding President he did so with the understanding that he would only serve one term and that when it was up and running, the younger veterans should take over
George had a very autocratic demeanor and ran the meetings in the correct manner. No slackness allowed.When he stepped down at the second AGM he stated that the Vietnam Veteran’s should be taking over and he directed his comments at Mick O’Brien.George nominated Mick and he was duly elected.However Mick ran a very casual meeting which got to George with a consequence that he stopped attending and didn’t renew his membership.Both George and Mick have been deceased many years.
Just prior to ANZAC Day 1993, I had stepped off the bus ex Australia and was nominated by Dave Donney to be march marshall, or parade RSM as he called it. No problems. We started off marching from the corner up the road from the Narra called Bad Habits.Down we came and halted outside the resort. I turned the parade to the front, informed them that when they are fallen out to move into the resort and assemble the other side of the pool for the service.
I then gave the order to fall out, involving the movement of turning to the right, marching three paces and walking away.One member, a Vietnam Veteran and a TPI pensioner, had a disability accepted for alcohol abuse.When I gave the order to fall out, he fell over.He was so embarrassed that many years later he still had not taken a drink from that day.
When we were recruiting I was talking to a Canadian who had spent 23 years in the US Marines.His name was Bob but having been a Sergeant, was called ‘Gunny’.I informed Bob that as he had been to Vietnam on several occasions, and every other place in the world that the USA put Marines he was eligible to join the Australian RSL.
‘Gunny’ was very humbled by this news as he was not allowed to join the VFW as their constitution stated you must be a US citizen, which Bob wasn’t. Interestingly, Bob had to appear on odd occasions at the US Embassy in Manila to prove he was still alive and to keep his pension going.Bob was so pleased that an Ex Service Organisation somewhere in the world recognized his service and allowed him to join.
Another consequence of VFW constitution was that local members who joined the RSL were embarrassed that they could not offer us Aussies membership to the VFW. At an area meeting, I think, held in Guam, the Commander of VFW Post 2485 in Angeles City asked that the constitution be relaxed to allow Aussies in the Philippines to join.His request was denied as it would set a precedence elsewhere. I believe the situation is the same today.
As in any organization there was dissension amongst members.It only happened on meeting days.This caused some less dedicated members to decide to stop attending and not renew membership.
I had the occasion to stand up at both Angeles and La Union, refusing to acknowledge any orders to sit down, to say that we were all mates, drinking and socializing etc but when we got to the meeting we wanted to tear each others throats out. And then afterwards we laughed and drank again. I said that this was detrimental to what we were formed for.I suppose it still happens today.
It was pleasing for me as a foundation member to see that the VFW and Special Forces guys are still fronting up for ANZAC Day.They were full of enthusiasm in the early days and it showed in 2007 that they were still with us.
One of the first achievements we did as an R&SL Sub-branch was support a claim for War Widow Pension for Linda Davis, the partner of Les who died in 1993, and the Orphans pensions for her two girls. This was initiated by Allen Thomas and supported by the Sub-branch. We also attained Australian Citizenship by Descent for the girls and they received their passports.
I was involved in the year 2000 in gaining Linda full time residency and citizenship in Australia where she and the girls now reside in Brisbane. It started to prove that we could look after the service community in the Philippines.
I returned to Australia in 1995 but for years returned to Davao City to stay for a year with a break in Australia.I wanted to retain my membership in the Angeles City RSL however there was no avenue for me to pay my fees.
I could not pay it into a bank account when offshore. I could not forward it to ACT branch so, eventually it lapsed.I figure that if it happened to me then other Australia based members had the same problem and dropped out.
Initially, Angeles was placed under National HQ, but with a change of National Secretary, he realized that his HQ did not administer Sub-branches.So arrangements were made to transfer overseas sub-branches (Washington DC, Port Moresby and Angeles) with smaller Branches.I understand Angeles and one other went to ACT Branch and the other to Hobart.
This new arrangement caused some angst among Angeles members, me included.We were informed that the ACT Branch said “welcome aboard, send money, over”. The fees we set for ourselves previously were increased to $A25 which had to be sent to ACT Branch. We initially said “stuff them” but when things cooled down a bit, it was realized that the proper decision had been made and we could be administered by a higher authority.But it also increased the committee workload.
In conclusion I think that aside from the membership infighting, autocratic rule, breakaway attempts, dummy spits, numerous ‘housing moves’, the decision to form the Angeles City RSL was the right thing to do.I am still proud to inform people in Australia that I am a member of an overseas RSL in the Philippines and see their look of surprise.
Sadly a lot of the original members have passed on, George Bradman, Ken Slide, Mick O’Brien, Daddy Douglas, Graham Webb, Don Burke, to name just a few. Others returned to Australia or moved away, myself, Allen Thomas, Ray McConkey, Spike Jones, Harry Clapp, Allen Smith, ‘Gunny’ Bob, Maurie McNarn and a multitude of others.
Finally, looking back on those early days, Ken Slide could rightfully be called ‘the FATHER’ of our sub-branch.
Hope you get something out of the above.
Further information on the history and development of the League is contained in: