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Category: Army Today/State Regts

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The first troops to serve in Australia were four specially raised companies of the Marine Corps, which arrived with the First Fleet in 1788.

In 1792 the Marine garrison was relieved by the New South Wales Corps which, between 1800 and 1810, was supported by local volunteer forces at Sydney and Parramatta, known as loyal Associations. 

These were the first military forces to be raised in Australia, and elements of these associations took part with the New South Wales Corps in suppressing the abortive convict uprising of 1804. 

Through its alliance with the Royal Marines and its descent from these first New South Wales citizen soldiers, the Royal New South Wales Regiment has links which go back to the first days of settlement in Australia and these links are proudly commemorated in the Regiment's motto, "First in Australia"

From time to time through out the intervening years, proposals were made for the raising of local volunteer forces to assist in defence of the Colony. 

It was not until 1854, however, that The Sydney Volunteer Rifles was formed.  

This is the ancestral corps from which many infantry battalions associated with New South Wales are descended.  

The Waikato War of 1863-1864 led to an active recruiting campaign by the New Zealand Government in the Australian Colonies, a fertile field being the various Volunteer units. 

New South Wales Volunteers served, as individuals, in each of the four Waikato Regiments. 

Most did not return to Australia, taking up the New Zealand land grants offered for service against the warlike Waikato tribes.

<< Medal for the New Zealand War

In 1885 the first Australian force to be formed specifically for service overseas was raised. This was the New South Wales Contingent to the Soudan. 

As a result of its service, the Honorary Distinction 'Suakin 1885' was granted in 1907 to several infantry regiments, to be borne for their Colonial era predecessors. 

  • This is the senior Battle Honour of the Australian Army and the battalions of the Royal New South Wales Regiment.

Kedhives Star from the Soudan Campaign >>

Click to enlarge


At the outbreak of the second Boer War in 1899, there were eight infantry regiments and several supplementary infantry corps in the New South Wales Military Forces. 

Initially, a small infantry contingent was raised and sent to South Africa. Subsequent volunteer drafts served as mounted infantry, for which the need was greatest. 

The Battle Honour 'South Africa, 1899-1902' is carried by the Regiment for its colonial forebears.  

<<< Queen's South Africa Medal

In July 1900 a small detachment, the New South Wales Marine Light Infantry, was recruited from local volunteers of the Third Contingent (awaiting movement to South Africa) to provide an infantry component for the New South Wales Naval Contingent which was being hurriedly formed for service in China during the Boxer Rebellion. 

                                                                    China Medal >>

Like their predecessors in the Soudan in 1885, these troops saw little fighting but spent much time on active service in harsh conditions amidst a hostile population.                                                      

In 1903 the military forces of the former Australian colonies were amalgamated to form the Australian Army. The Infantry and Light Horse Regiments then adopted territorial titles. Australia's commitment overseas during the Great War 1914-1918 required the raising of a special expeditionary force.

Designated the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), its formations were deployed in the Middle East, Turkey, France and Flanders. A smaller naval and military expeditionary force (AN&MEF) served in New Britain from shortly after the outbreak of war.

Twenty infantry battalions territorially associated with New South Wales served in the Australian Imperial Force. As part of the total infantry component, they shared the brunt of the hard fighting in all theatres. Frequently suffering huge casualties. Australian casualties in the Great War, at more than two-thirds of the number of enlistments, proportionately exceeded those of any other section of the British forces engaged. Receiving many drafts of reinforcements, they endured campaigns characterised by severe fighting and extreme hardship and in so doing, established the reputation, with both friend and foe, of being among the world's finest soldiers. 

  • A common group of medals awarded to men who served in WW1
    • 1914/15 Star
    • British War Medal 1914/20
    • Victory Medal (British Empire version) 
  • The New South Wales battalions were awarded a total of thirty-seven Battle Honours and their members were awarded nineteen Victoria Crosses.

