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50th anniversary celebration of the Royal Australian Regiment, Canberra, Sunday, 1 March 1998: address on the occasion.



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ADDRESS BY SIR WILLIAM DEANE

GOVERNOR-GENERAL OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF AUSTRALIA

ON THE OCCASION OF THE

50th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION OF

THE ROYAL AUSTRALIAN REGIMENT

CANBERRA

SUNDAY. 1 MARCH 1998

Your Excellency, the Governor o f Western Australia and Mrs Jeffery, Your Excellency the Governor o f Queensland and Mrs Arnison, Deputy Prime Minister, other Ministers o f the Crown, Chief o f Army, Members o f the Parliament, Colonel Commandant o f the Royal Australian Regiment, other Serving and former Members o f the Regiment, Ladies and Gentlemen

Today we mark the beginning o f a series o f celebrations to mark the 50lh Anniversary o f the formation o f the Royal Australian Regiment - the senior infantry regiment o f the Australian Army. These celebrations w ill reach their climax in November - the month in which the Australian Regiment (later the Royal Australian Regiment) was officially designated in 1948.

Today’ s parade comes at a special time in Australia’ s military history, with a squadron o f the Regiment’s brother regiment, the Special A ir Service Regiment, deployed overseas Indeed, the fact that the government was able to deploy the SAS at such short notice relates directly to the formation o f the Royal Australian Regiment fifty years ago

It is perhaps difficult for many Australians today to appreciate that, until the end o f the Second World War, Australia had not really had a regular standing army. The founding o f a regular army dates from the formation, in October 1945, o f three infantry battalions o f volunteers from among Australian soldiers still serving in Borneo and elsewhere to join the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan The new battalions possessed a wealth o f military experience and, since they were formed from volunteers from the wartime AIF and some m ilitia units, they carried with them the traditions o f the AIF as well as having links with the pre-war militia.

The three battalions o f the occupation force served in Japan until 1948, when two o f them returned to Australia Later that year they were renamed to become the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battalions o f the Australian Regiment. In March 1949, the title Royal was added The

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regimental badge was distinctly Australian, featuring the kangaroo and a wattle wreath. The boomerang at the base o f the badge had been used in the tactical signs o f the 2nd AIF from which the original units had been raised The crossed rifles signified the personal weapon o f the infantryman, and the crown was added because o f the Regiment’ s royal title.

In the First World War, the AIF had had eight months o f training before landing at Gallipoli. In the Second World War, the first units o f the Second AIF had had 14 months o f training before battle By contrast, when war came in Korea and the Australian Government decided to commit Australian forces to assist in the defence o f South Korea, 3 RAR had only about two months’ notice. Nonetheless, its performance was exemplary. The battalion was to be awarded the US Presidential Citation for its part in the battle o f Kapyong in 1951.

The events o f the years which followed were to demonstrate the value o f a regular army. Eventually two battalions were deployed in Korea Then, in 1955, after the end o f the Korean commitment, 2 RAR was deployed to Malaya to help fight the Communist Terrorists during the Emergency in that country The Australian battalions were to serve in Malaya, Malaysia and Singapore until 1973 By that time, all three regular battalions had served in the Emergency, while 3 RAR and the newly-formed 4 RAR had also served in Borneo during the Malaysian-Indonesian confrontation

The flexibility conferred by the existence o f the RAR was again demonstrated when, in April 1965, the government announced that 1 RAR was to be sent to Vietnam. The number o f regular battalions was expanded to nine, and all served in Vietnam. Most conducted two one-year tours o f duty. As in Korea, the battalions in Vietnam performed with outstanding bravery and professionalism D Company 6 RAR received the US Presidential Citation for its part in the Battle o f Long Tan in 1966

After the Vietnam War, the number o f battalions in the Regiment was reduced to six, and training focussed on the defence o f Australia rather than overseas commitments. 3 RAR became a parachute battalion and 5/7 RAR became a mechanised infantry battalion. By the early 1980s, two o f the battalions were at a high state o f readiness in case they were needed for unexpected emergencies Just such an emergency came in December 1992, when 1 RAR was deployed to Somalia at short notice More recently, companies o f the Regiment served on protective duties in Rwanda.

The key to the Regiment’s success has always lain in the dedication and ability o f its officers, both commissioned and non-commissioned, and its soldiers Our nation owes an incalculable debt to those members. They have served Australia and their Regiment loyally and extraordinarily well both in Australia and overseas.

The battle honours won at Maryang San in Korea, and Coral Balmoral in Vietnam, testify to the Regiment’s great record o f service Indeed, the Regiment and its members have built on the achievements and traditions o f the past to establish the pattern and set the standards o f our modern regular Australian Infantry. The SAS Regiment, at present in the Gulf, grew out o f the RAR in the 1950s and became a separate regiment in the 1960s. Inevitably, the RAR’s success has not been without great cost Over 650 men have given their lives in the course o f overseas service with the regiment, the most recent being in Somalia in 1993 Their sacrifice and Australia’ s debt to them are both beyond measure and beyond words

Unlike the soldiers in earlier wars, the Australian regular soldier o f the last half century has not been motivated by imperial sentiment or a feeling that our own country was in

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immediate danger. Certainly, in the 1950s, many soldiers rightly felt that communism was a threat to the Australian way o f life. But the hallmark o f the soldiers o f the Royal Australian Regiment has always been the pride and dedication o f professionals, driven in the permanent military service o f their country, by a sense o f duty and responsibility. Duty First has truly been and still is the measure o f the Regiment.

Some years ago, a senior officer o f the Regiment reflected on his military career He wrote:

” My professional affection was for my men and my rewards were success in our combined endeavours. The Regiment was my professional family and our motto, ‘ Duty First’ was my creed” .

On behalf o f the Australian people, I acknowledge the service performed by the battalions o f the Royal Australian Regiment over the years that are gone l thank the present and past members o f the Regiment, and their families, for the exemplary way in which they have served Australia over those fifty years. All Australians wish the Regiment and all its members, past and present, every success with the Anniversary celebrations this year and continued success and achievement in the service o f Australia in all the years that lie ahead