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Australian Army Reserve

Badge of the Australian ArmyAustralia's military history began with the British marines who came with the first fleet to man the penal colonies and to set up outposts on the east coast of Australia. British Garrison troops remained in Australia for nearly 100 years.

There were, on Norfolk Island, in 1788 and 1794 brief levyings of free settler citizen force members to assist law and order, in neither case were these formally constituted forces.

September 1800 saw the raising of the first formally-authorised forces in New South Wales, initially by levy of prescribed free persons, by Governor Hunter. Known as the Loyal Sydney and Parramatta Associations their officers were appointed by the Governor and the establishment of each was fifty rank and file.

Raised to assist in both defence and local law and order arenas, they evolved into a volunteer force over their intermittently active life from 1800 to 1810. It is this Corps that the Australian Army's (and particularly the Reserve's) claims descend.

Unsuccessful submissions (from Governor Macquarie in 1814 and Captain MacArthur in 1825 and 1851) for more formal local force raising were eventually overtaken by Britain's realising the importance of colonies assuming greater responsibility for their own defence. In Australia, this increased vulnerability combined with the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854 and prompted the formation of volunteer forces in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. Despite the fluctuations of public interest or financial constraints, part time forces have been continually in existence in Australia since that time.

  First Battles go to top of page

From the beginning Australia set the pattern for other self-governing colonies. This led to an active recruiting campaign by the New Zealand Government hi the Australian colonies. A fertile field was found in the various volunteer units. About 2,500 volunteers who were sent to support the British Army in the Maori War of 1863-64 served in each of the four Waikato Regiments

After 1870 the last of the British troops were withdrawn from Australia and it became apparent that the overall coordination of Australian defence was required. This was based on the concept of a small, regular caretaker force backed by unpaid volunteers for the defence of local areas such as ports and, by a paid militia assigned for active operations.

Thus it was that the enthusiastic men of the contingent sent to the Sudan, in 1885 after the fall of Khartoum, had as their bulk, 750 volunteers and militia.

Australian volunteers were again called to arms for the Boer War of 1899-1902. The NSW Lancers were the first volunteers, British or Australian to arrive in South Africa. They arrived 18 days after the Boer declaration of war.

Altogether 16,175 men volunteered from Australian colonies. Five hundred and eighteen of them lost their lives during the conflict. The Battle Honours won by the Australian contingent are on the colours of many Australian Infantry and Armoured regiments today. Five Australians won the Victoria Cross.

In July 1900, a small detachment the New South Wales Marine Light Infantry was formed from amongst volunteers awaiting to sail with the Third Contingent to South Africa. This group formed an infantry detachment and served with the NSW Naval Contingent during the Boxer rebellion in China.

  Federation go to top of page

After Federation in 1901, one of the first acts of the new Commonwealth Parliament was to create a Commonwealth Defence Department. By the beginning of 1903, the various colonial military forces had been absorbed into an Australian Army. At the time of Federation the various state forces were made up of : Permanent (full-time paid), Militia (part-time paid) and Volunteer (part-time unpaid) members. The permanent force were mainly administrative and garrison artillery. In states with larger populations the Volunteers were predominantly infantry and light horse while engineers and field artillery were supplied by the Militia. The population of Australia at the time was four million.

The Defence Act of 1909 provided for a program of universal training and this was introduced in 1911. All males of a specific age group were liable for military training in peace time and for service within Australia in time of war. In the few years remaining before WWI, the Army consisted of permanent, militia and an ever growing force of volunteer members. Legislation did not allow these troops to be used outside Australia and its Territories.

  World War One go to top of page

When war broke out in 1914, the Commonwealth Government pledged Australia's whole hearted support to Great Britain, "To its last man and last shilling", according to Prime Minister Andrew Fisher, and recruited a force of volunteers for overseas service with the Australian Imperial Force (AIF).

Altogether Australia raised and maintained five Infantry Divisions, the greater part of two Cavalry Divisions (including Corps cavalry on the Western Front). A Flying Corps of four combat squadrons and numerous small units. In all (excluding Navy) 416,809 including about 2,500 nurses volunteered for service with the Australian Imperial Force.

  Between the Wars go to top of page

On return from WWI the AIF was disbanded in 1919 and the Citizen Forces or Militia reformed on a divisional basis to correspond with those of the AIF. The battle honours of the AIF units passed to the new units.

With the depression that followed the war annual quotas for military training were reduced in 1922 and by 1929 conscription for universal military training had been abandoned. During the ensuing grey years of the depression, a Militia system existed in which the officers and NCOs maintained a reasonably high standard of training and managed to keep the traditions of the units alive. Shortly after the outbreak of WWII conscription was reintroduced.

  World War Two go to top of page

The outbreak of war in 1939 saw another round of recruitment to swell the two cavalry and five infantry divisions of the home army. The problems presented by this war were vastly different to those of WWI. In this war two armies would be needed, one for home defence and the other for overseas service. To facilitate the second requirement the second AIF was formed, many of those serving in Militia units (and in some cases whole units) volunteered for transfer to the AIF. Meanwhile compulsory service built up the Militia. This continued while the AIF went off to fight in the Middle East and swell the garrison in Malaya.

