Description: Pacific Islands Regiment (PIR) – Anodised Shoulder Title

Maker’s Name: Swann and Hudson

Condition: Very Good

Comments: Pacific Islands Regiment (PIR) – Anodised Shoulder Title. Worn by Australian officers and NCOs who were assigned to the PIR during the 1960s up to 1973. 

The regiment is descended from the Australian Army infantry battalions formed from native soldiers and Australian officers and non-commissioned officers in the territories of Papua and New Guinea during World War II to help fight against the Japanese. Disbanded after the war, the regiment was re-raised in 1951 as part of the Australian Army and continued to serve until Papua New Guinea gained its independence in 1975, when it became part of the PNGDF.

It was envisioned that the PIR would have four roles in war-time: garrisoning Manus Island and other similar areas; patrolling the land border with Dutch New Guinea (later Indonesian West Irian); and acting as a delaying force if required; and providing detachments for Australian units deployed to PNG. One company was based at Port Moresby, while others were based at outstations at Vanimo (from October 1952), Los Negros (1954, but later abandoned for Cape Moem), and at Kokopo. The establishment of the regiment was initially limited to 600 men.

In December 1957 riots broke out in Port Moresby between soldiers and civilian, which had to be broken up by police. Ultimately 153 soldiers were fined and 15 discharged, while 117 civilians were also convicted. As a result of this incident the organisation of the PIR was reviewed and henceforth Australian officers would be required to serve between four and six years with the regiment, and a number would be returned as senior officers later in their careers, thereby avoiding the previous situation in which officers with little experience serving with PNG soldiers would be posted to the regiment.

In 1960 when the Pentropic division was introduced into the Australian Army, PIR remained the only infantry battalion organised on the old establishment.Meanwhile, a further outbreak of indiscipline occurred in January 1961, this time over discriminatory pay scales. Although the disaffected soldiers were largely removed, pay scales were increased, and efforts were made to break up the regional and tribal concentrations of soldiers with-in subunits. By 1962 the battalion numbered 75 Australians (officers and SNCOs) and 660 PNG soldiers.

During the Indonesia-Malaysia confrontation (1962–1966) the regiment patrolled the Indonesia-Papua New Guinea border and although there was only one shooting incident between the PIR and Indonesian troops, a number of incursions took place and these patrols—which were often conducted in rugged terrain—placed considerable demands on Australia’s already limited defence resources. Amid growing Australian concern about Indonesian intentions the PIR began training for guerilla operations, and in September 1963 a second battalion was authorised, subsequently being raised in 1965. A third battalion, although proposed on a number of occasions, was never formed. The strength of regiment rose to 185 Australians and 1,188 PNG soldiers. Meanwhile, Papua New Guinea Command was formed in 1965, thereby ending the command link with Headquarters Northern Command in Brisbane.

From 1963 NCO and junior officer ranks began to be filled with indigenous personnel, with junior officers being trained at the Officer Cadet School at Portsea in Victoria. By 1970 there were 30 PNG officers serving in the PIR. Regardless until independence in 1975 the regiment was controlled from Australia, with no local influence or command, a situation which occasionally caused ill feeling towards the PIR from PNG citizens who were increasingly moving into positions of authority in the lead-up to independence. In January 1973 military units in Papua New Guinea were re-designated the Papua New Guinea Defence Force, while formal defence powers were subsequently transferred in March 1975.