In 1919 a meeting was called by the Mayor of Hunters Hill, Alderman William Archibald Windeyer, for the purpose of forming a Committee to implement the plan to provide reading and recreation rooms for the men and women who heard their country’s call in the Great War.
That meeting formed an organisation known as the Hunters Hill Soldiers and Sailors Recreation Club.
The first President of the Club was Dr. Norman Robertson whose wife, Mrs Needham Jessie Robertson, donated the land for the Memorial Hall. The exact date building commenced is unknown. An article in the Weekly Times in 1942 states the building was carried out in 919.
The Hall was officially opened by the Governor, Sir Walter Davidson, on 30 September 1919.
Using the words of a distinguished member, Don Primrose, at the time the Memorial Hall was built, Australia was still “well within the paternalistic rump of the Victorian era, and the rules of the Club operating were full and precise, reflecting the values and views of the time”.
For reasons not now clear, the Club did not function as intended by its originators and benefactors and was closed in early 1923. A Weekly Times article at the time refers to “undesirables”, not returned servicemen, frequenting the Hall.
The Memorial Hall was then put to use as a community library. By 1942 it was rated as one of the best in Sydney and thrived until its closure in December 1947 for reasons not now apparent. One of the original RSL Members recalled that there was indignation locally when men were seen drinking beer from bottles on the front steps on a Sunday. At the time the Memorial Hall was also the meeting place of the reformed, Returned Soldiers Sailors Imperial League of Australia Sub Branch and the men on the steps were probably returned servicemen thirsty after singing in church!
At the end of WW2, membership expanded to probably what will be the heyday of the Sub Branch; the Memorial Hall becoming a gathering point for the many returned servicemen and their families. The WW2 veterans have remained the back bone of the Sub Branch right up until the present but due to their advancing years their numbers are dwindling.
At this time some quite accomplished and highly decorated returned servicemen were members of the Sub Branch. Ted Stewart whose painting and medals are hung in the Historical Society’s Museum was at the landing of Gallipoli and in France in WW1 and fronted up for WW2 serving in the Middle East and New Guinea. Squadron Leader Jim McHale received the Distinguished Flying Cross and Lieutenant Commander Howard Dudley Reid was awarded the George Medal on two occasions for mine and bomb clearance in the UK. These are just a few examples of the many brave and selfless men and women to whom we owe our way of life.
President Hunters Hill RSL Sub Branch