Japan's entry into the war in December 1941 placed a new emphasis on the role of the home army Militia units. As the Japanese swept through the Pacific Islands in a seemingly invincible fashion they entered the Australian Territory Of Papua New Guinea. The Militia whose terms of recruitment forbade their serving outside Australia were now eligible to go to the defence of home territory. The bombing of Darwin made the need for this abundantly clear and Militia troops were despatched to Port Moresby in Papua. The advance of the Japanese on Port Moresby was bitterly resisted by Militia until AIF troops arrived to take their place. Combined, their initial defeats of the invading forces are well documented. The Militia units continued to serve until the close of hostilities. The strategic lessons of WWII were reflected in the plans for the shape of the postwar Army and from these emerged the modern Regular Army and a reversed relationship between the regulars and the reserves.

  The CMF go to top of page

After WWII rapid demobilisation saw a drop in the combined Army, Navy and Airforce strength from a peak of 681,220 in 1944 to 50,732 by 1949.

The history of the Australian Army shows that the Reserve or Militia tradition has been the mainstay of Australia's military forces. Following WWII the units were disbanded as they returned to Australia and in 1947 an Australian Regular Army was established at least on paper though the actual formation was a slower process. As part of the same Commonwealth Legislation that initiated the ARA, the following year, the Citizen Military Forces, with its roots back in the old pre war militia was reformed to continue the proud service of citizen soldiering by backing up and augmenting the Regular Army.

The inaugural Reserve Forces Day held on 1st July 1998 celebrated fifty years service to nation by Reservists since this reformation.

The end of WWII did not herald an era of peace. Australian servicemen were still engaged in occupation duties in Japan when North Korea invaded South Korea on 25 June 1950.

Australia was one of a number of United Nations member countries which assisted the South Koreans,

On July 26, 1950 the 3rd battalion. Royal Australian Regiment, formed from units of the second AIF and later reinforced by Regular Soldiers, was committed to the Korean conflict.

This was the beginning of a significant Regular Army for Australia and the three battalions of the RAR were the nucleas of Australia's post war army. They provided the standing force required for immediate action in a national emergency.

While three battalions of the RAR served in Korea between 1950 and 1953 the Australian Government introduced National Service in 1951. Under this scheme all 18 year old men were required to serve 98 days full time training followed by three years part time service in the CMF. Trainees could elect to serve six months full time in the RAN ARA or RAAF as an alternative to the CMF service.

The Korean conflict saw an increase in defence expenditure and the permanent force swelled to nearly 57,000 with 91,000 in the Citizen Forces. The latter had swelled to 95,000 by 1956 as result of the National Service policy.

Later, in 1957, a general re-organisation of the Army resulted in the National Service Act being amended to provide 12,000 youths to be trained annually for Army service only. This act was suspended in 1959.

By 1961 with the nations population at approximately 10 million the Permanent forces had dropped to 46,000 and the Citizen forces to 35,000.

In the meantime the Australian Government had committed elements of the three services to the quelling of the terrorist uprising in Malaysia and to the development of the Pacific Islands Regiment in Papua New Guinea.

In 1964 due to the deteriorating strategic situation in South East Asia, the Australian Government re-introduced national Service to expand the Military forces.

Upon request of the South Vietnam Government and in consultation with the United States Government Australia sent an infantry battalion to South Vietnam in 1965.

By 1967 a force of 8,000 personnel were deployed in South Vietnam. This force was maintained until wind down and withdrawal took place between 1970 and 1972. A large number of National Service Conscriptes saw service in Vietnam as did members of the CMF.

  The Army Reserve go to top of page

In 1974, a review of the CMF, aimed at making it a more effective and viable force in Australia's defence, was completed. Renamed it the Australian Army Reserve. The review called for the Army Reserve to operate under the same functional command structure as the Regular Army with direct representation in each of the three commands.

Part-time volunteer Australian soldiers have served as United Nations Peacekeepers, as crews of Army ships sailed between Australia and overseas posts and on flood disaster rescue and relief. They have served on full time duty, attached to units of the Regular components of the Australian Army as well as with the British, United States and other Armies

  Today go to top of page

The 25,000 strong Army Reserve is an important element of our national defence and stand by as a well trained volunteer force backing up the Australian Regular Army in its primary role of national defence. It is comprised of people from all walks of life and from every corner of the country, with more than 250 Army reserve Units based in cities and towns throughout Australia.

The Australian Army Reserve, together with the Australian Regular Army, forms one of the largest and most diverse organisations in Australia; an organisation involving men and women who are doing something for themselves and for their country.

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Reserve Forces Day Council Inc
Patron in Chief His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC (Retd), Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia
National Chairman the Honourable Tim Fischer AC
National Executive Officer and NSW Chairman Lieutenant Colonel John Moore OAM RFD ED Retd

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