First Nations Soldiers’ Legacy Honoured as Army Marks 80th Anniversary of Torres Strait Battalion

On Friday the Australian Army joined the Torres Strait Islands community in commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion, the largest Indigenous unit ever formed in Australia’s military history.

Established in 1943 to defend Australia’s northern region from potential invasion during World War II, the Battalion effectively utilized its strong connections with local communities to bolster its surveillance and reconnaissance efforts.

Today, the Far North Queensland Regiment’s (51 FNQR) Charlie (Sarpeye) Company partially traces its roots back to the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion.

Lieutenant General Simon Stuart AO DSC, Chief of Army, participated in the commemoration alongside current 51 FNQR members, local community members, veterans, and volunteers.

“The dedication of the Torres Strait Light Infantry during our nation’s hour of need cannot be understated, setting an incredible example of service,” Lieutenant General Stuart remarked. He also noted that 880 men, nearly all military-aged men in the Torres Strait at the time, volunteered to join the Battalion during World War II to protect their homes and country.

“As Australia’s only Indigenous battalion, their legacy is one of the most important features of the Australian Army’s enduring relationship with First Nations communities today,” he added.

The commemorations featured an Australian Army Open Day at Sarpeye Barracks, a ceremonial parade through Thursday Island’s streets, and a commemorative service at Anzac Park.

Chief of Army Lieutenant General Simon Stuart AO DSC with Regimental Sergeant Major – Army Warrant Officer Kim Felmingham NSC OAM, World War Two veteran Mr Awati Mau and members of Sarpeye (Charlie) Company, 51 FNQR at the Torres Strait Island Light Infantry Battalion 80th anniversary ceremony held at Thursday Island, QLD. *** Local Caption *** The Australian Defence Force (ADF) commemorated the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion on Thursday Island, Queensland on 16-17 March 2023. During the Second World War, 880 Torres Strait Islanders enlisted into the Battalion to defend Australia’s northern borders from Japanese invasion. Today, descendants of the Battalion continue to serve in the ADF across Australia, many within Thursday Island’s Charlie (Sarpeye) Company of 51st Battalion, The Far North Queensland Regiment (51 FNQR). As part of the commemorative celebrations, soldiers of 51 FNQR hosted an open day welcoming the local community followed by a ceremonial paraded through the streets of Thursday Island and a commemorative service at Anzac Park. Sarpeye Company was joined by Royal Australian Navy Cadets, veterans, civilian organisations, local Indigenous elders and dignitaries. Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Simon Stuart AO DSC, attended the parade as Reviewing Officer.

Lieutenant Colonel Jeremy Schieb, Commanding Officer of 51 FNQR, recognized the continuing contribution of Indigenous peoples in Australia’s defense.

“The Torres Strait Islander soldiers of 51 FNQR are cross-trained in a variety of skills including small boat handling, tracking, combat first aid, weapons, patrolling, observation and survival. “These skills, coupled with their unrivalled local knowledge about the lands and waters of this region, provide a unique capability that is rooted in traditional First Nations customs, including tribal links, family relationships and a deep connection to country.

Lieutenant Colonel Schieb said that many of the unit’s soldiers are decedents of veterans from the Torres Strait Light Infantry Battalion, extending a long history of association with the Australian Army.

”This is a proud legacy we celebrate and highlight to current and future generations of Australians,” he said.