Throughout the war, a substantial Citizen Military Force was maintained by universal service as the 'home' component of the Australian Military Forces. 1921 marked the post-war army reorganisation, by which AMF infantry regiments were replaced by battalions modelled on, and numbered for, Australian Imperial Force units.

In the period to 1939, there occurred numerous unit linkings, expansions and contractions responsive to national military training objectives and the country's economic fortunes. Outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 not only saw many peace-time militia battalions at significant strength but also brought the decision, as in the Great War, to raise a (Second) Australian Imperial Force for expeditionary service overseas.

A total of eleven battalions having territorial association with New South Wales served overseas in this Force, between 1939 and 1945, in North Africa, Greece, Crete, Syria, Malaya, South West Pacific and Borneo.

As the war spread to Australia's northern approaches, eight further battalions (formerly militia, now redesignated AIF) saw hard fighting in the South West Pacific area.

  • Between them, these nineteen battalions were awarded sixty seven Battle Honours and their members four Victoria Crosses.  

  • A Group of medals common to many of the men who served in WW2
    • 1939/45 Star
    • Africa Star
    • Pacific Star
    • Defence Medal
    • British War Medal 1939/45
    • Australia Service Medal

Once again, Australia's infantry divisions' service stood well the test, in every theatre of engagement, of upholding and enhancing the distinguished reputation established by their Great War forebears.

On the re‑raising of the Citizen Military Forces in 1948, a number of territorially designated, relevantly numbered infantry battalions were brought onto the Order of Battle in New South Wales. In the period to 1960 also, a former Light Horse Regiment, (6th) now converted to Infantry, brought ten additional Battle Honours, to add to those won by the battalions.

As a result of a major review, the Australian Army was restructured, effective 1 July 1960, along lines known as 'Pentropic' and with line infantry battalions designed to operate with other arms and services with in 'Battle Groups'. The Citizen Military Forces' infantry battalions in each State of the Commonwealth were grouped into respective state regiments, thus the Royal New South Wales Regiment came into existence on that date. It consisted of the following units:

  • 1 RNSWR (Commando)

  • 2RNSWR

  • 3 RNSWR.

1 RNSWR was based in Sydney, generally drawing its specialist recruits from the metropolitan area. The two line battalions' inter unit boundary was generally Sydney Harbour and the Parramatta River, 2 RNSWR serving the northern half of the State, 3 RNSWR the southern, in providing opportunities for Citizen Military Force service in the corps of Infantry.

A number of re-groupings of the Regiment's size and structure have occurred since raising, the first being on 1st July 1965, with the move away from the Pentropic organisation, when 2 RNSWR split to form 2 RNSWR and 17 RNSWR, and 3 RNSWR split to form 3 RNSWR and 4 RNSWR. At this time also, 41 RNSWR was formed from part of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Queensland Regiment, in the Northern Rivers district. 19 RNSWR, a 'Special Conditions 'battalion was raised in 1966 and on the Commando element leaving the Regiment on 1 May 197 1, became 1/19 RNSWR.

A further reorganisation, on 1 July 1976, saw the now six battalions placed under command, for administration and training, of a Headquarters RNSWR, as HQ 2 Division became HQ 2 Division Field Force Group. This structure terminated on 30 June 198 1, with HQ RNSWR becoming HQ 5 Task Force, taking under command 1/19,3 and 14 RNSWR and HQ 8Task force being established with under command 2, 17 and 41 RNSWR. Soon after this, the formation designations were altered from 'Task Force' back to 'Brigade'.

Requirement for the contraction of the infantry component of the Army led, in the period September to December 1987, to the linking of some battalions, with the resultant 5 Brigade commanding 1/19 and 4/3 RNSWR and 8 Brigade commanding 2/17 and 41 RNSWR. During 1995, battalions adjusted to re-arranged home area and recruiting boundaries.


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Digger History:  an unofficial history of the Australian & New Zealand Armed Forces