Minister for Defence Personnel the Hon Darren Chester today attended commemorations marking the 75th anniversary of the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion on Thursday Island.
During the Second World War, 880 men enlisted to serve in the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion to protect the Torres Strait archipelago from Japanese invasion. This left only 10 able-bodied men on the islands to support the community.
Mr Chester said he was proud to participate in this significant commemorative event acknowledging the soldiers of the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion.
“I am honoured to be able to commemorate the soldiers of the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion,” Mr Chester said.
“These men volunteered to serve at a time when they did not have the right to vote, were paid half the wage of other soldiers and were not recognised as part of the Commonwealth.
“I would like to especially acknowledge the 13 Torres Strait Islander men who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of Australia. Their devotion to serving our nation will never be forgotten.”
The 75th anniversary of the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion commemorations included the renaming of the Joint Defence Facility, Thursday Island to Sarpeye Barracks, unveiling of a new memorial and the 51st Battalion, Far North Queensland Regiment marching colours through the streets.
Mr Chester said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander troops had a long and proud history serving in the Australian Army.
“They fought bravely in the Torres Strait and throughout the Pacific during the Second World War. Their contributions and sacrifice helped shape the Australia we have today,” Mr Chester said.
“Today, descendants of soldiers of the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion serve as part of the 51st Battalion, Far North Queensland Regiment, a Regional Force Surveillance Unit that serves throughout Cape York and the Torres Strait.”
When the Regional Force Surveillance Units were formed in the 1980s, the soldiers of Charlie Company, which is based on Thursday Island, became known as the Sarpeyes. This term is creole for Sharp Eye and refers to soldiers of the Company being employed in a surveillance role which requires them to identify targets over long distances.
The Sarpeyes are the Australian Army’s largest primarily Indigenous sub-unit, with young men and women from across the Torres Strait islands following in the footsteps of their ancestors in serving with distinction in the Army.
Additionally, an Indigenous recruit course is being conducted on Thursday Island including, for the first time in a generation, members from Aurukun – a community that supported the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion.
The soldiers will complete their initial training on 25 March 2018 and begin developing new skills as surveillance operators within Army’s Regional Force Surveillance Unit, supporting border protection operations off the north coast of Australia.
The ability to recruit, train and provide meaningful employment for members of the Indigenous community demonstrates the Army’s commitment to supporting the Australian Government’s Closing the Gap Strategy.
Imagery will be available at: http://images.defence.gov.au/S20180421