Royal Australian Engineers
1890 - 2009
The 1st Field Company (1 FD COY) was established in July 1890 as a part of the NSW Corps of Engineers, based at Victoria Barracks in Sydney. The unit sent three officers and several NCO's to support other Corps during the Boer war in South Africa, 1899-1902. In 1902, the Australian Army order of battle shows that the 1st Field Company had on its establishment two elements. One element was mounted to support the more mobile horse mounted units, and a dismounted element which was established to support conventional operations based on foot soldiers of infantry units. In 1902, the mounted element of the unit had not yet been raised.
In Australia, from July 1902 until September 1907, the term "The Corps of Engineers" was used to describe Army Engineers. From September 1907 until January 1936 the description changed to " Australian Engineers". On 31 January 1936 the title "Royal Australian Engineers" was granted to the Corps.
In 1914, World War 1 was declared and 1 FD COY was deployed to Egypt. On 25 April 1915, 1 FD COY was a part of the lead element of the Australian and New Zealand forces to land at Gallipoli. The leading boat had scarcely touched the beach when Sapper Fred Reynolds of 1 FD COY was shot and killed before he was able to jump over its side. He is officially the first Australian soldier to be KIA at Gallipoli on that historical morning. After the Gallipoli campaign, 1 FD COY returned to Egypt where it conducted training and received reinforcements. In 1916, the unit embarked for the Western Front, disembarked at Marseilles in France and travelled by train to the battlefields of The Somme in Belgium and France.
While 1 FD COY was training in Egypt in late 1915, its second element was raised as a mounted unit to support the 1st ANZAC Mounted Division (Light Horse) with the nomenclature of 1st Field Squadron (1 FD SQN). This unit saw action in Egypt, Sinai and Palestine. It supported the infamous Australian mounted infantry charge at Beersheba.
At the end of WWI in 1918, 1 FD COY and 1 FD SQN returned to Australia and remained on the Australian order of battle as militia units although the 1 FD SQN element was well below its establishment strength.
In 1939, World War II was declared and 1 FD COY mobilised as the 2/1st FD COY. This nomenclature followed the convention of numbering all units of the Second Australian Imperial Force (AIF) with the prefix of 2/the unit designator. 2/1 FD COY served in the Middle East supporting the campaigns at Bardia, Tobruk, Greece and Crete. Returning to Australia in 1942, 2/1 FD COY re-trained for jungle warfare and was deployed to New Guinea in early 1943. In 1944 and 1945, 2/1 FD COY supported combat operations in the Aitape-Wewak campaign.
1 FD SQN was brought up to full strength in 1943, trained in jungle warfare, and deployed to New Guinea. 1 FD SQN was a part of the Australian Military Forces (not the AIF) and therefore did not need the prefix of 2/ before its designator. 1 FD SQN supported some engineering works at Milne Bay and by co-incidence was deployed to the Aitape-Wewak campaign at the same time as 2/1 FD COY, undertaking similar combat engineering duties.
At the end of WWII, both units were disbanded. Many members of 2/1 FD COY were transferred to the 28th Field Company (28 FD COY), located in Japan supporting the British Commonwealth Occupational Forces. 28 FD COY returned to Australia on 24 September 1948.
At the end of WWII, the Australian Army conducted a review of its units and unit designators. Part of this review resulted in 28 FD COY being redesignated as 1 FD SQN and all references to RAE FD COYs terminated. In 1949, 1 FD SQN was re-established at Casula in NSW, and in January 1950, was deployed to the Woomera Guided Missile Range, South Australia. In December 1950, 1 FD SQN re-deployed from Woomera to Wacol in Queensland and constructed accommodation for Australia's first National Service scheme. At the end of the Korean War in 1953, the Australian Army conducted another review of the ORBAT which resulted in 1 FD SQN being disbanded again.
In 1960, the Australian Army created the "Pentropic Division". This reorganisation of the Army necessitated the re-establishment of 1 FD SQN, again at Casula, co-located with the School of Military Engineering (SME), Steele Barracks in Moorebank Avenue, Casula.
The SME at Casula was established in May 1940.
Between 1961 and 1965, 1 FD SQN spent a great deal of time constructing roads and training area facilities in the Colo-Putty military training area near Singleton in NSW. Included in this period, from 1961 to 1972, 1 FD SQN provided a Troop initially based in Mallacca, Malaya, and later in Singapore in support of operations, exercises and engineering projects in North Borneo, the Malay Peninsular and Thailand.
In 1964, RAE units were deployed to a road construction task in Sabah, in North Borneo. The 184 Km road was constructed, under very difficult circumstances, by a number of RAE units on a six month rotation. 1 FD SQN contributed to this project from 2 December 1964 until 19 June 1965.
3 Field Troop of 1 FD SQN was deployed to the War in South Vietnam and arrived in Bien Hoa Province on 28 September 1965. When the Australian Task Force was established at Nui Dat in Phouc Tuy Province, the remainder of 1 FD SQN deployed and arrived at Nui Dat on 9 June 1966. The unit was expanded to include 21 Engineer Support Troop, a plant troop, HQ troop, and an expanded RAEME Workshop. In addition, the three combat engineer troops each had an establishment of two officers, a staff sergeant, a sergeant, three corporals, three lance corporals and Sappers to a strength of 65 all ranks. The unit was designated as ”1 FD SQN GP RAE”. The unit returned to Australia in 1972 as a part of the Australian withdrawal from the Vietnam War, and was re-located to Holsworthy.
In early 1972, 1 Field Engineer Regiment (1 FER) was established at Holsworthy and 1 FD SQN became a part of that unit. In March 1993, the unit changed its name to 1 Combat Engineer Regiment (1 CER). In late 1999, as a part of the Army’s increased presence in the North of Australia, 1 CER re-located from Holsworthy to Robertson Barracks near Darwin in the Northern Territory.
From late 1999 until late 2002, 1 FD SQN supported operations and civil aid projects in East Timor by deploying a Troop at a time, on a rotational basis. They were employed on road repairs, water purification and constructed strong points within the Australian AO. In 2002, 73 personnel from 1 FD SQN were formed into an Battalion Engineer Group and attached to 5/7 Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment. During this deployment the Sappers were employed on humanitarian aid, construction of infrastructure for the East Timor law enforcement agencies and backed up their infantry mates with supplementary infantry patrols.
From April to August 2003, the Sappers supported the Royal Australian Navy in boarding and searching suspected illegal entry vessels including boat handling tasks.
1 FD SQN was deployed to Afghanistan on a number of missions including support to the 1st Mentoring and Reconstruction Task Force in 2006/2007 and then again in 2008 on an eight month rotation.
In October 2009, 1 FD SQN GP RAE provided disaster relief and humanitarian support to Western Sumatra after the magnitude 7.6 earthquake struck the area on 30 September 2009.
The CO 1 CER, LTCOL Mick Say, has commissioned an Army Reservist to collate the unit’s history from 2003 to the current time. When this assignment is completed we will update this history. More to follow.
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